Construction of the Petworth Library (historically known as Petworth Branch Library) was long in the making. The first expressed desire for a library in the community came in 1927 when the Petworth Women’s Club library committee, with support from other neighborhood and school associations, called on the District commissioners to endorse a building program for library extensions in DC including a branch for Petworth. Two years later, George F. Bowerman, librarian for DC, presented a plan for thirteen new branch libraries to be erected over fifteen years. In 1930, Bowerman would expand his proposal to an even greater number, including ten “Class A” branches that included Petworth. Five years later, with little prospect for funding due to the Great Depression, Bowerman reduced the proposal to just five branches with Petworth remaining on the list.
The site for Petworth Library at the intersection of Kansas and Georgia Avenues and Upshur Street NW was already owned by DC; in 1930, the Board of Education had granted to the DC Public Library this triangular portion of a thirty-five-acre site that included MacFarland Junior High School and Roosevelt High School. The approximately $150,000 needed for construction and equipping the branch was, however, still lacking. In 1936, Congress finally authorized it for the city’s 1937 budget. The Office of Municipal Architect immediately drafted plans for the new building, securing approvals from the US Commission of Fine Arts and the District Commissioners in December 1936 and July 1937. In January 1939, twelve years after the community had petitioned for a library, the Petworth Branch Library was opened to great acclaim.
The library consists of a two-story, three-part red brick Georgian Revival-style structure with a central pavilion and side wings. As designed by Nathan C. Wyeth (1870-1963), the central pavilion featured a steep hipped roof with dormers and a wooden cupola and side wings covered by gable roofs and buttressed by wide end chimneys. The building’s overall massing, and details, including limestone quoining, classical door entablatures, twelve-over-twelve windows under jack arches and other brick detailing offer a high-quality and academic interpretation of the Georgian Revival style for which Wyeth is known.
In 2009, Petworth Library underwent a major renovation. The District Department of General Services restored the historic wood windows and constructed the building’s cupola, which, although part of the original building design, had never been built. New systems and facilities including updated elevators and bathrooms were installed, while historic finishes and furniture were restored.
DC Inventory: September 27, 2018
National Register: December 3, 2018