Libraries have brought residents access to the latest technology, provided a forum for open discussion, and given readers a countless reasons to escape into a good story. The Long Beach Public Library has a tale all its own, beginning with its original building at Sutton Place, the latest restaurant-bar at 124 W. Park Ave.
Built in 1928, only eight years after the library system was created and just before the Great Depression, during which only the wealthy could afford to buy books, the Long Beach Library registered more than 2,000 people, granting them their first library card and the ability to check out a book.
"Being able to take a book home was a great reward back then," said Roberta Fiore, founder of the Long Beach Historical & Preservation Society. "There was no television, so for a child or an adult to open a book and see illustrations was a big deal."
Long Beach did not plan for such an avid patronage, and by 1935, seven years after its doors first opened, the library moved to a more specious building, the Long Beach Trust, located on Park Street just east of Edwards Boulevard.
Ten years later, the library had fallen on hard times and was unable to keep up with paying its taxes. It relocated to 462 Park Place, next to the Long Island Rail Road Station. Though the library proved inadequate to patrons due to the amount of train noise, it remained there for nine years before moving, in 1954, to its current location, at 111 W. Park Ave., across the street from its original home.
While the library was relocating, the original building was losing its bookshelves to make way for a lifetime of restaurants, from La Seranatta's to Park Ave. Café to Bogart’s.
In 2001, Rob Richards purchased the building and opened Sutton Place, restoring the original brick and highlighting the Long Beach Library sign that remains in concrete on the building's exterior. The following year, Richards was awarded the Commercial Restoration Award from the Long Beach Historical & Preservation Society for his restoration project.
"We highlighted the library in the restoration," Richards said. "I wanted the history and beauty of the building to be part of the restaurant."
In 1982, the current library unofficially changed its name to the Allard K. Lowenstein Library Branch, in honor of the congressman who served Nassau County in the late 1960's. In 1998, when the library underwent a $3.7 million renovation, the original Long Beach Public Library sign was restored. The name-change sparked a great deal anger and controversy. Lowenstein supporters felt it happened without sufficient community input.
"The name change was never official," said library Director George Trepp. "The library was always Long Beach Public Library because the New York State Library Association wants libraries to reflect their district. However, the main library is still dedicated to Mr. Lowenstein. His picture and plague greets patrons as they enter the building."
Today the library continues to thrive as part of the heart of Long Beach, maintaining 27,505 registered library card users, an expanding technology center, and a private historical section filled with old newspapers, photographs and guides that date back to 1880, which library card holders are able to access in house.
"People have donated photographs, clippings, and books of Long Beach to us, which we encourage the public to view," said Assistant Director Jessica Koenig. "It's really amazing to see what residents can find in and about their library."