Andrew Carnegie (1835-1910), the steel magnate who was establishing free libraries thoughout the country, took his philanthropy to Petaluma just after the turn of the century. The cost of the proposed library was $16,000, of which Carnegie, pictured above, paid $12,000.
This extraordinary building is constructed of white Alameda brick and sandstone in the Neo-Classical Revival style. It was designed by famed architect and Petaluman Brainerd Jones. The photo at right shows the interior of the building, with its massive columns which support a second floor mezzanine. From the library's earliest days, this second floor housed the children's section.The interior of the building features an elaborate central dome, shown below, which is the largest free-standing dome of leaded glass in California. Minor damage during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake necessitated repairs to the chimney top, metal ceiling, and readjustment of the stone columns.
Two library bond elections were held in the early 1960s to build a replacement library on the lawn of the newly built City Hall. Twice the election went down to defeat before the city realized the voters would never approve a new library that would allow for tearing down the old. With a guarantee the old Carnegie Library would continue to stand, the third bond election for the new library finally passed and it was built in 1976.
While viewing the magnificent old library, take a moment to consider there was a time when this building was thought to be obsolete. To the more enlightened minds of today, such a thought is inconceivable.
The building now serves as the Petaluma Historic Museum and Library. The Museum maintains a research library which fulfills the deed restriction that the property always be used as a library. Much to the benefit of future generations, this restriction was specified by Mrs. A.A. Atwater, who generously donated the property to the City of Petaluma for the specific purpose of building the Carnegie Library.
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