The Carnegie Library at 10 S. Cedar St. is the first true library building in the city of Spokane. The neoclassical structure was built in 1904 courtesy of a donation by industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and a concerted effort by area residents.
As Spokane began to grow after the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1881, early efforts to provide library services to settlers quickly followed. Several small libraries formed, always in rented or borrowed space in other structures. In 1894 the combined Union Library moved into the basement of City Hall. However, there was concern that women and children would have to travel past saloons and gambling establishments to reach the library, so an effort was begun to create a permanent home for a city library in a building dedicated solely for that purpose.
Spokane Mayor J.M. Comstock wrote to Carnegie for funds to build a library in 1901. The request was refused, but in 1903 the city was notified that Carnegie reconsidered and provided $85,000 for construction.
But where to place the library? Many citizens wanted it downtown but residents of Browne’s Addition just to the west wanted it there. A happy solution came about when mining magnate A.B. Campbell donated a site that filled a wedge-shaped lot at what is now the western end of downtown Spokane, right where Browne’s Addition begins (and adjacent to where Sprague and Riverside avenues converge).
The architecture firm of Preusse & Zittel – which also designed Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral, the Fernwell Building, Holy Names Academy and many of Spokane’s iconic structures – designed the building. The structure became one of the 1,689 libraries built across America with Carnegie funds between 1883 and 1921, an arrangement which required, among other things, that cities provide 10 percent of the construction cost on a yearly basis and free service for all.
It was included among other Carnegie libraries in the state for listing on the National Register of Historic Places (1976) and is also on the Spokane Register of Historic Places (1992).
The cornerstone was placed in September 1904, and reports show that Campbell was upset that his name appeared on the stone above Carnegie’s. Apparently, the Library Commission agreed to have the names reversed once the stone was set, but that never happened.
Also, a time capsule was placed inside the cornerstone – inside a copper box which holds assorted items, including a deed to the property, a letter from Carnegie, a Virginia Treasury note from 1862 and copies of Spokane’s daily newspapers.
The original three-story building (two floors above a daylight basement) measure 90-by-118 feet and has a brick exterior facing above dark stone-faced masonry foundation. Its most prominent feature is its monumental portico supported by four terra cotta Corinthian columns which rise from near ground level. The main floor Mediterranean-style lobby atrium rises to a skylighted roof and was in its early days surrounded in tiers by a ladies’ reception area, general reading room, offices, two-story stack room, study room, reference room, assembly room and – in an innovative move for the time – a children’s reading room.
The original mosaic tile floor remains in the lobby, which also has daylight provided by 6-by-10-foot windows. Also inside were (and still are) seven highly ornamented fireplaces.
The stately library became crowded almost immediately after opening, and in 1930 a 34-by-36-foot four-story reference annex was added at the rear. Even so, library needs outgrew the space and the city’s main library was relocated to the old Sears building downtown in 1963.
Times were not so good after that for the Carnegie structure, which went through several owners before defaulting to city ownership, said Mark Dailey, principal architect with Integrus Architecture, which purchased the building in 1992. It had been vacant since 1983 and had been damaged by vagrants, fire and pigeons.
“We gutted anything that wasn’t original and took it back to its original bones,” he said. “We put in a new mechanical system, replaced the double-hung windows with argon-gas paned windows and preserved what we could.”
Vinyl asbestos flooring which had been laid over the original wood floors was removed and the wood floors restored. Granite steps that were removed from the back entry to provide handicap access have been repurposed behind the reception area as stands for plants.
“We have librarians come back to visit the building and often hear personal stories from men and women who came here as high school students,” Dailey added. Integrus, a 62-year-old public works architecture firm which employs 50 people in the building, uses the building as well for open houses and other events, including a recent wedding reception for an employee.
It was a little bit of a gamble moving there as the neighborhood was a bit rough around the edges when it first relocated, but there has been additional development in the area, and new businesses opening nearby.
“Really, this space isn’t flexible for many uses,” Dailey said. “Its best use is for a library or an architecture firm. All in all, it’s a great home for us.”
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