‘It may only be a store to start out with, but we’ve got to do something to relieve the need in that area,’ said William Roehrenbeck, new assistant to Edmund W. Miller, city librarian.” (The Jersey Journal, February 19, 1952)
That revealing comment, applied to the creation of the Claremont Branch Library, could still be applied today, only the original storefront facility has been replaced by 5,200 square feet of library and community room, with outdoor shaded reading area and children’s paving stone maze.
The Glenn D. Cunningham Branch Library and Community Center, constructed on the site located on the west side of Martin Luther King Drive (between Myrtle & Bostwick Avenues) and opened to the public on August 18, 2004, replaced the Claremont Branch Library, which was located at 291 Martin Luther King Drive. The Grand Opening took place on August 17, 2004.
Library Director Priscilla Gardner, who served as project manager in the making of this first new library construction since 1962, takes pride in providing 21st Century Library services and programs to the citizens in this neighborhood and in providing a community meeting space for the many organizations working in the M.L. King Redevelopment Area.
During the intervening years since its grand opening, Mary Quinn, MLS, head of the Cunningham Branch, has worked diligently to build the collection, having had its original holdings come from the much smaller Neighborhood storefront, the Claremont Branch. This Regional branch now has lots of picture books for children, fiction and non-fiction for young adults, and significant collections of books on Abraham Lincoln and the U.S. Civil War, in commemoration of the 200th birthday of our nation’s 16th president and in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the U.S. Civil War. Books in the Reference area needed much augmentation as well. Library materials were acquired on African-American history and literature on other subjects, with test preparation materials, such as the SAT, GRE, and Civil Service, also becoming available for the public.
The new Glenn D. Cunningham Library was made possible by $1,740,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding and by $500,000 granted from the City Council’s Reinvestment Account during the administration of former Mayor Bret Schundler. The Library Board of Trustees developed this project in cooperation with the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency, then-Board President Ervin L. Haynes, and then-Assistant Director Priscilla Gardner. The Cunningham Branch’s architect was Helena Ruman, A.I.A.
The Claremont Branch Library, the library system’s ninth, officially opened on Tuesday, February 11, 1954 at 639 Ocean Avenue, at the corner of Claremont. A converted retail establishment, this storefront library, from an account in The Hudson Dispatch on February 8, 1954, was deemed “a complete departure from tradition. It is modern in every detail, completely functional n design. The furniture and equipment are of metal. The 2 long side walls are chartreuse, and the end wall and pillars are forest green. Division of the single, rectangular room into adult and juvenile areas is made with low free standing book cases. Children’s department is in the front, with the adult section toward the rear. A reading corner for adults is furnished with informal furniture and modern lamps. Nearby are the new books section and the current magazines. Branch seats 40 persons and can house a collection of 6,000 volumes.” The Jersey Journal, reporting on February 17, 1954, identified that “according to Director William Roehrenbeck, although at present, it contains only 2,500.
In an article on February 5, 1954, The Journal reported that the Claremont Branch was the “Free Public Library’s answer to demands by parents and community leaders who had pointed to the remoteness of existing library facilities from the east side of Greenville.”
Unfortunately, The Claremont Branch Library on Ocean Avenue succumbed to fire in the early 1980s. The resulting damage from fire and flood, stemming from extinguishing the fire, necessitated, according to a news brief in the January 19, 1982 issue of The Jersey Journal, a $22,784 appropriation from the State Education Board as partial reimbursement of the uninsurable loss. The Claremont Branch then relocated to Martin Luther King Drive.