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Andrew Carnegie’s towering legacy thrives at 3 Los Angeles Libraries

Jan 05, 2010 by Lisa Newton

Growing up in the small town of Clyde, Ohio, I spent hours and hours at its local library, pictured below courtesy of silvergirl. I remember the smell of the books, looking in the old Dewey Decimal System files, finding a book, and then proudly checking it out with my very own library card. Of course, as a kid, my transport was my bike, whenever I went there—and everywhere else.

Clyde Public Library

For a small town of 5,000 people, which was the population of Clyde back in the day, it’s a really beautiful library.

But it’s a unique library:

With a $10,000 donation by Andrew Carnegie and matching community support, the Clyde Public Library first opened its doors on October 30, 1906; and in 1996, the original building was “extensively renovated and expanded to provide handicap accessibility, additional space for users and materials, and to accommodate new computer technology,” but it still maintains its unique Carnegie historical charm.

Who was Andrew Carnegie?

For those that don’t know, Andrew Carnegie was, at one time, “the richest man in the world.” Earning most of his fortune in the steel industry, Andrew Carnegie was the epitome of a true to life “rags to riches” story. Immigrating to the USA with his parents in 1848, Carnegie started working at the age of 13 as a bobbin boy, changing spools of thread in a cotton mill, twelve hours a day, six days a week. His wages were $1.20 per week.

From these humble beginnings in 1848, Carnegie eventually built his steel fortune. In 1901, wanting to retire, Carnegie sold his portion of his company, Carnegie Steel, for $480, 000, 000. Even by today’s standards that’s an incredible amount of money.

Carnegie – 1901-1919

After the sale of his company, Carnegie spent the final years of his life as a philanthropist. By the time of his death, he had already given away $350,695,653—yet another incredible amount of money even by today’s standards. Included in that amount were literally thousands of small donations which either started or built over 2,500 public libraries worldwide.

One of those libraries is the Clyde Public Library that I used to visit, and his vast reach extended to Los Angeles, which used to have 6 Carnegie Libraries.

Why do I say “used to?”

However three of the original six Carnegie Los Angeles Libraries, have since been demolished. They include the:

Arroyo Seco: 1914-1959

Boyle Heights: 1916-1974

Vernon: 1915-1974

It’s a crying shame to see historic buildings brought down by “progress.” Nonetheless, the good news is that three of the libraries are still standing and serving our local communities. Each one of these libraries was started with an initial Carnegie grant of $35,000.

Cahuenga Branch

Built in 1916 in the Italian Renaissance style by architect C. H. Russell, the Cahuenga Branch, pictured above, was the last and smallest of the six LA Carnegie libraries. Its located near the eastern end of Santa Monica Blvd., close by the intersection of Santa Monica Blvd. and Vermont Avenue. It was initially intended to serve the community of workers in the then nearby orange and avocado groves and wheat fields. Today the fairly small Italian Renaissance building stands out in the community’s busy commercial district.

Lincoln Heights Branch

The Lincoln Heights Branch, pictured above, is unique among the group, due to its design in the shape of a segment of a circle, modeled from Italy’s Villa Papa Giulio. It is located just east of Dodger Stadium, near the interchange of the Pasadena and Golden State freeways, at the corner of Workman Street and Avenue 26.

It was the fifth completed library out of the six original Los Angeles Carnegie branches. The architectural firm of Hibbard and Cody designed this Italian Renaissance building. Located in one of the older sections of Los Angeles, it replaced an earlier 1909 library which became the East Main Branch. Today its constituency includes many non-English speaking populations and its role is recognized in its alternate name, Biblioteca del Pueblo de Lincoln Heights.

Vermont Square Branch

Built in 1913, the Vermont Square Branch,pictured above, is the only occupant of Vermont Square, a tree shaded park occupying a full city block at Budlong Street between 47th and 48th streets, just southwest of the intersection of Vermont Avenue and Vernon Avenue south of the USC campus. It’s located in a cozy neighborhood of small bungalows and a local park. This particular Italian Renaissance building was designed by the architectural firm of Hunt and Burns. It’s the only one of the three remaining Carnegie branches here that was damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

If you’d like to visit these unique and historical buildings—and even check out a book–here’s a map for all three of them:

View Carnegie Libraries in Los Angeles in a larger map

Even though California is considered young by East Coast standards, it has a rich history full of character, color, and coolness.

When Travelin’ Local, it’s always fun to discover what’s already in our own backyard.

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One Response to “Andrew Carnegie’s towering legacy thrives at 3 Los Angeles Libraries”

  1. Will Campbell says:

    I always thought the original Hollywod branch library I haunted as a brat was a Carnegie. Destroyed by fire in the late 1970s (or maybe early ’80s) it was replaced with a building designed by Frank Gehry that I never warmed up to.


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