The St. Anthony Park Branch Library
The Arts Festival supports summer reading and activity programs, keeping thousands of children engaged in reading throughout the summer. Proceeds are also used to purchase equipment for use at the library and fund landscaping and building improvement projects.
The St. Anthony Park Branch Library was constructed in 1917, one of 3 Carnegie libraries to open in Saint Paul that year. The library is considered a focal point of the neighborhood.
The St. Anthony Park library was remodeled in 1985 and an addition was built in 1999 thanks to the efforts of the St. Anthony Park Library Association. The addition is a rotunda housing the children’s reading room. This inviting space, combined with a juvenile collection funded through a bequest from Virginia Sohre, makes Saint Anthony Park a ‘destination library’ for young families, teachers and class visits from the neighborhood elementary school.
A park-like lawn with many benches invites patrons to linger with a book. The gardens are maintained by volunteers from the St. Anthony Park Library Association and the St. Anthony Park Library Garden Club, and funded by the St. Anthony Park Library Association.
Because of its location on the western edge of St. Paul, nearly 30% of our patrons come from nearby Minneapolis and suburban Ramsey County, with another 25% visiting the library from zip codes outside our area. Materials circulation at the library is the 5th highest of all branches in St. Paul.
The library has an active non-profit Library Association which has served the community since 1934. The annual St. Anthony Park Arts Festival, held the first Saturday in June, is their major fundraiser.
Proceeds from the art festival support summer reading and activity programs, purchases equipment for use at the library and funds landscaping and building improvement projects.
The Saint Anthony Park branch library was recently featured in Heart of the Community: the Libraries We Love, a book celebrating beloved libraries nationwide.
A Brief History
(Based on research by D. Perry Kidder, Janet Quale and Austin Wehrwein)
A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never-failing spring in the desert. -- Andrew Carnegie
St. Anthony Park’s Carnegie library has stood on the corner of Como and Carter Avenues since 1917. Its architecture is strikingly beautiful, employing classical design features such as symmetry; tripartite forms including a distinctive base, middle and top; Roman arched windows; decorative brickwork; and ornate detailing. The library was designed by City Architect Charles A. Hausler, who had studied in Paris and later worked under Louis Sullivan in Chicago. Hausler specialized in the beaux-arts style of architecture and incorporated those ideas into his blueprints for the library.
Since the year 2000, a round addition behind the building has added distinction to the edifice. Designed by local architect Philip Broussard, this part of the building houses a children’s reading room, passenger elevator, informal reading area and librarian’s work space.
The history of St. Anthony Park Branch Library can be said to go back to Nov. 25, 1835, when Andrew Carnegie was born. In Scotland, Andrew’s father belonged to a weaver’s guild and organized a kind of lending library to furnish reading material for the weavers. The family moved to Pittsburgh when Andrew was 11, and Andrew began to work as a $1.15 per week bobbin boy in a cotton mill. Later he taught himself telegraphy and worked for the railroads. In due course, he became a powerful executive for the Pennsylvania Railroad, then developed the Carnegie Steel Company. At age 66 the self-made millionaire turned to philanthropy and began to return some of his wealth to fellow citizens in ways “best calculated to do them lasting good.” Following his father’s lead in revering the power of books, he helped fund 2,509 Carnegie libraries before his death in 1919.
In 1914 Carnegie agreed to make a $25,000 grant for a neighborhood library for St. Anthony Park. The prime movers in the building campaign were A.J. Franke, Dr. Nellie Nelson and Mrs. Francis Parker. The St. Anthony Park Improvement Association raised $3,200 to pay for the site, one of the conditions for a grant. Some of the land may have been donated. The site consisted of three or four hilly lots poetically said to have been covered with buttercups, but a gully or ravine on the land appears to previously have been used as a burn pit or dump. Other conditions of the grant were that Carnegie demanded outstanding architecture and that he had to pre-approve plans. Bureaucratic delay, compounded by a fire that destroyed some architectural drawings, slowed construction until 1916.
The library opened July 28, 1917, and was dedicated in October 1917. On that occasion, school children led a patriotic parade from Murray school to the new library. Dietrich Lange, principal of Mechanic Arts High School, spoke on the uses of libraries. An evening concert followed, with speeches by W.W. Clark, Dr. Dawson Johnston and others. The approach on Como Avenue from the west was magnificent, with a view of the grand stairs, metaphorically leading upward to the entrance of this noble edifice of learning (that set of steps eventually necessitated the addition to provide accessibility).
During the Great Depression, the library began to deteriorate. Prof. J.O. Christianson gathered a group of library lovers to renovate the building. They created a community room out of the abandoned children’s area in the basement by cleaning out cobwebs and dirt and sifting through old books stored there. They also raised $1,700 to redecorate the library. In 1934 they organized the St. Anthony Park Branch Library Association; the volunteer organization has ever since worked to keep the library useful and beautiful.
The library was modernized in 1957 according to ideas of that day. One of the renovations was a lowered ceiling. Bar joists spanning the short direction were put in place in order to suspend a new ceiling hung with fluorescent lights.
Unfortunately the new ceiling covered the tops of the magnificent window arches.
In the 1980s the building again needed renovation. The Association raised $6,594 to help pay for the restoration. The Friends of the St. Paul Public Library donated $1,000. A restoration committee worked from 1982 to 1985 planning the project. Work was begun in 1986. The interior was restored in part and the dropped ceiling and fluorescent lighting were removed to reveal the original 20-foot coved ceiling with intricate plaster carvings. On Sept. 11, 1988, the Association sponsored a celebration in gratitude for all the people who helped to plan and bring about the library restoration.
Another celebration sponsored by the St. Anthony Park Branch Library Association took place in late July 1992 to celebrate the library’s 75th anniversary. An ice cream social on July 25 featured music by the Lazy River Jazz Band, antique cars on display and a speech on “The Free Public Library: An American Invention” by syndicated columnist David Morris. On July 30, storyteller Betsy Norum recreated Little House on the Prairie for children in a community room celebration. The Association has sponsored the Fourth of July essay contest at St. Anthony Park Elementary School for many years, and has funded summer reading programs in the library and at the Bookstart program in South St. Anthony Park. It has bought books and equipment for the library. It has planted and watered flowers in library window boxes each summer as well as decorated them with spruce tops and tiny white lights each winter. During the Dutch elm disease epidemic, the Association treated boulevard elms and replaced dead trees. Much of the money for these projects comes from the Association’s annual art fair on the first Saturday of June.
In the early 1990s, the Association pondered what kind of accessible addition the library needed. In 1994, the city of St. Paul allocated $339,000 to install an elevator and had plans drawn up; those plans were rejected.
In 1996, the Association named a Design Team to work with the architect in planning the addition needed to house a children’s reading room and passenger elevator to make the building accessible. The Design Team met at least two dozen times during 1996 and 1997; in addition, subcommittees dealt specifically with exterior, interior, public functions, staff areas and other issues. Attending Design Team meetings with architects Philip Broussard and Laura Wood were: Tim Abrahamson, Andy Boss, Jane Donaho, Rose Ann Foreman, Fran Galt, Mary Griffin, Teresa Hueg, D. Perry Kidder, Marti Lybeck, Joan McCord, Susan McIntyre, Gerald McKay, Mary McKay, Scott Midness, Janet Quale, Bob Rohlf, Paul Savage, Kathy Stack, Ellen Watters, Austin Wehrwein and Arlene West (chair). A fund drive was instituted in 1997 to supplement $775,341 from the St. Paul Capital Improvement Budget.
The plan received the necessary approvals, but funding proved insufficient. The Association sought to raise $250,000 by Dec. 31, 1997. A decision to sell personalized paving bricks for a $250 donation was successful. Other fund-raising activities included a November “read-athon” at which local authors including Faith Sullivan spoke. The Friends of the St. Paul Public Library and St. Anthony Park Bank each made $12,500 challenge grants. Individual contributions more than matched that challenge, with gifts of nearly $60,000. The city of St. Paul provided an extra $200,000 at that time.
The original 1916 architectural drawings show a loop road from the alley behind the library. It was probably needed to deliver the coal with which the library had been heated in early days. In readying the land, excavators revealed an area that had once been a gully used for dumping and burning refuse. Several items were recovered from this turn-of-the-century dump – broken dishes, barbed wire and the cast-iron part of an old treadle sewing machine.
After many delays, construction of the addition was finally undertaken in 1998. Even after construction began, the project was fraught with problems. After lack of satisfactory progress by one contractor, a second was appointed to complete the addition. Construction compelled closing the library for nine months. It reopened on Feb. 22, 2000, and a grand opening celebration was held April 8.
The library has always been a busy place. During 1918, its first full year of operation, St. Anthony Park Branch Library’s circulation was 26,656 books. In 1998, circulation had grown to 97, 475 books, proving that local citizens continue to agree that a library outranks anything else a community can do to benefit its people.