West Bank’s oldest library reopened to the public

Five years after it was shut down due to termite damage, and almost a year after renovations began, officials celebrated the reopening of the West Bank’s oldest library Friday.

The closure was the second time the more than century-old Cita Dennis Hubbell Library in Algiers has been shut down due to concerns about its structure. But city officials pledged their commitment to the library as they reopened it Friday.

“As one of the oldest public library facilities in New Orleans, it has served as an important community resource for decades,” New Orleans City Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer said. “It will now be available for all of our children to enjoy for generations to come.”

Roughly $1.3 million in renovations were made to the building over the past year using Federal Emergency Management Agency funds and city bond money.

The overhaul includes a long list of renovated features including a new roof, lighting, fixtures, heating and cooling system, and flooring and windows, according to the city.

The 2,730-square-foot building will house 8,600 books, 600 DVDs and 300 CDs along with computers available to the public.

The library, at 725 Pelican Ave., began its life as the Algiers Branch in 1907 as one of five libraries industrialist Andrew Carnegie built in New Orleans.

It remained the sole library in Algiers until 1966, until officials closed the aging building and replaced it with a new facility 4 miles away.

The library remained closed for nine years until a group of activists led by Cita Dennis Hubbell successfully lobbied the city to reopen the building as a 20,000-book library.

The building was renamed in her honor in 2002, a year after her death.

The library’s fate seemed secure, particularly as it was the first in the New Orleans system to reopen after Hurricane Katrina. But when plans for reorganizing the library system were drawn up in the aftermath of the storm, the Hubbell Library wound up on a list of facilities slated for closure.

That led to another round of public pressure that persuaded officials to keep the building open as part of the library system.

Excitement over that reopening was short-lived, however. Inspectors determined in 2008 that the building’s roof had suffered severe termite and moisture damage and closed the building without any immediate plans for reopening. That changed after the city and FEMA came up with funding for the project last year.

“Restoring this historic structure was important to the lasting heritage of New Orleans and Algiers,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said.