In August 2012, activists broke into the abandoned Carnegie Library building at 1449 Miller Avenue in Oakland’s Oak Tree Neighborhood. The three-story Spanish revival-style edifice had been used as a schoolhouse for the Emiliano Zapata Street Academy in the Seventies and Eighties. Later, it was used as an annex for a nearby halfway house, but when it was finally abandoned, it sat dark and empty for years, the yard around it filling up with trash. It became a dangerous spot in an already battered neighborhood. The takeover in 2012 was short-lived. The city — which owns the building — kicked out the small activist collective that hoped to transform the interior into a new library they named the Biblioteca Popular Victor Martinez. Ousted from the spacious interior, the dissentious librarians and neighbors instead took over the surrounding yard, grew a garden, built bookshelves, painted the walls, and have hosted barbecues and other gatherings on the weekends. The Biblioteca is still going strong. It’s a unique space of genuine grassroots revitalization in a city that is sadly characterized by spaces of extreme neglect.
Correction: The address of the Biblioteca Popular Victor Martinez is 1449 Miller Avenue, not 1149 Miller Avenue as originally stated.