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.Best Use of an Abandoned Building

Biblioteca Popular Victor Martinez

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.


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