Arlington Hills Library building finds new owner

Peter Rachleff, co-founder of the new East Side Freedom Library, will look forward to setting up in the historic Arlington Hills Library building. (Patrick Larkin/Review)

East Side Freedom Library will fill the space

After a drawn-out process that began over a year ago, the historic Carnegie library building looks to be in good hands.

The St. Paul City Council approved the East Side Freedom Library as the new tenant of the handsome building. The Arlington Hills Library, which just closed March 14, will relocate to the new community building at Payne and Maryland avenues.

A grand opening for the new Arlington Hills Library is scheduled for Thursday, May 22.

The East Side Freedom Library will keep the main floor operating as a library, with a focus on books with a connection to the area, such as histories and firsthand accounts of the labor movement and immigration stories. The lower floor will be dedicated to community space.

Jill Boldenow, spokesperson for St. Paul Public Libraries, said city library staffers are “excited that there’s someone who’s able to use the facility, and even more excited that it’s a library facility.”

“It bodes really well for the community,” she said.

Al Oertwig, president of the Payne-Phalen community council, said the East Side Freedom Library should be an exciting addition to the neighborhood. Oertwig was on a small committee that reviewed proposals for the library’s re-use.

“It’s really a way that the East Side can be involved in using the building in a very constructive way,” he said.

Oertwig said finding a tenant whose aims fit the building and the community comes as a big relief. “If it were to sit empty and unused, people would grumble and complain about it.”

The library will be rented by the group for $1 per year, with a 15-year lease term. As a part of the lease, the organization will be responsible for building maintenance.

East Side couple

Husband and wife Peter Rachleff and Beth Cleary are co-chairs of the East Side Freedom Library.

Rachleff is a retired Macalester professor who researched labor and immigration history; Cleary is still at the university teaching theater and dance.

Rachleff envisions the library being “a space that people can come in and meet and share,” he said.

The couple is already involved in the East Side -- they’ve lived in Dayton’s Bluff for 15 years, near Sacred Heart Church. Rachleff is on the board of the East Side Neighborhood Development Company and is also involved with the Dayton’s Bluff Community Council.

Rachleff said that the first priority is making sure the building is ship-shape -- the organization needs to raise money for a new roof, and will also have to establish a pool of money to be used for future repairs. He was careful to note the organization intends to be a good steward of the historic building.

“We’re planning to restore, renovate, and preserve the building,” he said.

The Beaux Arts style library was built in 1916 and is one of three Carnegie libraries in St. Paul. It’s thought to be one of the oldest public buildings in the city, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Impressive collection

Rachleff said the library will include working class fiction, memoirs, and poetry, in the theme of celebrating the East Side’s rich history of housing immigrants and working class people.

“They’re not just any books, they’re books that really do focus on history and storytelling,” said Rachleff.

The library will also house the personal archives of Fred Ho, a well-known Chinese-American jazz musician, composer, playwright, writer, and social activist.

“It will be a very rich collection,” Rachleff said.

The materials will not be available to take out of the library; people can use them for research or enjoyment within the building.

After-school programs

Rachleff said the organization hopes to design a variety of after-school programs for the 2014-2015 school year. He said he’s been talking with principals at neighborhood schools, including Johnson High School and Farnsworth Aerospace Elementary and Middle School.

Beyond that, Rachleff has connected with a variety of different groups, such as the Minnesota Historical Society, Friends of St. Paul Public Libraries, the immigration history department at the University of Minnesota, and more.

In the proposal to the city, the organization laid out a number of already planned educational programs the space could hold. It lists an “East Sider of the Month” history program led by East Side historian Steve Trimble, mentorship programs pairing professors with students, community yoga classes, and more.

“We really want to be a beehive of educational activities,” Rachleff said.

Rachleff will be at the Payne Phalen Board of Directors meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 25 to outline the East Side Freedom Library’s plans for the historic building, and to meet area residents. The meeting takes place at the St. Paul Police Department’s Eastern District building, 722 Payne Ave.

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at Follow him on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.

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