CHEERS TO 80 YEARS: COVID-19 helps cure clutter in Lake Worth Beach public library’s latest chapter
Updated: Apr 7
LIKE A HAUNTED MANSION, the old library was dark, dusty and cluttered. Book-hunting patrons navigated a gauntlet of shelves, some of which blocked windows and seemed to cast long shadows across the stacks.
It was the summer of 2019 and the Lake Worth Beach Public Library, built in 1941 at 15 North M St. in the heart of downtown, was showing its age.
That August, library manager Cindy Ansell and her three assistants embarked on a daunting mission -- to give their beloved library a badly needed makeover in time for its 80s birthday and without disrupting the reading public.
Then came the pandemic.
On March 16, 2020, the library shuttered its doors indefinitely.
For the next three months, Ansell and her assistants -- Kay Ralston, Annemarie Marcel and Absel Gomez -- buzzed like mask-wearing worker bees, zipping up and down the stairs in the three-floor building.
They rearranged 10,000 square feet of rooms. They painted walls. They updated and moved the collection of 50,000 books.
“Everything we did seemed to involve more labor,’’ Ansell said with a laugh.
City maintenance crews helped, too.
Shelves were moved. Long-blocked windows were exposed for the first time in decades, spilling natural light across the wood and tile floors and highlighting large murals, like Sherman Winton’s “The Sailing of the Spanish Armada.”
Other hidden jewels were uncovered, like original bookshelves embossed with "LW".
By the time the library opened its doors again in June on a limited basis, it looked almost brand new.
It looks even better today, so much so that it’s getting an early 80th birthday celebration this week with tours in observance of National Library Week.
“Cheers to Eighty Years,’’ reads a banner outside the main entrance.
The library that turns 80 in August looks like a sleek historical museum, with comfortable and inviting spaces and newly-polished original floors.
“We’ve been working like Trojans, but it’s been such a pay off. We are so thrilled to be in a nice bright space,’’ said Ansell, who wore a pair of novelty eyeglasses with “EIGHTY” above the frames while leading a tour Tuesday.
“Without COVID, it would have been a four-year adventure,'' Ansell said. "You hate to say it, but it was the bright side of the pandemic.’’
She said the city spent just a few thousands dollars on the renovation, since most was done with staff, supplies and lots of sweat -- much in the spirit of the library's initial construction campaign when the city, incorporated in 1913, was just 13 years old.
In 1926, city voters approved a resolution to build a library. But federal money for the construction was vetoed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ansell said.
The community banded together and raised $61,000 through bake sales, bond sales, parties and penny collections. It took 15 years.
Five hundred people attended the grand opening on Aug. 12, 1941. It was a major milestone for a library that from 1912-16 operated out of a house on South C Street with books brought there from West Palm Beach by bicycle.
There’s more work to be done. The third floor eventually will be turned into a Florida room for research.
Ansell and her crew are happy with their new digs.
Before, “it was so cluttered, you couldn’t see the beauty,'' she said.
"Now people walk in and say, ‘Oh, you got a new painting.’ But it's always been there. You just couldn't see it because we had so many shelves and it was so dark.’’
The library is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to noon and from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. The schedule allows ample time for cleaning and disinfecting.
Visitors are limited to one visit per day up to one hour. Ten people are allowed in at a time to ensure social distancing.
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