A Temple in the Park
The Carnegie Library is a fine example of Greek Revival architecture, located in the center of Carnegie Park, between Third and Fourth, J and K streets. The building, is one of the few Carnegie library buildings in the Bay Area that has survived over 100 years. At one time there were 2,800 Carnegie Libraries in English-speaking countries around the world. Many of the Carnegie building have been demolished.
It’s named “Carnegie” because it was a grant from the Carnegie Foundation that eventually led to the permanent building that made the library come to life. Between 1889 and 1923 Andrew Carnegie and the Carnegie Corporation have been providing funding for 1,681 public library buildings in over 1,400 U.S. communities. Andrew wanted to make sure that the libraries were to stay open for as long as they can; by making two conditions: one in order to get money for the library – the community had to agree to continuously support the library as well as pick and provide a suitable site for the library to stand. With only 900 public libraries in 1896, there became close to 4,000 in 1925. Today the U.S. has just about 9,000 public libraries and almost 7,000 additional libraries branched in different locations.
It was designed by William Weeks, a San Francisco architect, who did the plans for many of California’s Carnegie buildings, including both the Oroville and San Luis Obispo Carnegie libraries, as well as 18 other Carnegie libraries, the Hotel Durant in Berkeley, and numerous high schools and other public buildings in California.
William Weeks incorporated numerous classical elements in his design of the library with its pedimented central portico supported by Greek Ionic columns. It is one story high with a full basement, and almost square, with dimensions of 45 by 47 feet (14 by 14 m). The building is on a raised site reached by steps rising in two tiers like a temple in the park. The walls were built of locally-made buff brick, sheathed with terra cotta and plaster. There are light colored quoins at the corners, projections and foundation that provide contrast with the yellow walls. A low parapet around the roof line is decorated with large dentils. The center of the roof is raised and shows ornamental lions on one side of the building. A central portico, decorated with a pediment that is supported by two pairs of Greek Ionic columns, frames the main entrance (on the Third Street side). The entrance is wooden double doors with glass panels. A rounded clear glass arch sits above the doors. A fountain and a pair of iron light standards mark the entrance. The fountain has remained in operation since it was installed in May 1911.
The first Livermore Library was organized in 1875 by the Livermore Library and Dramatic Association. It initially had a collection of 250 books. Members of the public were asked to pay three dollars a year for a family membership (or twenty dollars for a lifetime membership) for the privilege of borrowing books. It became public in 1901. By then, the library's inventory had grown to 3,500 books.
In 1902 the state of California passed a new law allowing Sixth Class cities (with population of less than 1,000) to organize tax-supported municipal libraries. Led by Mrs. Dell C. Savage, president of the library board, Livermore began its campaign to obtain a library grant from the Carnegie Foundation in 1908. A formal application was made and a grant of $10,000 was approved in 1909.
The town trustees agreed to match the grant by providing $1,000 per year for ten years (the latter a proviso required by Carnegie). A lot of 1.83-acre (7,400 m2) was purchased at the corner of Fifth Street and L Street for $9,000. The land formerly belonged to a man named Peter McKeany; who owned and operated a butcher slaughterhouse with corrals. Community performances, shows, and a ball raised funds to develop the park site.
The building's distinctive yellow brick came from the nearby Carnegie Brick Works, apparently named earlier in admiration for the industrialist. Hoyt Bros. of Santa Rosa built the library. Hoyt Brothers were paid $10,640 to construct the building. Several Livermore residents and local farmers furnished volunteer labor to assist the construction effort.
The Carnegie Library opened in 1911 after a few decades of struggle. The new building continued to serve as the main public library until 1966, when the city built a new central library in the Civic Center on South Livermore Street. After staying open for 55 years, the city of Livermore decided to close the library on Labor Day of 1966 when the books were moved by the stuff and by members of Job Corps to a new building on South Livermore Avenue in the Civic Center. When the new library opened, there became a public outcry to save the Carnegie Library, and they succeeded. As part of its 1977 centennial, Livermore undertook exterior restoration of the building and it was designated a local landmark by the City Council in 1987. Now it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
A Community Gem
Since September 1974 the Carnegie Building has housed the Livermore Heritage Guild’s History Center and the Livermore Art Association’s art gallery. It is a great place to start learning about local history.
The History Center contains displays and information on Livermore's past with access to information in the archives. The History Center has guided, walking tours of the historic business and residential areas in Livermore. Open Wednesday through Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. If you need assistance, a member of the Livermore Heritage Guild will available to help you.