The original charter for The Wilton Manors Public Library Association was dated August 19, 1957.  The City did not take over the Library until August 1958, so the ancestor “friends” organization predates official City involvement.  In fact, this organization was predated by the JayCee-ettes Library Board.

The friends (small “f”) have had various names and their dates are a little confusing.  The Wilton Manors Public Library Association was doing business as “Friends of the Library of Wilton Manors.”  Changes to the by-laws of the various organizations were not always promptly filed with the State. 

The Civic Association was the first government of the little community between the forks of the Middle River.  They addressed things like garbage pickup, electrical service, bus service, and street maintenance.  In 1947, they had been worried about annexation by either Fort Lauderdale or Oakland Park and incorporated the Village of Wilton Manors.  The Village Hall was built by the Civic Association in 1948 on land donated by Dave Turner, Wilton Manors’ first mayor.  It was used by all community groups and civic organizations.  The City Council met there.  The Woman's Club and Boy Scout troops used it.  It was the only voting place at one time. 

In 1956, Mary Jane Schmidt of the JayCee-ettes (Junior Chamber of Commerce Auxiliary) wrote a letter to the Florida State Library Board for support creating a library in Wilton Manors.  Unless we had $25,000 on hand, the State Library Board could not help.  In February of 1957, the call went out to all the Wilton Manors service clubs to help.

They did – Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, civic groups and residents all donated books.  On June 24, 1957, a library was inaugurated in a little space at the back of Manor Market.

A new City Hall had been in the works in the early 1950’s, and it had its grand opening in July 1957.  It was an “imposing municipal center.”  The Library had its eye on the old Village/City Hall at 500 NE 26th Street. 

This created a problem for the civic groups who had been meeting at the old City Hall.  Marcia Stafford reported, “You could always tell when the scouts had met there earlier in the day.  The place smelled like peanut butter.”  This precipitated the completion of the “Hagen Park Community Center,” as an enclosed building.

We became a “city” in 1953.  In August 1957, the Civic Association dissolved and transferred all its assets to the public library project.  (This was reported by Virginia Rogers in her column “Wilton Manors Topics” in the Fort Lauderdale Daily News.  The Florida Department of State Division of Corporations has the dissolution as 1974.  The Civic Association would return with a vengeance in 1982.)

With the support of the Public Library Association, the size of the Library was doubled in 1960.  A history of the library, dated April 1965, says, “Although the Association is not as active now, it still has its place.”

The Friends’ history indicates that the Friends of the Library of Wilton Manors was created in 1970.  The Florida Division of Corporations says 1972.  The Division of Corporations also says that the name of the corporation was changed from the Wilton Manors Public Library Association to Friends of the Wilton Manors Library, Inc., in September 2000.  The Florida Department of State Division of Corporations says January 2002.

In December 1981, the Town Crier announced that the Friends would provide 33 1/3 RPM records for patrons – Manilow, Nelson, Pavarotti and more.  At some point, the Friends provided “books on tape” and VHS tapes.  These, of course, made way for CDs and DVD and Blu-Ray movies.

The Friends raised money for the Library with various fundraising events, including selling watermelon slices during the City’s Fourth of July festivities.  They held lots of potluck suppers.  In 1984, they bought an Apple IIe computer, complete with TWO disk drives, a video monitor, and a printer with a tractor feed.  It supported Telemark 3 software.  It cost $4,000!  The Friends also donated a film projector and paid for many of the library's programs such as puppet and film shows.  Public access computers have been provided by the Friends.  The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation did give us six Gateway computers, and a server in 1997.  The Library had the first public access computers in Broward County.

There were major renovations to the building in April 1984.  It reopened September 1984.  The renovations cost about $20,000 and were paid for by the Friends of the Library.

The Sun-Sentinel in August 19, 1987 had a very complementary article about the library, praising the service provided by the staff, safety of the environment, friendliness of staff, other patrons, by children and adults alike.  Over the years, there have been lots of similar articles in various newspapers.

As early as 1973, the City Council had pledged to expand the present library facility or develop a new site.  In 1974, Broward County was launching a countywide library system.  This came to a head in 1982.  There were loud and convincing protests from residents that we wanted to maintain an independent library.  Sign carrying residents crowded the commission chamber protesting the proposed takeover.  There were loudspeakers on the sidewalk outside the Council Chambers for the overflow crowd to listen to the meeting.  Council Members voted unanimously to stop the talks with the County.  A proposal may have been instigated by the city's efforts to save about $250,000 a year.  There were rumors that some of the negotiations with the County may have been secret.

By the late 1980s, city operated libraries were again under pressure to merge with the Broward County library system.  Wilton Manors resisted.

Again in June 1997 Broward County proposed taking over the library.  In September 1997, the City again wanted to open up the possibility of a takeover by the County by putting a referendum on the ballot in March 1998.  There was thought that the money saved operating the library could be applied to a proposed city sponsored arts and theater complex in what was then the vacant 2020 building on Wilton Drive.  There were politics involved.

There was a proposal for a bond issue of more than $3.5 million to increase and improve our parks.  Wayne Schotanus led the charge to get the Council to add an additional bond for $350,000 to increase the size of the Library.  More than 72% of voters voted to increase the size of the Library, which was a bigger vote of confidence than the parks got.

This addition would more than double the present size of the library.  Schotanus and the City successfully lobbied the state for an additional $300,000 grant, which allowed the expansion to 6,500 sq feet.

Construction started in January 2002.  There were insufficient funds to furnish the childrens’ wing, but $40,000 was donated by Richard Sullivan.  The new Library opened in March 2003, including about $120,000 in new furnishings paid for by the Friends.

Richard C. Sullivan died in 2005.  He left a bequest of $280,000 to pay off the remaining bond debt.

The history of the Wilton Manors Library, now officially the Richard C. Sullivan Public Library of Wilton Manors, has been well documented.  The Friends of the Wilton Manors Library recently made their archives available to the Wilton Manors Historical Society. 

The one thing which jumps out of all these archives, primarily in newspaper clippings, is the friendliness and helpfulness of the Library staff over the last 59 years.  Since 1957, we have had 16 Mayors and 15 different City Managers.  Richard Sterling, appointed in 2004, is our fourth Library Director!

If you have any question about the staff, stop in at the Library on a Monday morning and watch the kids at the pre-school program.  Or, go ask the Librarian an impossible question and be impressed that they can answer it.