Gabriel Richard Branch Library

In the early 1920’s the Detroit library commission began looking into building a new branch library along Grand River, a rapidly growing part of Detroit’s northwest side. The result was the Gabriel Richard branch library which opened on April 23rd, 1923. The building was designed by architect Marcus Burrowes, and featured large rooms for reading, lectures, and children’s books. Inside the Detroit council of the Knights of Columbus unveiled a memorial tablet that told the story of Father Richard, who was born in France in 1764, came to Detroit as a missionary and pastor of St. Anne Church. Among his accomplishments were printing the first newspaper and books in the state, writing the laws of the early highway system, serving as vice president of the University of Michigan, and laid the groundwork for today’s public school system. He died in 1832 during a Cholera epidemic. Several of Richard’s descendants attended the ceremony, donating paintings and rare books.

In the early 1980’s Detroit’s public library faced severe cutbacks due to the near-collapse of the automotive industry and loss of tax base. Most of the city’s libraries were put on a half-time schedule, where they were closed on alternate days. In July of 1982, the Richard branch was closed due to lack of funding. One year later the library commission announced that they would be closing 14 of the city’s 24 branches due to budget problems. But the closings were averted by the passage of a bond initiative that increased funding for the library system and reopened the Richard branch. There was a lot of work to be done to get the library back into shape – during the closure vandals had destroyed the card catalogs, which had to be replaced, walls, needed to be painted, and new books had to be ordered. On April 1st, 1985, the plywood was removed from the doors and Richard reopened.

The library provided important resources for the community, including internet access, movies, and a tool lending program to help people make repairs to their homes. By 1997, however, Richard had closed again, this time due to structural damage and maintenance problems. It took five years to put the funds together to repair and reopen the library in April of 2002.

In October of 2011, the library commission again voted to close Richard, along with three other library branches, two of which were eventually saved. Despite protests from community members the branch closed permanently in December of 2011. The books and most of the equipment were removed, this time for good.

Starting in 2022 The Detroit Association of Black Organizations began renovating the library into an educational center. The Dr. LaVonne M. Sheffield Bridge Center was dedicated in February of 2023, offering college courses and adult literacy programs.