The first public library in Forest Park was started in a small room above the A. Roos & Sons Bank on the corner of Des Plaines Avenue and Madison Street in 1900. The Harlem Women’s Club owned and operated this circulating library until 1901, when the club withered away, and with it, all support for a free public library.
On June 20, 1916, a public library formally opened in two rooms on the second floor of Village Hall. Miss Mildred Powell assumed charge of the collection of 2,000 books.
From 1916 to 1946, the library saw steady growth in usage, and consensus developed that a separate library building would be appropriate. In October 1946, the property on the northeast corner of Jackson Boulevard and Des Plaines Avenue was purchased. This included the former home of Pauline Haase Thomas, daughter of Ferdinand Haase, Forest Park’s first settler. Renovations were completed on the house in the late 1949. The library was officially named Forest Park Memorial Library in honor of Forest Park veterans.
Once again the library outgrew its confines, and a referendum was proposed to add an addition to the building. The addition was completed in 1960, and included a quiet room for adult studies and expanded facilities for children. The new wing cost $85,000, and the voters also approved funds for operating expenses. The “Great Sun Window,” a large stained glass panel, was installed and dedicated during National Library Week in 1963.
In 1972, another addition was made to the library. This and the earlier 1960 addition were named for Mathilde Petersohn and Viola Gitzel, who were Library Board members for many years. The final addition to the original Haase home was made in 1982, in an effort to keep up with expanding collections and services. In conjunction with the completion of this addition, the daughters of Viola Gitzel commissioned and donated a mural done by Andrenne Kauffman, a well known Oak Park artist.
The passing of Helen Imber, a long time Forest Park educator, brought with it the bequest of her entire estate. These funds provided the seed money that enabled the Library Board to consider constructing a new building on the Jackson and Des Plaines site. Voters were asked to approve funding for a three level building in 1990, but declined to do so. However, the plan was revised as a two-level structure and the required funding was approved by the voters in 1993.
Ground was broken for the new library building on August 17, 1994. The library was packed up and moved to temporary quarters in the Forest Park Mall while construction was under way. The new library building opened on October 8, 1995. It covered 26,400 square feet on two levels. Total cost was nearly $4 million, with funding coming from a combination of $900,000 from Ms. Imber’s estate, a State of Illinois Construction grant for $250,000, and $2.9 million in General Obligation Bonds.
The library has continued to grow and develop its collections and services since completion in 1995. In order to keep pace with increasing costs of collections and staffing, a referendum was proposed in November 2006, and approved by the voters.