Posted by: Brad Nixon | June 22, 2016

A Carnegie Library in Phoenix

Let’s drive a dozen miles south from the location of my previous article, Scottsdale, Arizona, to downtown Phoenix.

Phoenix today is a vast sprawl of interconnected, overlapping towns, cities and suburbs that spread into the desert in all directions. In the 1880s, the arrival of the railroad in the desert town of fewer than 2,000 people established Phoenix as a center of trade, industry and agriculture, sparking a dramatic upward curve of growth, often doubling and even tripling in population between the ten year census cycles.

At the turn of the 20th Century, Phoenix already had a public library, but as the population doubled from 5,400 in 1900 to 11,300 in 1910, needed a building to accommodate the increased demand for its services.

Like several thousand other towns, Phoenix received (after several applications) a grant from the Carnegie Library Fund to construct a library, which opened on Washington Street downtown, near City Hall, in 1908.

IMG_8655 Phoenix Carnegie Brad Nixon

The building still stands. Like some other libraries I’ve covered, including Las Vegas, New Mexico and South Pasadena, California, it occupies a parklike space spanning, in this case, two city blocks.

Carnegie Brad Nixon 8670

The building served as the Phoenix Public Library until 1952, when a new main library was opened. Today, after a $1.3 million renovation in the 1980s (versus its original construction cost: $25,000) it’s known as the Carnegie Center, and serves as administrative, museum and meeting space for the Arizona State Library. If you’re there on the right day, as Dad and I were, you’ll find it open, and get a look at the impressive interior.

Carnegie Brad Nixon 8658

IMG_8663 Phoenix Carnegie Brad Nixon

The rear of the building shows the somewhat unusual apse-like curve that gives the building an interior unlike most of the foursquare libraries of its day.

Carnegie Brad Nixon 8665

It required significant effort by several civic organizations to secure the grant from Carnegie to build the library (including an outright gift of those two city blocks of real estate), reflecting the dedication of communities everywhere to do something right. CLICK HERE to learn more about the background.

One more reminder to support your public library. The citizens of a small town in the middle of Arizona did, more than 100 years ago. Look what became of that dusty desert settlement. Happy reading!

Carnegie Brad Nixon 8654

© Brad Nixon 2017

To see more of the libraries I’ve covered, including a number of Carnegies, see “Libraries” in the Categories section in the right-hand column.




  1. Beautiful! I can just imagine the acoustics in that building!


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