NBPL History

History of the Newport Beach Public Library

The Newport Beach Public Library has a long history of service to the community. The current library customers can be grateful to the many groups of dedicated people who worked over the past century to make the library a reality in Newport Beach. 


As early as 1909, there was community action to create a library. One of the first activities of the Ebell Club, when it was formed in 1909, was to procure a small traveling collection from the State Library, which the members made available to the community a few hours a week at their clubhouse. In 1911, the Ebell Club developed a permanent collection of 300 books that was available each afternoon for a few hours.

In the 1920's a municipal library was formally established by City Council, with a Board of Library Trustees and budget of $75 per month. The initial collection consisted of the former Ebell collection which had grown to over 1,000 books and included the Encyclopedia Britannica as the reference source. Trustees worked diligently throughout the decade to provide a permanent site for the library. The first was at the Ebell Club; later at a small City-procured bungalow on Bay Street; and finally in 1929, in a permanent 2,200 square foot facility (now Balboa Branch Library). It was built at a cost of $7,000 in what was then called West Newport Park. The building was actually constructed around the public restrooms already on the site.


In the 1940's, the library was a bustling place, according to the histories available, due to the influx of population from the Santa Ana Air Base. The library is said to have been a community meeting place and "hang out." However, it did not get its first telephone until 1944.

Before the end of that decade there was a call for providing library services beyond the peninsula. With the assistance of the Corona del Mar Business Association, a small "station" library was established in Corona del Mar.


The 1950's, with the postwar City growth, was also a period of expansion for the library. In 1952, the Balboa Branch was expanded to 5,000 square feet, with a more open, modern façade, windows and entrance replacing the Spanish style exterior. The Corona del Mar station library was moved to the old custodian's house of the Corona del Mar school (since demolished), and finally to a 2,000 square foot building on Marigold. Ninety percent of the Marigold building's cost of $29,000 was raised by donations. This was accomplished by a gift to the library of two lots in Corona del Mar, which were then sold, as well as the fundraising activities of the newly established Friends of the Newport Beach Public Library.

Plans for a branch on the other side of the bay were also begun and eventually resulted in the Mariners Branch. The Friends of the Library were asked to raise $15,000 to make that branch possible. The 5,000 square foot Mariners Branch building was finally dedicated in 1963.


In the 1970's, the trustees and the City commissioned several formal library studies and needs assessments, all calling for a main or central library for the growing city. But when the Newport Center Branch on San Clemente Drive was finally dedicated in 1980, it had only 10,000 square feet of public space, drastically reduced from the building originally designed to be a main library.

In the late 1980's, a new needs assessment and the companion library strategic plan were developed. Coordinated by the trustees and supported by community groups, the concept of a central library, with adequate reference resources to serve the entire City, was again revived. The Friends, the newly organized Booster Club, and the new Newport Beach Public Library Foundation all worked to make possible the new Central Library facility at 1000 Avocado Avenue, which replaced the Newport Center Branch. A sum of two million dollars was raised for the project, which cost a total of 10 million dollars for the building, the equipment, and furnishings. Architects Simon Martin-Vegue Winkelstein Moris of San Francisco, in Association with James L. Pirdy of Newport Beach, designed the building. The Grand Opening of the 54,000 square foot Central Library was celebrated in July of 1994.

1995– present

In  2002, a fundraising drive took place to raise $1 million needed for the City of Newport Beach to apply for a California State Library construction grant for a “joint-use” facility serving area residents and school children from Mariners Elementary School. The City was awarded a state grant of 3.2 million. With $1 million raised through individual private donations, including a substantial donation from local philanthropists Donna and John Crean, the new 15,000 square foot Donna and John Crean Mariners Branch Library was opened in April of 2006 at 1300 Irvine Avenue, adjacent to Mariners Elementary School.

In May 2013, The Central Library opened its 17,000 square-foot expansion built in conjunction with the new City Hall and Civic Center Park on Avocado Avenue just behind the Central Library.  Situated at the end of the Civic Green, between City Hall and a new 450-space parking structure, the Library expansion brings the City's vision to fuse “synergism” between the new City Hall, library and park to fruition, providing a true sense of community and a gathering place for people of all ages and interests. The expansion of the Central Library includes a digital media lab, expanded adult reading areas and children’s room, and upstairs restrooms.

The Central Library has a Local History Collection (for in library use only) located on the upper level of the Central Library.  For additional information on Newport Beach History, contact Newport Beach Historical Society or Sherman Library & Gardens.