A Story… With a Happy Ending

Once upon a time the charming brick building at 794 North Avenue was a private home. It was built in 1869 – the city’s first brick house – and three generations of the Mahistedt family lived here, running an ice cutting business on the pond (now Twin Lakes) behind the house. In 1922, the City of New Rochelle purchased the 40-acre property to build New Rochelle High School and create Huguenot Park. The brick house was donated to the City and became the Huguenot branch of the New Rochelle Public Library.

For 70 years the Huguenot branch served the community. Nicknamed “the little pink house”, it was cozy and inviting, especially to children. But over the decades the building became cramped; too small to accommodate the needs of a full library branch, it was closed in 1992 when the city faced a financial crisis. Within months the little pink house was victimized by arsonists and defaced by graffiti; the playground next to it suffered as well. There was talk of razing the site for a parking lot.

click to open larger imageIn 1993, a determined group of concerned citizens came together to write a different ending for the story of the little pink house. They envisioned a special place for children and families: a state of the art playground in Huguenot Park and a library exclusively for children, with books, computers, and activities just for kids. The fledgling group knew the effort would require teamwork between the public and private sectors, so they named themselves the Partnership for the Huguenot Children’s Library (PHCL) and set out to make their dream a reality. With help from Mayor Tim Idoni, the group was able to lease the building from the City of New Rochelle; the New Rochelle Public Library agreed to staff the new library if the PHCL could raise the money to renovate the building and pay the operating costs. Fundraising began.

click to open larger imageIn 1995, in response to a grant proposal from the PHCL, the Saturn Corporation donated $29,000 worth of playground equipment. The PHCL organized a “community build”: Volunteers, working with the city, renovated the playground in two phases that summer. Over the next two years, the PHCL held a variety of fundraisers and wrote grants to raise over $300,000; in addition, the PHCL solicited free labor and materials from local businesses.

In the fall of 1996, the PHCL’s all-volunteer building committee began demolition, spending the next year renovating the little pink house.

Finally, on November 22, 1997, the Huguenot Children’s Library opened its doors. The non-profit PHCL continued to raise funds to operate the library until June, 2003, when the citizens of New Rochelle voted to fully fund both libraries.