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Occupying a prominent site between the central business district to the east and the Arizona Capitol to the west, the Beaux-Arts Carnegie Free Library reflects the territorial capital’s urban aspirations at the dawn of the twentieth century. It served as the Phoenix Public Library from its opening in 1908 until 1952.
Phoenix’s first public library was opened in 1898 by a women’s club that pooled books and rented rooms in a commercial building on Washington Street and First Avenue. The following year, the growing collection was moved into City Hall, which had been vacated by the local government. In 1901, the Phoenix Library Association was formed with the explicit mission of securing a grant from industrialist Andrew Carnegie’s foundation in order to establish a permanent home for the library. Carnegie’s endowments funded 1,679 public libraries in 1,412 towns and cities across the United States between 1889 and the mid-1920s. In 1904 Carnegie awarded the Phoenix board $25,000, with the stipulations that the city provide the land and that municipal taxes would maintain the library in perpetuity.
City officials selected a rectangular parcel spanning two blocks in Neahr’s Addition, midway between City Hall and the Capitol and accessible by streetcar. The parcel had been platted as a public park by developer David Neahr, with a circular promenade fed by diagonal walks and surrounded by lawn with scattered trees. The library association approved designs by architect William R. Norton, which William H. Reeves amended in 1905. Placed in the center of a verdant park and designed in a Beaux-Arts style, the library embodied the ideas and aspirations of the City Beautiful Movement, which shaped Phoenix as it did major American metropolises in the first decade of the twentieth century. The choice of location west of the historic downtown reflected the whims of the city’s decision-making elite, who were erecting large houses along Woodland Avenue. One library board member, Benjamin A. Fowler, stated the new library was a tangible manifestation of Phoenix’s permanence and would ameliorate the lives of its citizens.
Architect William R. Norton (1853–1938) was born in Massachusetts and moved to Los Angeles before 1885, where he designed the High Victorian–style Boyle Hotel (1889). In 1902, Norton designed the Arizona pavilion for the St. Louis World’s Fair, which began his long association with the state. In 1905 he worked concurrently on the Beaux-Arts Gila County Courthouse in Globe, Arizona, and Phoenix’s Carnegie Library. In 1907, he permanently moved to Phoenix, where, several years later, he produced plans for the Sunny Slope subdivision (1911). Architect William Hawks Reeves (1866–1924), who amended Norton’s drawings for the library, was born in Illinois and studied architecture at the State University in Champaign. He established the practice Reeves and Baillie in Peoria, and went on to design the Peoria City Hall, the Spalding Institute, the Christian Science Church, and public school buildings in the prospering city. By the 1890s, Reeves was Vice-President and Superintendent of the Phoenix Iron Company and the Phoenix Bridge Company, both headquartered in Philadelphia.
The compact library in Phoenix sits back from the street, surrounded by a concrete walk and shaded by mature deciduous trees and palms. The plan comprises a shallow rectangular volume intersected by a large drum. The tripartite facade is a central pavilion flanked by plain recessed wings. Ten concrete steps rise to the main entrance, which is shaded by a portico flanked by single Ionic columns. The wings feature large central windows, each with three vertical, fixed panes topped by decorative multilight panels with a spoked-wheel arrangement. Slightly reddish, buff-colored bricks comprise the foot-thick exterior walls, which feature a stone water table band, quoins, a dentiled cornice, and an attic with an ornamental finial, behind which is a large circular lantern with multilight clerestory windows. The recessed entrance has three arches; the central arch holds double doors mounted by a multilight fanlight and flanked by windows with similar fanlights.
Inside, the plan reads as a central circular space, illuminated by a decorative spoked-wheel skylight, with two projecting wings, originally containing reading rooms that were accessed through double archways separated by single columns. A larger arch in the rear led to an apsidal space occupying the south portion of the building. This semi-cylindrical mass, illuminated by two tiers of eight windows, held the book stacks arranged, in the building’s recurring motif, like the spokes of a wheel, to once again faintly recall Arizona’s pioneer past. This original stack space is flanked on the west by a kitchen and on the east by a lounge and restrooms. The finished basement, which held sensitive documents when the library was the state government’s main repository, has a cement floor and plaster walls. Oiled oak paneling rising 46 inches from the hardwood floors, along with cream-colored plaster walls and ceilings, characterized the main level. The original, seven-foot-high adjustable bookshelves were painted olive green. A large, solid oak circulation desk originally graced the foyer on the east side, but this was removed in 1952, when the Carnegie library was taken out of service, following the construction of the city’s new main building.
In the intervening decades, the building served as an adult recreation center, a social service center, and a storage facility. As the surrounding neighborhood along West Washington Street gradually declined, government buildings replaced the grand residences of this once leafy bastion of the city’s elite. The State of Arizona assumed control of the library structure in 1985 and hired local architect Gerald A. Doyle to oversee the building’s restoration at a cost of $1.3 million. Doyle, an Ohio native, earned his B.A. in architecture from Western Reserve University in 1948 and his M.A. from Harvard University in 1951. After living in the Panama Canal Zone from 1951 until 1962, Doyle and his family relocated to Phoenix, where he practiced until his retirement in 2006. In addition to the Carnegie Free Library, his restoration projects included the Arizona State Capitol. In 1989, Doyle received the Governor’s Award for Historic Preservation.
Between 1987 and 2001, the building housed the Arizona Hall of Fame Museum. Today, the Arizona State Library, Archives, and Public Records operates the renamed Carnegie Center as meeting space for community groups and public programs and as offices for library development staff. In addition, the Carnegie Center houses two exhibits open to the public by appointment: the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame and an overview of the building’s history. The Library Park in which the Carnegie building sits is still largely intact, providing a verdant oasis amid the asphalt conurbation of Governmental Mall along the West Washington Street spine.
Arizona State University Libraries. “Gerald A. Doyle Papers 1831-2002, MSS-253: Biographical Note.” Arizona Archives Online. Accessed November 3, 2015. http://www.azarchivesonline.org/.
Directory of Architects and Classified Directory of First Hands in the Building Trades: Issued Annually, 1890. Springfield, MA: Clark W. Bryan and Co., 1890.
The Directory of Directors in the City of Philadelphia. Philadelphia, PA: Goodman’s Sons and Co., 1906.
Bateman, Newton and Paul Selby, eds. Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois. Vol. 2. Peoria, IL: Munsell Publishing Company, 1902.
Central Arizona Chapter, American Institute of Architects. A Guide to the Architecture of Metro Phoenix. Phoenix: Phoenix Publishing, 1983.
Dann, F.P., Ernest William Lewis, and James R. Dunseath. Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of the Territory of Arizona. Vol. 4. San Francisco, CA: Bancroft-Whitney Company, 1904.
Graham, Robert G. “Woodland Historic District,” Maricopa County, Arizona. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, 1992. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
John C. Lincoln Health Network. “Historical Timeline: 1900s-1910s.” Accessed January 8, 2015. http://www.jcl.com/.
Luckingham, Bradford. Phoenix: The History of a Southwestern Metropolis. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1989.
Swetnam, Susan H. Books, Bluster, and Bounty: Local Politics in the Intermountain West and Carnegie Library Building Grants, 1898-1920. Logan: Utah State University Press, 2012.
Wilson, Marjorie H. “Phoenix Carnegie Library and Library Park,” Maricopa County, Arizona. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, 1974. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
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