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In November 1998, Anaheim’s venerable Carnegie Library building, reached its ninth decade in serving the cultural needs of our community. Many Anaheim residents still know this current home of The Anaheim Museum, as the old Central Library and are often surprised to see artworks displayed where book stacks once held court. This building, the last remaining example of Mr. Andrew Carnegie’s benevolence in Orange County, has had a colorful history that merits a short review here.

The early Anaheim pioneers realized the community’s need for a lending library as early as 1871. By 1873, 102 subscribers (paying an annual fee of five dollars) were using the library services provided by Messrs. H.S. Austin and P.A. Clark at their stationery store.
During the latter years of the nineteenth Century, the need for an organized “free” Public Library to serve Anaheim’s growing population of 1,400 was being openly discussed throughout the downtown business community.

On January 29, 1901 a “permanent” Library Association was formed by community
leaders who proceeded to request donations of money and books from the residents with
the hope of raising funds to open a “true” Public Library. Meanwhile, beginning in
1889, steel tycoon, Mr. Andrew Carnegie began granting communities across the
country, funds to build public supported libraries. By 1919, Carnegie’s beneficence
funded the construction of over 2,500 public libraries in the English-speaking world.
This fact did not go unnoticed by Anaheim’s fledgling Library Association Board who
discussed “the propriety of asking Mr. Andrew Carnegie to contribute to our cause.”
It would be six more years before official contact would be made with Mr. Carnegie
while in the meantime the community struggled to provide library services. At this time,
Anaheim’s book depository was located in the back of Mr. Cornelius Bruce’s Candy
Store, to whom the Library Association rented space at twelve dollars per month. After
much heated discussion among community leaders, all clearly noted in the columns of
the Anaheim Gazette, Anaheim’s Board of Trustees passed Ordinance No. 144 on
August 12, 1902 officially establishing a Public Library for the citizens of Anaheim.
opinion

This act enabled the City fathers to transfer twenty-five dollars per month from the General Fund into the new “Library Fund.”
Although now ordained by municipal action, little was actually done to create a permanent home for Anaheim’s Library. By early 1906,
Anaheim’s upon itself the project of acquiring same.
Initial contacts were made to Mr. Carnegie’s personal secretary, Mr. James Bertram, by March of 1906. Mr. Charles A. Boege, the
Chamber’s Secretary, continued written communication with Carnegie’s office through early 1907. By this time, a firm pledge of $10,000
was being discussed with the understanding that the residents of Anaheim would continue to fund the estimated $1,000 yearly operating
costs. A costs to the City.costs to the City.

The Chamber of Commerce having now received a commitment from the Carnegie interests, the responsibility of actually funding the location and building the library building was accepted by the Library Association and the Board of Trustees. A “turf war” soon developed between the parties as to who was authorized to seek a site, choose an architect and building design as well as seek bids for the actual construction. The Board of Trustees finally exercised their rights over issues of municipal buildings, allowing the Library Association advisory responsibilities.

On July 9, 1907 the City received the deed to “Original City Lot No. 45,” a 140 x 160 foot space at the corner of Broadway and Los Angeles Streets (later Anaheim Blvd.) This site was chosen due its prominence on a busy route through the County as much as the fact that Mr. William Konig, the owner, reduced his asking price from $4,000 to $2,400, this amount pledged by 75 citizen’s donations. With the location decided upon, requests were made by the Library Board of local architects, six firms submitting plans.

After reviewing the proposals, the Library Board recommended a plan submitted by Mr. John C. Austin, a Los Angeles Architect well known for his municipal work in that city. Again, heated battle raged between the Library Board and the City Trustee’s over the “completeness” of the sketches offered. Modified instructions were published in the local newspapers with only four revised plans returned. A joint meeting between the municipal combatants was held on January 29, 1908, wherein Mr. Austin’s plans were officially accepted by the City.

Local and Los Angeles press were very complementary of the design chosen, a spacious two story 58×80 foot, pressed brick and concrete structure, an interior of Oregon pine, capped with a tile roof. Copywriters waxed poetic describing the “handsomest small public building in Southern California,” with its “spacious lobby, outside porch and Doric columns.” The site and design were now had, could this edifice be constructed for only $10,000 as mandated by the Carnegie grant?

By March 1908, the plans were sent to Mr. Carnegie for his review. Secretary Bertram’s March 18 letter of reply to the Board of Trustees stated, “The building is larger than necessary…the building as planned will cost more than the $10,000…we would like to hear from what source the deficit is to be met.”

Further communications between Anaheim’s frugal Germans and the thrifty Scotsman finally elicited a reply that funding had been authorized on May 1, 1908. From the list of competing bidders, the construction firm of Kuechel and Rowley of Orange was chosen when they agreed to the architect’s changes in specifications and were able to “reduce their bid to $9,589.”

After more delays in working out details, construction was to begin in late November. Funding was so severe that the inclusion of a cornerstone was dropped by the Library Board because the money was needed elsewhere on the project. The local Masonic Lodge, realizing the lack of a cornerstone would deprive them of a “photo opportunity” during the dedication ceremony, funded one at the cost of sixteen dollars. With all things now in order, a great community celebration was held on November 21, 1908 wherein the cornerstone, containing period memorabilia, was laid with full Masonic ceremony, processions and speeches.

The residents of Anaheim formally received their new Public Library building when opened on New Year’s Day, 1909. Records tell us that well as to meet the payroll. The building existed for almost two decades without any major modification. The Library Board then concluded that a renovation was necessary. The plan included “repairs, alterations and improvements…to walls to make them waterproof, to construct an outside entrance to the south basement room…the toilets to be repaired…the building to be rewired…and anything else found to be in need of repairs.”

As the mid 20th century was dawning in Anaheim, it was very apparent that the building constructed 50 years earlier for a population of 2,000 was woefully inadequate for a community that was watching the construction of a new world-class amusement park just south of town. By 1958 a “Committee of 100” of Anaheim’s civic leaders were chosen to review the overall state of the community’s water and electrical infrastructure, fire and police services, public parks and public buildings. Among other proposals presented to the City Council in 1959, was the need for a new Central Public Library building. Long range plans were argued over, agreed upon, presented to the community for their vote, bonds sold and in 1963 the residents of Anaheim opened a new Central Library two blocks west of the old Carnegie location.

The building, whose opening almost sixty years earlier, thrilled the community, was now just so much vacant surplus municipal space. Empty for three years, the City’s Personnel Department moved in, since space no longer existed in the old City Hall. In 1973, the City Council aware of the generally deteriorating condition of some of downtown Anaheim’s business blocks, adopted a far reaching urban renewal plan known as “Project Alpha,” the effects of which are still felt today.

Various urban planner renderings showed a very modern community center, with new high-rise glass office buildings, restaurants and urban parks all linked to Disneyland with monorail service. Nowhere in these plans however were any historic buildings, connections to the community’s past, the memories of which were burned in the minds of many residents. Alarmed citizens organized societies devoted to the preservation of a few key downtown buildings, the 1908 Carnegie Library building to be the centerpiece of these efforts. The Anaheim Museum, Inc. was formed to create and manage the resulting museum earmarked for the venerable building.

City Council Resolution 78R-138 signed by Mayor Bill Thom on February 28, 1978 finally resolved that the “property and improvements known as the Carnegie Library…is hereby, designated as a historical library, research center and museum.” This act culminated Herculean efforts of many residents to gain City Council approval to completely renovate and restore this Anaheim landmark. The building constructed for just under $10,000 in 1908, was now to cost $781,000 to meet current building and earthquake standards. Finally reopened in 1987, the renewed Carnegie Library building’s tenant became The Anaheim Museum.

Today she still stands proud on Mr. Konig’s corner lot, a little wrinkled but proud of her accomplishments over these past ninety years. Through a public-private partnership with the City of Anaheim, The Anaheim Museum continues to reach out to the community as a cultural arts venue. With new construction nearby,the visibility of this fine building within the downtown area is increasing as its importance to the community is fully realized.

by Stephen Faessel