Relaxing with a magazine by the cozy fireplace in the newly renovated Westacres Branch Library, it’s hard to imagine that over 60 years ago, the shelves in this part of the building held bread, cans of lard, gardening tools and coal.
The little cinder block building on Commerce Road near the corner of Elder was originally built in 1938 to serve as the Westacres Co-op and provided residents with a local source of good quality, low cost food and supplies during the early years of Westacres’ settlement. The locally supported co-op did a booming business supplying the community’s marketing needs at reasonable prices until during World War II when government food rationing closed the operation due to a lack of supplies.
During these same years of Westacres’ settlement and growth as a community, a dedicated group of neighborhood women began to also plan for the cultural growth of their community. Twenty members of the Westacres Reading Club visited door to door soliciting donated books from friends and neighbors. With over 700 volumes of donated books, they set up shop in the loft of the old clubhouse building located between the south edge of the lagoon and the north side of Cedarbank between Elder and Oakleaf. In this setting the library opened it doors for eight hours a week under the management of Westacres residents, Unita Llewellyn and latter, Blanche Atkins.
The clubhouse library became so successful that by 1940, the Westacres community asked the Township to take over the library to ensure adequate funding. Growth continued at such a pace that the flooring in the library area in the old clubhouse had to be reinforced several different times to accommodate the increasing weight from the books and shelves.
In 1950, the library added two more hours to its schedule. The building was now open on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 7-9 and on Saturdays from 10:30-4:30.
During the early 1960’s, plans were made to move the clubhouse library collection to roomier quarters. The original 40′ by 45′ co-op building, then owned by Camille’s Meat Market, seemed a likely spot for relocating the library within easy distance of its Westacres readers. The Township made an offer to buy the building for $50, and with $27,000 in renovations, the old co-op building was transformed into the new Library. Books and supplies were moved from the clubhouse loft to the new site, and on February 8, 1966, the Westacres Branch of the West Bloomfield Township Library opened to the public. Newspaper accounts from that time report the use of the new library doubled between its February opening and its Grand Opening, April 24.
Anticipating the direction of suburban growth, the West Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees also purchased additional land around the library building at this time for the eventual expansion of the Westacres Branch.
In May, 1984, a Library of Michigan Grant for $99,520 was awarded for this project and bids went out for the construction of 3,900 square feet of new space and remodeling of the existing 2,100 square foot building. This new project, which included an activity room for children’s programs, also introduced one of the first videocassette collections available for patrons to borrow from a library. The remodeling phase was completed and the building dedicated at a gala open house, March 16, 1985.
In this expanded site, the Westacres Branch’s circulation increased yearly until 1999 when the annual circulation of books and materials reached 246,039 items. Nearly 145,000 persons visited the facility to enjoy activities ranging from children’s story hours to training workshops on use of the Internet.
In 1997 Township voters approved a mileage for renovating and updating both the Main and Westacres Branch Libraries.
Work on the Westacres Branch renovation started during the summer of 2000. The most ambitious remodeling project yet, the library’s floor space was doubled to almost 12,000 square feet. A children’s activity room, patron self-checkout, and laptop computer access to the library’s computer network are just some the enhancements provided for Westacres patrons.