Posted by: Brad Nixon | August 4, 2017

Catching the Title Wave: A Carnegie in Portland, Oregon

In the coming weeks, I’ll post a number of articles stemming from a recent trip through California and Oregon.

Longtime readers won’t be surprised that a number of posts will feature Carnegie Library buildings encountered en route. For the large number of recent subscribers to Under Western Skies, welcome, thank you, and fear not: I don’t ALWAYS write about libraries. When I do, they’re often about buildings financed by the Carnegie Foundation in the first part of the 20th Century. I got my first library card from a Carnegie library, and I like seeing the old places, whether they’re still libraries or not. There are more than 1,600 of them still extant, so I don’t expect to exhaust the possibilities.

I’ll start with a Carnegie-financed building that’s no longer a library, but is an important part of a library system, the Multnomah County Library, which has 19 branches serving metropolitan Portland, Oregon.

In 1901, Portland received a $165,000 Carnegie grant to build 6 libraries. One of them, the Albina branch at 216 NE Knott St., opened in 1912:

Title Wave Portland Brad Nixon 7773 (640x480)

A large, superb looking structure in Spanish Renaissance Revival style, it has most of the features Carnegies share, including a highly decorative exterior.

Title Wave Portland Brad Nixon 7778 (640x480)

This Carnegies — like others, as well as most public buildings of the day — had imposing front steps to the main level.  Almost universally true at the time, there were no safety railings.

Mulnomah Albina Carnegie historical 7798 (640x470)

There was a lower level with an auditorium.

The interior? Impressive:

Portland Albina library historical 7797 (640x506)

The building’s intact, in sound condition, still part of the Multnomah system, no longer a library, but not just offices, storage or administrative space. It’s a book store.

Title Wave Portland Brad Nixon 7793 (640x470)

Libraries all face the challenge of making responsible disposition of their discarded materials, and the extensive Multnomah system has an excellent way to do it.

Multnomah County had moved the branch library out of the building by some time in the 1960s and put it to other uses. In 1988, a volunteer coordinator suggested the idea of an ongoing book store to resell books removed from the library collection. Thus began the Title Wave Used Bookstore, where books, CDs, DVDs and magazines removed from the library collection are available for sale at bargain prices. Educators get a discount.

Title Wave Portland Brad Nixon 7799 (640x469)

As you see in the image above, the original archways to the back portion of the main floor have been filled in, but much of the original woodwork, ceiling moldings and other details are intact. The library uses the back space as well as the lower floor for offices, meeting rooms, archival storage and a number of other purposes.

There’s been other renovation and restoration, sometimes undetectable, with a good job of changes being made in the original style. A good example is the new entry vestibule, now ADA-compliant with automatic doors. The clock is original.

Title Wave Portland Brad Nixon 7790 (504x640)

There are something like 20,000 items on the shelves at Title Wave. One thing that’s interesting is that the items are shelved according to the Dewey Decimal numbers which which they’re already labeled as they come from the library.

Title Wave Portland Brad Nixon 7789 (480x640)

Donations to the library are managed and sold separately, not there. In addition, like many libraries, Multnomah donates books to worthwhile causes. I was especially impressed that some of Multnomah’s books go to the county court system’s juror rooms. If you’ve ever spent 3 days in a jury room, waiting to be called, you can appreciate the value of having something other than 2 year old copies of magazines to read.

For film buffs, the 2000 film, “Men of Honor,” has Cuba Gooding, Jr., visit a library. The scene was shot at Title Wave.

One paid staffer — who graciously showed us the facility — manages Title Wave, supported by 65 volunteers, some of whom have been involved with Title Wave from its inception.

That’s a good place to conclude, because it makes the point I always have in mind when I write about public libraries. Libraries exist because citizens support them, in a number of ways. Volunteers, Friends of the Library and other organizations are essential to the continuing survival of libraries. Citizens vote for bond issues, tax levy renewals and operating funds to keep them thriving.

Andrew Carnegie donated something on the order of $25 million (not adjusted for inflation) to build libraries, one of the largest philanthropies in history. Well, he was one of the world’s wealthiest humans. That was only for structures: not land, operating expenses, books or anything other than buildings. People in large cities and tiny villages alike undertook to make them into functioning libraries, a task that hasn’t lessened in its importance. That’s the work those volunteers are continuing at Title Wave.

How does your library handle discontinued materials? Leave a comment.

To see more of my library posts, click on “libraries” under the Categories widget in the right column. Click the Title Wave link in the body copy above for hours.

© Brad Nixon 2017. All photos courtesy of kind permission of Multnomah County Library. Historical photos are the property of Multnomah County Library. Angelus Studio, credited with the historical exterior photo, operated in Portland from the 1880s to 1940s. Information at this link.


  1. Great post and as always I’m very interested when you write about the original Carnegie libraries!

    Liked by 1 person

    • More to come resulting from the recent trip. I appreciate having you along for the ride.

      Liked by 1 person

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