DEL MAR — Since its establishment more than a century ago, the Del Mar Library has been located in private homes, a former liquor store, a now-defunct seafood restaurant and a “temporary” trailer.
It wasn’t until 1996 that it found a permanent home in the original St. James Catholic Church on Camino del Mar.
Patrons young and old celebrated that 20-year milestone during an Oct. 8 event that included musical entertainment, face painting, balloon-animal making and of course, cake.
The library opened in 1914 in the home of E.J. Hindle, who served as the first librarian, before relocating to a store and then, in 1924, to the house of author Lee Shippey on the bluff north of Eighth Street.
For more than 50 years it continued to move around town. In 1977 it was temporarily moved to a trailer in the City Hall parking lot, where it remained for 20 years.
In the 1990s Del Mar voters rejected a plan to build the library a permanent home. Around the same time Friends of the Del Mar Library led an effort to buy the old church building, which had been converted to a restaurant and other businesses after the parish outgrew the John Austin-designed building and moved to Solana Beach.
Fundraising efforts began and thanks to the Friends and a sizable donation from longtime resident and developer Jim Watkins, the city was able to buy the building and convert it from a house of prayer to a house of periodicals.
“It’s really about the community coming together, finding a location and working with the city and the county to make this happen,” said Pat Freeman, president of Friends of the Del Mar Library. “We’re here because people love the library.”
The facility has undergone a few transformations in the past two decades, however, the original church lights still hang from the ceiling, which is also graced with the original wood beams.
The carpeting and roof have been replaced, and in 2009 an open patio on the south side of the building was enclosed and turned into a community room that is now used for everything from baby yoga classes and Homework Helpers to bridge and Friends of the Del Mar Library meetings.
The original tall bookshelves have also been replaced with shorter ones with wheels so they can be reconfigured or moved as needed.
The library received a design award from the San Diego Architectural Foundation for historic preservation. A bronze sculpture by James T. Hubbell was unveiled in 1999.
Four years later local artists and volunteers created a mural using brick, terra cotta tile, rocks, found objects such as railroad spikes, fossils, horseshoes and dishes, and a piece of the Berlin Wall.
“Through the years, Del Mar has become a busy place,” County Supervisor Dave Roberts said. “But if you’re looking for a sense of community, you can find it here.
“Today, most of us carry miniature computers in our pockets that can answer any question,” he added. “But libraries will never go out of style. Just come here on any school day to see kids studying or check out any of the heavily-attended programs produced by the Friends of the Del Mar Library.
“As we celebrate the library’s 20th birthday, we can all be proud,” Roberts said.