Sunday, December 23, 2007

Longmont, Then and Now #8: Longmont Public Library

2007 can't go by without looking back on Longmont's crown jewel - it's Public Library, which is ending its centennial year celebration, 1907 - 2007. I haven't read it yet, but anyone interested in the history of the Library should take a look at Bob Nyboer's book "Longmont Public Library: A Centennial History", which just came out this year. Bob is the Head Librarian in the Reference Section at the Library, and you can find his book at the Library, of course!

Library Hall on Pratt Street, as shown above in 1871, could have qualified as Colorado's first public library but technically it was originally a reading room and not a lending library. The Library Hall house still stands today, looking well preserved:
Mrs. Elizabeth Thompson (b. 1821, d. 1899) arrived in Longmont in June, 1871 from New York City, bought the property at 335 Pratt Street, and had the public Library Hall building constructed there. She supplied 300 volumes to the Library and also a large collection of art prints from the Thompson collection.

In the 1970s, the building was converted to apartments and Tony Brewer, the Library Director, noted during this year's centennial celebration that he actually lived in this house when he first moved to Longmont.

On to the Carnegie Library, built in 1912 at 457 4th Avenue, designed by Benjamin C. Viney and constructed by Wiggins & Sprague.

The Carnegie Library proposition from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie was pretty simple: a town wanting a library provided the real-estate and the operating expenses including books, salaries, and building maintenance, and the Carnegie Foundation supplied a fixed amount of funds (Longmont got $12,500) toward construction of the building itself. As the story goes, Carnegie spent the first part of his life amassing great wealth and the second part trying to give it away (he not not succeed and this is often mentioned as one of his greatest disappointments).

One Carnegie Library requirement was the the location had to be in the central part of the requesting town. Longmont had two target locations: the current location on 4th Avenue, right off downtown to the east, and Thompson Park, a few blocks west. The downtown area (colorfully described in the newspaper as "the space between the City Hall and Rice's undertaking rooms" was eventually chosen, which was recommended by the Longmont Ledger as a better location for farmers and business men needing "quick reference". The Ledger did change their tune on this decision having originally said "we know of no better [location] than the center of Thompson Park".

On January 27, 1908, Reverend Dr. Longren, President of Longmont's Library Association, received the green light letter from Carnegie's secretary which said:

Yours of January 20th received. When you have purchased and paid for site for library and send us plans which we can approve, Mr. Carnegie will arrange payments on the building as work progresses.
Respectfully yours,
Jas. Bertram, Private Secy.

As an aside, James Bertram served as Carnegie's secretary from 1897 to 1914, and continued as secretary of Carnegie's Foundation until he died in 1934. Bertram presided over the awarding of 2,509 Carnegie Libraries, of which no more were offered after 1917. Bertram had great control of the design of Carnegie Libraries and insisted on "usable, practical libraries, not elaborate "Greek Temples." As can be seen in his reply to Longmont, the final approval was contingent on the design.

It should be remembered that even with the Carnegie offer on the table, the authorization to move forward was by no means a slam dunk, and in fact, it was voted down by the citizens later in the summer of 1908 by a 3:1 margin. Opposition was from those who did not want their taxes increased to pay the expenses of the Library, and from those who did not prefer the Thompson Park location. Reading Bob Nyboer's book would be a good place to pick up the story from here until the library opens in early 1913 - that's my intention!

The Carnegie Library building today, no longer a library (public access Channel 3 is in there now) with the current library in the background:

It's another story worth reading about, but the Carnegie Library building would likely not be standing today if some concerned citizens did not reverse the City's plan to demolish it, much like what happened to many Carnegie Libraries including the one in Lamar, Colorado.

Another view of the Longmont Carnegie Library today, of its southwest corner:

Ironically, the two older library buildings mentioned above still stand today, but the building that replaced the Carnegie Library in 1972 on the property next door, is gone, having only lasted 21 years until 1993. This, too, is another story worth learning more about, with some bittersweet recollections for those involved on both sides of the decision to demolish it, including the architect who understandably did not want it to be torn down at such an early age.

Today's two-storied Longmont Public Library, built in 1993, shown below. These two pictures are from the Centennial Celebration evening, on March 16, 2007.

Tying things together from back in 1871, if you look closely at the entrance arch in the picture above, you can see, among other things, Elizabeth Thompson next to her Library Hall!

The revealing of the Centennial quilt which you can still see in the lobby. The quilt shows one-hundred books, each with a real signature of a Colorado author on the spine.
This evening was fun not only because of the festivities and food but also because of the Longmont library community that came together in one place for the special night, including librarians who had worked in the Carnegie Library and some of the citizens that had spoken out for its preservation.

Best wishes, Longmont Public Library, for another 100 great years.

A summary of the informal "Longmont: Then and Now" series so far:


Jeremy Berggren said...

Love this blog! It is so interesting to learn so much about Longmont.

dan said...

Love your stuff. Found your blog while looking for a photo of the old Longmont library (1972-1993). I was waxing nostalgic about practically living in the library while growing up. :-)

I had no idea it's been torn down - it'd be a top attraction for me if and when I visit the old hometown again.

Colorado Martini said...

Very nice

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