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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

The Old Library Building

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, June 03, 2018

 

Well, I am sorry to report that no treasures have been found in the renovation and construction of the Main Library project.

 

People keep asking if any historical items, or strange objects have been found around the 117 year-old building as the project progresses, and aside from some old bricks and a couple of objects nothing has been found.

 

What has been discovered in the Carnegie building is further explanation of the construction techniques of the old building, revealed by the renovation.

 

The grand old building is constructed like a fortress with stone foundations, brick walls, and steel I-beams supporting the floors and ceilings.

 

“Carnegie Steel” is visible on a couple of the beams which support the main floor which consists of bricks laid on their side.

 

Some of the lower level has concrete floors, and some of it is wood floors, which seems unusual until I researched construction of the 1900-era and found that wood floors were common where staff walked and worked.

 

The wood floors had 2 layers of floor tile, installed in the 1920s and 1950s which had to be removed due to asbestos content.

 

On the main floor, the original marble still graces the large reading room, and in the central area the marble is being revealed under 1950s floor tile.  The staff area has wood floors like the downstairs and we are attempting to restore that area.

 

The structure of the 117 year old building was revealed during the early construction work as the demolition and pounding of machinery didn’t impact the old building in any way, and didn’t even cause the chandeliers in the lobby to sway.

 

Demolition for remodeling of the lower level revealed that part of the children’s room had been changed in 1922, a date stamped on the back side of plasterboard used in the area.

 

There were two floor levels in one area, but it was unclear how and what was changed 20 years after the building was constructed in 1902.

 

The lower level is receiving a full renovation with all of the utilities and plumbing being renovated and upgraded, with some architectural features being reused.

 

The enormous I-beams that support the North and South Reading Rooms of the main floor were partially exposed showing the structure of the massive building.

 

One oddity of the lower level was revealed when 1950s – era door frames were removed to find the interior walls are brick with brick arches supporting the door openings.

 

There was evidentially some sort of error made in 1902 as the original arch on every door was hand chiseled square to accommodate the door.

 

So, was there a blueprint error in 1902 that had to be addressed?

 

The blueprints from architects Alden & Harlow in 1902 are long gone, and all we had are basic floor plans from the archives of the Carnegie Corporation which still show the never-built West Wing of the building.

 

The Carnegie archive of blueprints of the 2,509 Carnegie libraries were microfilmed in the 1940s and the originals were destroyed.

 

A computer scan of the building was used to develop as-built drawings which were used in the project.

 

We do have some plans from the addition of the 1952 balcony addition in the building, as well as very sketchy drawings of the 1948 garage and 1963 annex.

 

There were also plans for a 1965 oval-shaped annex that was to be constructed in the front yard with the Carnegie building covered with whitewash to be used for storage.

 

Fortunately, those plans were never realized.

 

For all the sidewalk superintendents, the next phase will begin in mid-June with the erection of the steel frame for the new addition.