OAKLAND -- Books were still available for checkout Tuesday but from the sidewalk outside the vacant city building that briefly had been occupied as a "people's library" before police shut it down.
Ten to 15 people left the property at 1449 Miller Ave., near International Boulevard, shortly after officers entered the building at about 11 p.m. Monday and told the activists they were trespassing, said Officer Johnna Watson, a police department spokeswoman.
Members of the makeshift library project, which drew many veteran activists including some who had been part of Occupy Oakland, had been in the building since about 7 a.m. Monday. The activists said the vacant building in the San Antonio neighborhood had been left unlocked.
After word spread on Facebook, about a dozen volunteers arrived and set to work, stocking it with donated books and clearing out grime, old mattresses, graffiti and other markings of abandonment. They put up a bilingual banner proclaiming the "Victor Martinez People's Library," named for the late Latino author.
When officers arrived at the scene Monday night, they ordered the occupants to leave, and they did so, taking their books and other property with them, Watson said. The activists were cooperative and peaceful, she added, and there were no injuries or arrests.
Marianne Moore, one of the organizers, said she had gone home to take a nap when she got word of the police action. When she arrived back on the scene, she said, she was struck by the number of officers who had come to disperse the small, peaceful group.
"It was really an astonishing show of force," she said.
Public works employees boarded up the building, she said. Officers were stationed at the property overnight to ensure nobody broke back in, Watson said.
The building had been a city library until 1979, Watson said. After the library closed, the building housed a continuation school and then a social services center. It was closed in 2010, Watson said. It is owned by the City of Oakland's Redevelopment Successor Agency within the Office of Neighborhood Investment.
The building once was an ornate space with built-in wooden bookshelves and high ceilings decorated with molding. Completed in 1918, it was one of four branches funded with a Carnegie grant. But Jaime Silva, one of the activist organizers, said the property had gone mostly unused since the library closure, attracting squatters and illegal dumping. For years, he said, it's been "a dark place that sucks the life out of the community."
Oakland City Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente said the building was damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and that it is unsafe to inhabit without costly retrofitting.
"At this point, there's no way to use that building," he said.
But Moore and other activists say the empty building also poses a public health and safety risk, and that neighborhood residents should at least be permitted to turn its grounds into a community garden.
"It's so obvious that it's something that the kids here want and need," she said.
Staff writer Katy Murphy contributed to this report. Contact Sean Maher at 925-943-8013. Follow him at Twitter.com/OneSeanMaher.