Location of New Mission Hills-Hillcrest Library Brought Construction Challenges

San Diego architects tapped uptown’s signature craftsman-style design for the new Mission Hills-Hillcrest Harley & Bessie Knox Library on West Washington Street

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C.W. Driver Companies

A $21.1 million new Mission Hills-Hillcrest Harley & Bessie Knox Library is both homage to the past and a warning for the future.

The homage comes from its craftsman-style design, modeled after that of many of the nearby homes.

The warning comes in the form of artwork that depicts what could happen in San Diego from climate change through three huge wheels anchored to the interior wall of the main room in the library. The wheels rotate, gradually unrolling spools of paper on which are painted an ocean, a reservoir and a wooded canyon.

C.W. Driver Companies

As the paper unrolls, the painted scenes gradually disappear, representing what could happen if climate change goes unchecked.

The library itself was particularly challenging for C.W. Driver to build because of its location on a small lot on a busy thoroughfare will little room to maneuver.

“That was definitely the most difficult,” said Daniel Tillett, assistant project manager for C.W. Driver.

The Mission Hills-Hillcrest library is one of several projects C.W. Driver built in San Diego County. The company also built branch libraries in Alpine, Ramona and Fallbrook.

Because the site was so cramped and on such a busy street, just getting materials delivered and dirt removed to provide two levels of underground parking was tough, he said.

The artwork, with each wheel weighing about 200 pounds, also was a challenge because an interior wall had to be reinforced with steel to hold it up, Tillett said.

Manuel Oncina

Taking more than 25 years to become a reality, the nearly 15,000 square-foot library at 925 W. Washington St., adjacent to Florence Elementary School is but a few blocks from the one it replaces, which was built in 1961 and was about a third of its size.

The new library site was once an office building for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and a parking lot.

The city bought the property in 2004 and razed the old buildings in 2017.

Originally designed by Ferguson Pape Baldwin Architects in Kearny Mesa, the final product is the combined work of that firm and Manuel Oncina Architects of La Jolla.

Manuel Oncina said that he modified the original design to make it “a more Mission Hills type of craftsman-style building.”

“A large component of that was the scale of the building, which we actually reduced on the front of the building and the side by lowering the height of the building to make it more pedestrian friendly, more accessible,” he said, with the final product about 26-feet tall at its peak.

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