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Library Celebrates 75 Years of Oak Lawn’s Progress

Patch looks back on the story of the Oak Lawn Public Library.

By the early 1950s, Oak Lawns' village leaders, encouraged by the massive population boom after World War II, realized that a was needed for their ever-growing community. 

Originally housed in a one-room barn along 95th Street, the town’s collection of books and magazines soon outgrew the building that came to be known by locals as “The Little Red Library." When it was temporarily relocated to a vacant farmhouse on resident Charles Wertz’s property, village officials decided that a new, permanent library would help bring together neighbors and friends.

After an extensive search, Chicago architect Ralph Ernst’s sleek and elegant design was selected by the . As the cornerstone was laid during a groundbreaking ceremony in the fall of 1954, Mrs. Delores Kopf, a former assistant librarian that had cared for the previous library, traveled to Springfield and secured state approval for the bold building project.

The Oak Lawn Trust and Savings Bank soon signed off on a 15-year loan of $30,000, thus securing the financial backing for the imminent construction. Bulldozers and cranes worked quickly, transforming the corner of 95th Street and Raymond Avenue into a structure that made residents proud to call Oak Lawn home.  

When the dust cleared, locals went from visiting a cramped 19th century cottage, to standing in a sprawling, air-conditioned building that would soon contain the largest collection of books in the southwest suburbs.

An addition in 1963 expanded the facility to over 5,600 square feet and featured study spaces, an improved adult section, and a children’s wing located near the main entrance. Social events, such as “Friday Night at the Library," brought the likes of Time magazine film critic Richard Schinkel and Chicago Tribune columnist Robert Cromie to town. A further two expansions would nearly double the size of the building.

Local artist Abbott Pattison was contracted to design the distinctive sculptures that still adorns the library’s south side. Speaking at the grand unveiling, Pattison remarked that he sought to portray “the relationship of reading and knowledge to the community and how that endeavor is again returned”.

A final addition in 2002 constructed the scenic vista which overlooks village hall and the adjoining village green. During demolition, workers uncovered a time capsule that had been buried inside one of the library’s original support columns. After reading a personal letter enclosed from former , a new capsule was placed in the foundation, to be discovered by residents decades from now. 

Dedicated on September 19, 2004, the new expansion kicked off another wave of positive changes for the library. was reinstated and a local historian was brought on the accept donations from the public.

With a collection that now boasts over 314,000 different print holdings, the library’s upcoming 75th anniversary is a prime example of how several generations of hard work and determination, the very traits that built Oak Lawn, benefit the community for future generations.

Join the Oak Lawn Library in a celebration of the library's 75th anniversary on Patron's Appreciation Day, from 1 to 5 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 18, at 9427 S. Raymond Ave. The celebration features family activities, music, refreshments and prizes hosted by Friends of the Libary.

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