Feb 01

Carnegie Library the first public library building in San Luis Obispo

Built by Stevens and Maino contractors the library was made possible by a grant of $10,000 from Andrew Carnegie, philanthropist. The contract was let at a price of $8,900. Sadly the beautiful wood frame home to the left is now a parking lot. Undated photograph a few years after the Nov. 9, 1904 dedication.

The previous three buildings that The Tribune called home have been torn down. However if you want to trace the history of the San Luis Obispo Library all four buildings still stand.

Before Google there were libraries. A town had shaken the dust off of its boots and arrived in the civilized world with the arrival of a library.

San Luis Obispo took the first steps toward a public library in 1894 when a group of citizens organized a subscription library by leasing space from the Andrews Bank at the corner of Monterey and Osos Streets. The 11 founding trustees included developers and land owners like C.H. Phillips, John B. Dallidet, businessman Louis Sinsheimer, Tribune editor Benjamin Brooks, judge McD. R. Venable.

Rev. R.W. Summers was corresponding secretary and later appointed librarian.

Subscriptions were set at fifty cents a month or a lifetime membership were sold for $50. I could not find an inflation calculator that went back before 1913 but the number they generated indicates that a lifetime membership in today’s dollars would be something over $1,000.

Life memberships were purchased by a former and also a current Tribune editor. The former Myron Angel, the latter Benjamin Brooks.

Surnames that people may recognize today included H. L. Beebee, F. Branch, H. Dallidet Sr., ChH. Phillips Sr. J.W. Price B. Sinsheimer, George Steele, E.W. Steele,W. Sandercock, judge McD. R. Venable, H.M. Warden

Three notable women joined Phoebe Hearst, (mother of William Randolph Hearst), Mrs. Benjamin Brooks and Mrs. Manuel de la Guerra.

The library opened June 15, 1894 with a large number of books donated by W.W. Stow, Henry Brunner and others.

Funding was precarious and by the end of the year night hours were ended, gaslight cost too much.

After the first year the institution had a little over 1,500 books on the shelf and 4,585 visitors.

The experiment worked well enough that the board turned the library over to the city as a free public library on September 23, 1897.

By 1902 the board passed a unanimous resolution to apply to Andrew Carnegie for a grant to construct a permanent home. The steel baron responded with a $10,000 grant and H. Weeks was selected as an architect.

Somewhere in the cornerstone is a history of the library, on Broad and Monterey Streets are copies of city papers, token currency and business cards from various notables and tradesmen who built the structure as well as a sketch and biography of the benefactor.

Carnage would also fund a library in Paso Robles.

When the library outgrew the Carnegie building it moved to Palm and County Historical Society (now History Center of San Luis Obispo County) moved in in 1956. That building on Morro and Palm Streets now houses the Little Theater. The Library moved again in the 1980s to the present location at the corner of Palm and Osos Streets.

More information can be found in the May 15, 1956 Centurama edition of the then Telegram-Tribune.

Related posts:

  1. San Luis Obispo Map, 1941
  2. Horse drawn chemical truck, San Luis Obispo firefighters in 1906
  3. Teddy Roosevelt in San Luis Obispo County
  4. Cruisin’ San Luis Obispo ends, the birth of Farmer’s Market
  5. San Luis Obispo, Happiest place in America?