Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Women's Reading Room, Carnegie Library and Music Hall

Women's Reading Room, Carnegie Library
and Music Hall (1900)
Women's Reading Room, Carnegie Library and Music Hall

Location: 5 Allegheny Square, Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, USA (since 1907, the North Side of Pittsburgh)

Opened: February 20, 1890

Closed: Building still exists, though no longer serves as a library 

What a gorgeous and innovative space! (Though I'm not sure I could focus on a book here; I'd be groovin' on the amazing arches.) The building was designed and built by Smithmeyer and Pelz, who were also the architects for the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
Carnegie Library in Allegheny City

This particular library is credited with being the first tax-supported public library in the U.S. to be gifted by Andrew Carnegie, the famous steel baron and philanthropist. Thousand of libraries around the world were built under his largesse.

But not under his largesse alone. The foundation of this fortune was built on the backs of Carnegie's steel workers and their families--the people who struggled mightily to establish unions and the right to collective bargaining, often at great cost. During the bloody 1892 strike at Carnegie Steel's Homestead, Pennysylvania plant, seven workers were killed and hundreds were injured by hired Pinkerton thugs. But that's another story for another day.

In April 2006, just after the library had closed for the evening, a bolt of lightening hit the top of the clock tower. Neighbors said it sounded like a bomb blast.  Ann Belser of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette describes the resultant scene:

The granite, urn-shaped finial atop the clock tower was knocked through the roof, cracking pipes in the attic and sending water cascading down the stairs.

Another large piece of granite fell through the attic into the second-floor lecture hall, taking a steel beam and part of the ventilation system with it. The granite slab missed a Steinway & Sons baby-grand piano in the room by a few feet.

In addition to the damage to the lecture hall, part of the ceiling of the first-floor children's room also fell, dropping plaster onto the low bookshelves and little chairs in the room.

Other pieces of granite from the tower fell onto the lawn. A large, decorative rock scroll fell onto the sidewalk that separates the library from the Pittsburgh Children's Museum in Allegheny Center.

Library officials decided--not without controversy--that a new library should be constructed, which was completed in August 2009. Repairs were made to the old building, which now houses a senior center in the basement. But most of the space is empty.

As to the fate of the old Women's Reading Room? I have no idea.

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