The African American Museum and Library of Oakland, or AAMLO, is housed in a 100-year-old city landmark that is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
AAMLO is a non-circulating library dedicated to preserving the history and experiences of people of color in Northern California, and a research archive containing diaries, correspondence and family photos belonging to African-Americans.
It is featured in a new book, "Here Tomorrow, Preserving Architecture, Culture, and California's Golden Dream," published by the California Preservation Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group based in San Francisco that for the past 30 years has bestowed design awards on those who have excelled in restoration and creative reuse.
The volume represents 50 sites that, in the foundation's view, best represent California's diverse history, geography and creative style.
Other featured Oakland landmarks include the Music Building at Mills College, designed in the 1920s by noted architect Walter Ratcliff; and Altenheim Senior Housing, a 100-year-old German-American sponsored retirement home in the Dimond district of East Oakland, which reopened in 2007 after undergoing extensive retrofitting and restoration.
AAMLO's current home was built in 1902 as Oakland's first permanent public library. It was initially named for Charles S. Greene, the city's head librarian at the time, who spearheaded the effort to raise the funds for its construction.
The library's earlier home at 14th and Washington streets, next to where City Hall stands today, was a wood frame building and considered a firetrap,
Lack of funding was an issue, so industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie was approached. At the time, Carnegie's foundation was funding the construction of public libraries throughout the United States. In California, Carnegie provided grants for 142 libraries in the early years of the last century. Today, 82 still stand, including four of Oakland's branch libraries -- AAMLO, Golden Gate, Temescal and Melrose.
The Charles Greene Library was designed by Walter Bliss (1872-1956) and William Faville (1866-1947), two California-born architects who had trained with the then-prominent New York firm of McKim, Mead & White. Though born in the west, Bliss and Faville went east for their education and were exposed to the popular Italian Renaissance revival-style then favored by the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. The cost of construction was $50,000.
The Greene Library functioned as the city's Main Library from 1902 until 1951 when the current larger Main -- reflecting Oakland's rapid growth in the years leading up to World War II -- took its place.
The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake damaged the old Greene, but identification of a new use -- housing the African-American collections -- provided the impetus to secure $11.2 million in funding to renovate and seismic retrofit the handsome, albeit worn, structure.
Currently on exhibit at AAMLO is "The Griots of Oakland," featuring the voices and images of young men affiliated with the African American Oral History Project. The exhibit, and a book as well, are a joint project of Alameda County's Center for Healthy Schools and Communities, and the Oakland school district's Office of African-American Male Achievement. A nonprofit organization, Story for All, taught the young interviewers techniques in oral history and videography.
You can find the Griot exhibit on the second level, in the beautifully restored former library reading room. The exhibit will be on view until March. For more about the history project, go to www.storyforall.org. To learn more about the California Preservation Foundation, go to www.californiapreservation.org.
AAMLO is open from noon to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. It is located at 659 14th St.