by Noreen Santaluce


Old Library





























The Bowered Athenaeum

The desire for a library seems to have been a universal theme in the progress of a town and Paso Robles was no exception. As early as 1889, the Young People's Society of Christian Endeavor had opened a reading room in the Adams Building on Spring Street. In the early 1900's, the Paso Robles Improvement Club established a free reading room and library in the Blackburn Building on the corner of Park and 12th Street with Captain M.S. Prime as librarian. By 1901, the fourteen members of the Ladies Auxiliary had joined with the Improvement Club and taken charge of the reading room and library, receiving their entire support from membership dues, donations and fund raisers, such as teas and dances. Lillian Wright was appointed as the librarian with a salary of $20 a month and the running expenses were $50 per month. 

In 1904, the library was turned over to the City of Paso Robles as the result of a city election. On December 22, 1906, the paper reported that the ladies of the Board of Library trustees had been corresponding with Andrew Carnegie and had received a letter from his secretary, James Bertrand, stating that if Paso Robles agreed by Resolution of the City Council to maintain a Free Public Library at a cost of not less than $600 per year and provide a suitable site for the building, Mr. Carnegie would be glad to give six thousand dollars to erect a free public library building in Paso Robles.

This was in accordance with his system. The annual amount was to be used for the maintenance of the building which must be made of stone, concrete or some other material of permanent character.

One of his many philanthropic projects that Andrew Carnegie valued the most was donating to the building of public libraries. He gave more than $40 million for 1,679 public library buildings in 1,412 communities across the country and 830 overseas.

By February 16, 1907, the City Trustees had agreed to pledge $1000 per year instead of the $600 requested, thus making Paso Robles eligible for $10,000 from Andrew Carnegie. This decision was made because the high cost of building meant that little could be done for $6000, and Paso Robles wanted a library that would make the city proud and be an asset to the city park, where it would be located.

In May, after receiving the $10,000, negotiations began with architect W.H. Weeks. The formal agreement with Mr. Weeks stated that the main floor would have a lobby with a librarian's desk, reading room, book stacks, juvenile room and meeting room for the trustees. Weeks promised a building that would be striking and dignified, "bowered in the green foliage of the Park." It was to be built of local, red brick with artificial stone trimmings and a cement foundation with a broad stone stairway and wide doors guarded by massive columns. Plans called for a tiled vestibule and a cork-covered floor.

The basement was to contain the furnace and the fumigating closet. "For in these modern days where bacteria of disease is guarded against, every up-to-date library passes its books through a course of treatment guaranteed to kill the most vicious microbe between the leaves of any book."

Woodwork in the basement was to be of redwood, and structural timber was to be of white pine and Oregon pine, and the roof would be of dark California slate. The interior of the main floor was to be of Douglas fir that would be rubbed and varnished, "until there will be no need of mirrors."

To sum it up, "It will be so up-to-date that even the rapid march of progress will require decades to pass before the Library and its equipment can be called antiquated."

By August of 1907, contractors' bids were coming in. It was reported that the bids by contractors Green and Christenson had exceeded the $10,000 and time was extended to September. There was talk of saving money by eliminating the furnace and sharing the new steam heating plant for the city bath-house, which would also save the cost of paying a man to tend the furnace.

By September 14, 1907, R.O. Summers got the bid for $9,300 and the heating plans had been changed to building a large fireplace to warm the library room and placing a stove in the librarian's office. This took a weight off the city Bath-House  Committee to build a heating plant that would heat both the bath-house and the library.

Mr. Weeks had been chosen because of his experience in designing libraries. However, the minutes of the January 29th Library Board meeting state: "No provision having been made for stairs to the basement from the first floor, Mr. Weeks suggested that a cheap one be put in now, and he would let the board know about the price later." (Actual cost was $26.50, and judging by the staircase now, the price was right.)

The first of December saw the completion of the concrete work in the basement and the making of artistic concrete casting for the trimmings. Mr. Summers said that all would be ready for the bricklayers just after Christmas, and the cornerstone would be ready to be laid by the Masonic Lodge members before January first.

Already, interest in the library had increased to 780 visitors and 364 books loaned, and by the end of February the brick work had been completed, using bricks fired here in Paso Robles.

The new library trustees elected in April 1908 were Mrs. T. Brooks, president; Mrs. H. Manderville, vice-president, Mrs. H. Nelson, secretary; Mrs. C. Seideman, treasurer; Mrs. P. Pfister, Manderville and Seideman were elected as a finance committee. A new librarian was appointed, Miss May E. Nelson, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. H. Nelson.

The big day of the formal opening was on June 19, 1908, when Mr. R. Van Wormer delivered the dedication speech. One account says that Judge Unangst of San Luis Obispo would be the orator, and town merchants would close their doors for the afternoon. A donation box was placed in the building the night after the library's opening and $10.30 were the receipts to be expended for books. This was necessary since the Carnegie money was to be used only for the building construction.

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