DEL MAR — As an oceanfront community and home to the famed thoroughbred race track, Del Mar has become known for hotel bookings and horse race bookies.
But it was books that are read that were celebrated Nov.1, when the city marked the 100th anniversary of its library and the building where it has been located for nearly 20 years.
This newest page of the city’s history began in 1914, when Haidee Howard, clerk of the Del Mar School District, successfully petitioned San Diego County to establish a library in Del Mar.
It started in the home of E.J. Hindle, who also served as the first librarian, before relocating first to a store, then in 1924 to the house of author Lee Shippey on the bluff north of Eighth Street.
Throughout the next 25 years or so the library was moved to various locations on 15th Street. It was about that time when Chiquita Abbott moved to Del Mar.
As she recalls, the library was in an approximately 10-foot-by-10-foot room under the stairs in what is now Sbicca restaurant.
“It was charming,” Abbott said. “I was terribly enchanted but there weren’t many books there.”
As the community grew, so too did the need for a bigger library. The facility was moved to 1214 Camino del Mar in 1957, a doctor’s office on 14th Street in 1961 and Zel’s Liquor Store in Del Mar Plaza until finding a somewhat permanent home in the mid-1970s in a city-owned trailer that is now City Hall Annex.
Abbott said she could not understand why such an educated community had its library “in an awful building.”
Also in 1914, St. James Catholic Church, at 1309 Camino del Mar, began serving parishioners who at times included Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Bing Crosby and Jimmy Durante for about 50 years before relocating to Solana Beach.
The building was sold and converted to a restaurant, at first Albatross and later Pancho’s, before becoming home to other businesses.
Some people thought Abbott, a Realtor, was crazy when she suggested moving the library into the former church building. She said the county didn’t like the building and thought it wouldn’t be able to accommodate enough books.
But others, including Pat Freemen, president of Friends of the Del Mar Library, and Jacqueline Winterer supported the idea.
Thanks to their persistence, and that of many other residents, the city agreed to buy the building in the early 1990s and in 1996 books, periodicals and patrons were officially welcomed to the library’s new home.
“It took a lot of people with a lot of drive and a lot of know-how to pull this off,” Abbott said. “It only took 50 years.”
Since the city purchased the building it has undergone a few more transformations, however, the original church lights still hang from the ceiling.
An open patio on the south side of the building was designed “with a vision of people sitting outside reading in the ocean breeze,” Freeman said “That’s a great visual but in reality it didn’t work.
“Birds pooped on it, the street was noisy and kicked up dust and car fumes, and the ocean breezes were sometimes gale winds,” she added.
When the old roof needed to be replaced to comply with new laws, a decision was made to enclose the patio at the same time. That project was completed more than five years ago and the new room is now used for everything from baby yoga and Zumba classes to Homework Helpers, bridge and Friends of the Del Mar Library meetings.
The library currently serves more than 80,000 visitors annually and checks out more than 158,000 items each year. It has the second highest per-capita checkouts in the county.
The 100th anniversary celebration included face painting, crafts and a visit by Sparkles the Clown for youngsters, refreshments, a performance by guitarist Lisa Sanders and congratulatory words from Mayor Lee Haydu and Supervisor Dave Roberts.
“I just love this building … and this community and we want to do everything we can for it,” Roberts said before presenting the library with a county proclamation.
“I’m proud of the city for backing this,” Haydu said. “I know we’re all proud of our community and our library.”
Freeman thanked residents for their continued support during the past century. “It just wouldn’t be here without you,” she said.
Polly Cipparrone, branch manager of the Del Mar library, said the Internet has had the biggest impact on the libraries since she began working for the county system in 1998, but in a positive way.
“It has increased access to information,” she said. “We were more of a gopher before but now we’re more of a Sherpa, leading people to the next place. We’re just part of the journey.”
She said electronic books are simply a change in format, “adding to the plethora of what we have available.”
“A community of readers is a strong community,” added Donna Ohr, deputy director of the county library system.