I’m a stalwart advocate of free, public libraries. Wherever I travel, I enjoy seeing local libraries, because it reaffirms my conviction that communities play an important role in fostering literacy and understanding through their libraries, large or small.
I’ve featured numerous historic libraries constructed with funds from the Carnegie foundation. At the beginning of the 20th Century, they represented a rich resource for communities to enrich the lives of their citizens Recently, I visited one in San Luis Obispo, California (SLO).
San Luis Obispo was founded in 1792 as Mission San Luis Obispo de Toloso. The city moved its existing subscription library, established in 1894, into the new Carnegie-funded building across the street from the Mission in 1905 to serve the fast-growing community. The building’s granite foundation came from nearby Mt Bishop, and the sandstone arches, sills and corner coining are of local sandstone.
The style is referred to as Richardsonian Romanesque. Take a closer look at the distinctive (and wonderful) sandstone relief carving in the two gables.
(Does anyone out there know what these fantastical faces represent?)
The building served as the San Luis Obispo library until 1955. It then became the San Luis Obispo County Museum, now known as the History Center of San Luis Obsipo County.
In order to remain usable under California earthquake standards, the structure required a multi-million dollar retrofitting, which included stripping all the woodwork and plaster from the interior walls in order to install steel reinforcing. Restored, the interior is now open and spare, but retains much of its original detail and character. That includes at least some of the original dental and cornice mouldings, which a knowledgeable History Center docent told us were ordered from the Sears-Roebuck catalog.
It’s also worth recalling that in 1905, those chimneys visible on the outside weren’t merely decorative, they vented the fireplaces that heated the building.
A few original furnishings remain, including this artifact, recognizable to library users of the past, but increasingly unfamiliar to younger ones of the present.
Yes, SLO still has a library, part of the San Luis Obispo County Library system.
(Those distinctive purple trees are Jacarandas.)
To see more articles about other libraries, including numerous Carnegies, click on Architecture|Libraries in “Categories” in the right-hand column.
Have a library built with Carnegie funds in your town? I’d love to hear from you (especially those of you outside the U.S.) in a comment.
© Brad Nixon 2016
Postscript: Those faces
Fellow musician and UK-based blogger, Nick, suggests that the faces on the library may be related to the Green Man motif, faces formed of leaves, branches and plants. HERE are images to which Nick linked. You can follow Nick’s blog, “Thoughts While Shaving” at nicktickner.wordpress.com. (Nick is an actuary, hence, “shaving.”)
Regular reader and commenter, La Boheme, suggests that those faces are examples of mascarons, which Wikipedia defines as, “a face, usually human, sometimes frightening or chimeric whose function was originally to frighten away evil spirits so that they would not enter the building. Interestingly, the Wikipedia mascaron entry also suggests a relationship with the Green Man motif Nick proposed.
I’m pursuing further information with some sources in San Luis Obispo, to see if I can answer my own question.