Carnegie Libraries Glenn A. Walsh
Conference 2006 Telephone: 412-561-7876
2006 November 3
Good afternoon. My name is Glenn A. Walsh and I have been involved in historic preservation for a little more than a decade. I want to welcome you to the birthplace of the Carnegie Libraries movement, and both ironically and regrettably, also the city where the original Carnegie Libraries are now at great risk.
Oh, it is likely that the
original Carnegie Library buildings will still exist. However, these
buildings’ use truly as Carnegie Libraries is quickly disappearing due to
a combination of efforts by local library officials to “modernize,”
efforts of developers to promote “economic development,” and
indifference by local public officials to the important Carnegie Library
history started right here in
Consequently, in just the
last few months, it was announced that
The first Carnegie Library in
In 1901, Andrew Carnegie sold Carnegie Steel to several investors, headed by J.P. Morgan for $480 million, which resulted in the creation of U.S. Steel, the world’s first billion-dollar corporation! And, consequently, many of Carnegie Steel’s managers became instant millionaires, while Andrew Carnegie became the richest man in the world!
However, three of Andrew
Carnegie’s early Carnegie Libraries, located near his steel plants in the
In 1890, with the construction of the Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny, which I will talk about a little later, Andrew Carnegie started funding Carnegie Library buildings through what became known as “The Carnegie Formula.” If a town requested funding for construction of a Carnegie Library, they had to meet a few basic requirements:
1) In the vast majority of cases, the town had to be located in an English-speaking country;
2) The town had to secure the site for the library;
3) The town had to agree to annually subsidize the library at a level no less than ten percent of the cost of library construction.
Now, for some towns that had
special significance to Andrew Carnegie, the subsidy requirement was slightly
reduced. However, there were only five towns—in
In the case of the three
Carnegie Libraries in the
Andrew Carnegie set-up a board of trustees to manage this endowment, primarily made-up of U.S. Steel officials. As it turns-out, these steel officials were more interested in making steel, and making money, than operating public libraries. Consequently, they did not really participate in the management of the libraries, and the endowment was very conservatively invested over the years.
So, by t he 1960s, the proceeds from the endowment, which should have grown greatly over the previous 60 years, had not grown that much and were not enough to operate three libraries. So, the managers of the endoemwnt, at that time, decided to get rid of two of the libraries. The Carnegie Libraries in Barddock and Duquesne were “sold-off,” for one dollar each, to their respective school districts.
In the case of the Carnegie Free Library of Duquesne, the City of Duquesne School District did not want to operate such an old building and had other plans for the land where the library was located. Across the street from the Library is the location of the Duquesne High School, and the School Directors had a need to expand the high school; they planned to build an annex, probably including a new gymnasium, on the Library property. So, in June of 1968, the Carnegie Free Library of Duquesne, which had included a music hall and a swimming pool, was demolished.
However, before the new
school annex could be built, the School District learned that construction of
the annex would result in a partial loss of State funding for the
In the case of the Carnegie
Free Library of Braddock, the
However, it is still an open
question as to whether the Braddock Carnegie Library will remain open. To take
advantage of new County funding for libraries in 1995,
from a one-half percent sales and use tax levied in
Well, the larger libraries in the more affluent suburbs were able to send their library directors to the many meetings needed to set-up ACLA and determine the formula for distributing money to County libraries. Often, the smaller libraries could not participate in these discussions, as these libraries have limited staffs and their library directors could not always leave the library for ACLA meetings. Consequently, the library directors for libraries in the larger, more affluent communities designed the library funding formula. And, despite denials by the ACLA executive director, I, and many others, do contend that the funding formula has been skewed to benefit the larger, more affluent libraries.
For four years, I was
delegate to ACLA representing the Andrew Carnegie Free Library in Carnegie, and
I fought this unfair formula, with limited success. As bad as the formula has
been over the last decade, changes proposed to the formula for 2007 have come
to the point where, on August 28, Jeffrey Au, President of the Braddock's Field
Historical Society which operates the Library, stated that the proposed ACLA
formula changes would deny the
He made that statement to the Board of Directors of the Allegheny Regional Asset District (RAD), which is responsible, to the County government, for approving the ACLA library funding formula each year. Fortunately, the County would be quite embarrassed if a RAD-approved formula resulted in one or more county libraries closing. So, I am cautiously optimistic that changes will be made to the formula so that librry closures do not happen. However, so long as libraries do not close, I fear that the County will continue to allow many other inequities in the library funding formula.
Now, let me talk about the
Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny. Dedicated by U.S. President Benjamin
Harrison in 1890 as
In 1907, the City of
Although despite the merger
of the two cities, the Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny did not merge with
The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh system until 1956. The Carnegie Free Library
of Allegheny was then renamed the Allegheny Regional Branch of The Carnegie
Library of Pittsburgh. It was considered a regional
branch due to the fact that it was much larger than other
We almost lost the Allegheny
Regional Branch—building and all—during the days of the urban
renewal programs of the 1960s and early 1970s. At that time, the historic core
of what had been the
Both the Allegheny Regional Branch Library and the Old Allegheny Post Office had been at risk to be torn-down and each replaced with an apartment high-rise. The Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation saved the Post Office building and turned it into a city history museum.
Finally, it was decided to keep the Allegheny Regional Branch Library building as well, but only the exterior. The Library was temporarily moved to the balcony level of the shopping mall while a multi-million dollar renovation occurred which gutted the interior of both the library and music hall. The beautiful marble staircase was replaced by a utilitarian spiral staircase in the Library’s historic click tower. In fact, the only historic interior that remains in the building are the balcony railings and, I understand, that the original fireplace is still located behind a “modern” wall!