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.

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 ten year census cycles.

Today, Phoenix is a sprawl of overlapping towns, cities and suburbs that spread into the desert in all directions.

Phoenix already had a public library by the turn of the 20th Century. As its population was doubling from 5,400 in 1900 to 11,300 in 1910, it needed a building to accommodate the increasing 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.

Phoenix Carnegie Brad Nixon 8655 (640x480)

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 (640x471)

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 (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 (640x536)

IMG_8663 Phoenix Carnegie Brad Nixon (640x416)

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

Phoenix Carnegie Brad Nixon 8665 (640x480)

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.

Let it stand as one more reminder to support our public libraries 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!

Phoenix Carnegie Brad Nixon 8654 (640x465)

Although I’m an amateur student of architecture, I’m no expert when it comes to identifying styles. I welcome anyone who can help put a name to this structure’s style. It has classical revival elements, but I won’t hazard a guess. Do you have a suggestion? The application on the National Register of Historic Places doesn’t even list a style.

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.

Some of the photographs in this post and select images from Under Western Skies are available on CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky image portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2016, 2017



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


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