About this Project:
the Carnegie Libraries of California
On Wednesday, April 23, 1902, California's first Carnegie library opened in San Diego. It was a beautiful building and an outstanding example of the Classical Revival style. Nineteen years later, on November 15, 1921, in the small community of Orosi, the last of California's 142 public and two academic Carnegie libraries was completed. The Orosi Carnegie library is still in use today, as a branch library in the Tulare County Free Library System. It is a simple frame structure and its contrast to the San Diego building illustrates the wide range of architectural styles that were used in constructing Carnegie libraries between 1902 and 1921. Sadly, the San Diego Carnegie library was demolished in 1952.
California is second only to Indiana in the number of grants to construct Carnegie library buildings. The libraries were built from Alturas in the north to Calexico in the south. Each library large or small represented a significant commitment by the people in the community. The Carnegie grant was to be used to construct the building, while the community was expected to provide a site and to tax itself at the annual rate of 10% of the grant amount for the purchase of books and for staffing and upkeep of the library.
Currently, only 85 of the original Carnegie public library buildings are still standing. Of these 36 are still operating as libraries; 21 are museums, 13 are used for community services; the remaining 15 have a variety of uses. The two academic Carnegies are still used by their colleges, but now for classrooms and administration. These buildings, regardless of their use, are clearly a part of the California heritage and should be preserved. This web site has been constructed to introduce people to the diversity of the history and architecture of California's Carnegie libraries and to show how they look today. In addition to those buildings still in use, the history of the demolished libraries is also described along with a picture, where available.
This project is a collaborative effort between Lucy Kortum and Pat and Bernie Skehan. Mrs. Kortum conducted a survey of the Carnegie Libraries in California for the California State Office of Historic Preservation and in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a degree of Master of Arts in History at Sonoma State University. Her Masters thesis, "Carnegie Library Development in California and the Architecture it Produced 1899-1921" was completed in 1990. In addition, Betty Lewis, historian, author and columnist, provided resource materials from earlier research of California Carnegie Libraries to Lucy Kortum. Her books on California history include one on W. H. Weeks, the architect who designed 22 of the Carnegie Libraries in California. Her collection of 30,000 antique postcards included many of the Carnegie Libraries in California. To ensure that the information on this web site is current, Lucy Kortum has recently contacted each library again to verify the facts regarding the current status of the building.
Pat and Bernie Skehan have traveled throughout California photographing these historic buildings. To secure photographs of demolished Carnegie libraries, they have visited the cities where the libraries were built, to locate pictures that could be scanned for this web site. Sources for the photographs of demolished libraries include history rooms of public libraries, local historical societies and museums.
The "listing" page of this web site provides several helpful ways to locate our Carnegie libraries. There is an alphabetical listing by cities where the Carnegie libraries were built. The demolished libraries are marked with an asterisk. There is a listing by the 12 California State regions. Since some of these regions are quite large, there is another listing by areas, which can be visited in a day or two. The libraries are also listed by the style of architecture to illustrate the wide range of styles used by the architects. A final listing gives the name of the architects who designed the buildings. Several of the architects were involved in designing more than one building. One of the most notable is W.H. Weeks, who was responsible for the design of 22 Carnegie library buildings.
We hope you will take a tour of the state on this web site to learn about our Carnegie libraries and see the pictures of both the existing and demolished buildings. You may want to visit these library buildings that are part of California's cultural heritage.