It's probably safe to say that, if not for BPL Trustee Paul LaCamera, the beautiful new East Boston branch library opening November 2 on Bremen Street would never have been built. Just like a previous plan for a new East Boston library, completed at considerable expense in 2008 and aging quickly on a dusty library shelf, was not going to be built.
LaCamera, formerly the General Manager for WBUR, who grew up in East Boston, took a stand at a BPL trustee meeting in 2010 when he refused to agree to shutter one of the two East Boston branches before a new facility would replace it. In a last-ditch effort to get LaCamera's consent to close a total of four libraries --and a unanimous vote-- before an enraged audience watching the proceedings in Copley Library, Mayor Menino, in a phone call to BPL president Amy Ryan, promised he would include funds for a new East Boston Library in his next capital budget. But LaCamera still abstained. Immediately after the other BPL trustees agreed 5 to 1 to close the four branches, including East Boston's Orient Heights. However, they passed an additional amendment that the next new library would be built in East Boston. And...here it is.
The graceful $17.25 million new East Boston library was designed by the same firm,
Rawn Architects, now working on the renovation of the Copley Library's Johnson building. The firm was the architect as well for libraries in Mattapan and downtown Cambridge, among other places. The East Boston branch has more than twice the space of the two libraries it replaces, Orient Heights and Meridian Street, but far fewer books, about 18,000 instead of 66,000, a bone of contention for neighborhood groups who assert that, in East Boston, expensive electronic devices are not likely to replace books for a largely poor community.
Another bone of contention are some 15 Works Progress Administration (WPA) murals of 19th-Century whalers and clippers, painted by Rockport artist Frederick Leonard King in the 1930s. They all used to hang in the now-closed Meridian branch but only four will be on display in the new library. The Ships Through the AgesSeries requires major restoration to the estimated tune of $150,000, an amount the Friends of the East Boston Library hopes to raise, according to an excellent report on the subject earlier this fall on WBUR, linked here. Their goal is to hang all the paintings, restored, in the new branch one day, so the series will evoke the nautical past of the East Boston neighborhood, where once these very ships were built.