Palo Alto Main Library renamed after years of deliberation


he Main Library will sport a new name, Rinconada Library, after it reopens in December after 18 months of closure for major renovations.

On April 7, City Council members voted 7-2 to rename the library, ending the discussion that lasted for more than two years. Council members Larry Klein and Gail Price voted against the name change; they wished to rename the library after architect Birge Clark, who designed hundreds of buildings around the Palo Alto and Stanford area.

“His work lent continuity and identity to Palo Alto’s transformation from a rural town into the birthplace of high-tech Silicon Valley,” Price said.

Some councilmembers thought it strange to put Clark’s name on the building when he did not help design.

“I think it would be hard to name an Edward Durrell Stone building after Birge Clark,” council member Greg Scharff said. “I don’t think you can get two more disparate styles.”

Other names put on the table included the founders of Hewlett-Packard, David Packard and Bill Hewlett, and Palo Alto Medical Clinic founding physician Russell Lee. The discussion to rename the library began when the Palo Alto Historical Association Board suggested the name Rinconada to help reflect the library’s location.

The name Rinconada also reflects the Rancho Rinconada del Arroyo de San Francisquito, the land grant Palo Alto was founded upon.

“It’s [the name is] simpler,” retired librarian Mary Joe Levy said. “It sinks in. It helps people to associate the facility with its location.”

However, in September, the recommendation was rejected by the council and was sent to its Policy and Services Committee to find a proper person to rename the library after. However, the committee struggled to find an appropriate individual, so the issue was brought back to the council. The council stated that if the Policy and Services Committee could not find a new name for the library, they would stick with the name Main Library. However, following an outpour of support for the name Rinconada, the council changed its mind.

“I like the idea of geography, because that really does give you a sense of place… what we’re always looking for in Palo Alto,” Palo Alto Vice-Mayor Liz Kniss said.

Proponents of changing the Main Library’s name argued that the name was a misnomer, as it no longer represented the library’s actual use. It is not the largest library, nor is it where the administration is housed. The renovations to the historic library include new study rooms, a program room, upgrades to the aging mechanical and electrical systems as well as new public restrooms, all while preserving the iconic design of Edward Durrell Stone. The library’s new name is shared with the neighboring pool, park and fire station and is said to be a part of the Rinconada Master Plan.