Little Free Library Opens in an Eichler

A tiny Eichler houses books, not family, in the neighborhood of Greenridge. Photos by Dave Weinstein

It is rare these days for a construction project, or any project, to go from thought to completion without dissent, bureaucracy, battles. Except when you’re talking Little Free Libraries.

Just two months after Renee Hermosa, a resident of Greenridge, proposed joining the worldwide Little Free Library movement, about a dozen neighbors of the Eichler subdivision in Castro Valley toasted the newest Eichler in the neighborhood with champagne, sparkling cider, and muffins.

And all it cost was $35 to join the Little Free Library association, which makes their library official. “Eichlers lend themselves to this sort of thing,” said Joellen Oslund, who oversaw the project and lives two doors from the new library’s site, on Crown Court just in from the neighborhood’s main drag, Greenridge Road.

Rene Hermosa, who proposed the establishment of Castro Valley's latest library, celebrates its grand opening.

The rules are simple – take a book, add a book, return the book, or bring in another book. There are bookmarks readers can inscribe with their names, then leave with the book for others to do the same, creating a historical link of readers.

There are books for adults and books for kids. The initial collection at Greenridge included ‘Chasing Vermeer,’ ‘The Peppermint Pig,’ ‘Ghost Cat’ and ‘A Three Dog Life.’

“The goal is to promote literacy and a love of books,” Ostlund said.

Carolyn Moskovitz, the branch librarian at Alameda County’s Castro Valley branch, who attended the celebration in early March, pointed out another goal.

“It’s really a way for the neighborhood to come together,” she said.

The little library was already functioning as a social hub during the celebration, attracting not just proponents of the project but several people who were just walking by.

It’s also a way to boost tourism. “One of the things that cool about these libraries,” Moskovitz said, “is a lot of people will take tours visiting all the little free libraries.”

Builder Abe Cirimele, a neighborhood resident of long standing, demonstrates the locking mechanism of the door.

The Free Library association’s website has a map, which makes this possible. People from overseas have been known to visit Free Libraries in the United States.

The Free Library movement began in 2009 in Wisconsin, when Tod Bol installed one in the guise of a one-room school, and built others for friends. The initial goal was to see 2,510 free libraries built – the same number of libraries funded by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie in the late 19th and  early 20th centuries.

Today there are at least 15,000 Little Free Libraries worldwide.

Although this may be the first branch in the international free library system to be installed in an Eichler home, it is not the first free library in Castro Valley. There is one other in another part of town – though its owners have not signed up with the Free Library association. Although, it is not weather proof, so its owners take it in at night.

Moskovitz hopes to use Greenridge’s free library as a model for others to follow throughout the unincorporated town of Castro Valley.

Carolyn Moskovitz, Joellen Ostlund and Rene Hermosa join their neighbors in a toast.

This little Eichler library should be able to take the elements – though on really wet nights Ostlund promises to cover it with a tarp. “I’ll be keeping a close eye on it,” she said.

Abe Cirimele, the library’s builder, did it right, building the house from plywood and covering its roof with tarpaper and sealed shingles. There’s an overhang and a door that shuts up tight. “The beams even go all the way through,” Renee Hermosa noted, “and the walls are stained, not painted.”

“He got it built in just a few days,” she said. “We were stunned.”

Cirimele donated the wood, Ostlund donated the paint, and painted it. “I commandeered some workers (who were working at a neighbor’s home) to set the post,” Ostlund says. “I was having a hard time digging a post hole.”

A neighbor willingly agreed to let the library occupy a bit of her property.

“We wanted it to be off the main street,” Ostlund said, so it would be easy for drivers to stop. The neighborhood’s librarians expect it will also get a lot of foot traffic from strollers and dog walkers.

Hermosa hopes other free libraries are established in the neighborhood, including in Cold Water, a neighboring non-Eichler area that is part of the neighborhood association.

“I think it’s going to evolve,” Hermosa said of the new library, with readers borrowing and replacing books. “If the same books are here a month from now, we’re going to think it’s not working.”

The CA Modernist is always looking for fun, interesting, educational, cultural -- or athletic -- events happening in our mid-century modern neighborhoods. Is something happening in yours? Let us know!

The Greenridge neighborhood occupies a steep hillside with wonderful views and nearby parkland.

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