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44. Ocean Park Library, 1917-1918 44. Ocean Park Library, 1917-1918
2601 Main St.
Architects: Kegly & Gerity

Ocean Park Library,
601 Main St - August 2004

Entrance detail

Public Library, Santa Monica, CA
The Ocean Park library is the last branch of the Carnegie Library remaining in Santa Monica and one of the few small Carnegie libraries operating in California. Designed by architects Kegly & Gerity, the property is a variation of the Classical Revival design.

Carnegie Libraries - are public libraries built between 1881 and 1917 with funds provided either by Andrew Carnegie personally or by the Carnegie Corporation of New York (trustee for much of his enormous fortune). They are among the most numerous public buildings in the United States. The first Carnegie Library was built in Mr. Carnegie's native city, Dunfermline, Scotland in 1881. This gift was so well received that Mr. Carnegie made plans to give libraries to other towns. The second Carnegie Library was given to Braddock, Pennsylvania in 1889, which housed one of Carnegie Steel Company's major steel mills, the Edgar Thomson Works. The third Carnegie library was given to Mr. Carnegie's adopted hometown of Allegheny, Pennsylvania, was dedicated by U.S. President Benjamin Harrison on February 20, 1890. Unlike the first two library gifts, the City of Allegheny was required to subsidize this library, making it the first publicly-funded Carnegie library in the world.

Retiring from the steel industry in 1900 at age sixty-five, Carnegie devoted the rest of his life to philanthropy. In total, his Carnegie Corporation provided more than $41 million for 1,689 free public library buildings in 1,419 communities around the United States. In total, Andrew Carnegie constructed 2,509 libraries throughout the English-speaking world. The Carnegie grant was to be used to construct the building, while the community was expected to provide a site and to tax itself at the annual rate of 10% of the grant amount for the purchase of books and for staffing and upkeep of the library. In California we had 142 public and two academic Carnegie Libraries - 85 of the original Carnegie public library buildings are still standing, including the Ocean Park Public Library.

There is an architectural consistency to the Carnegie Libraries. Located in public parks, these libraries tend to be symmetrical buildings cloaked in a variety of classical styles with classical colonnades supporting triangular pediments and surmounted by domes, they are immediately recognizable. Carnegie libraries were innovative designs that helped revolutionize the small public library as a building type. Efficiency was the operative word, their goal was to allow a single librarian to supervise the entire library. Thus, the Carnegie program recommended a one-story building without full-height interior partitions, an arrangement which gave the librarian seated at the centrally-located charging desk an unencumbered view of the bookshelves lining the perimeter walls. Carnegie did allow for substantial basements, but these housed only subsidiary functions: a public meeting room, a staff room, toilets, and a furnace room.

Municipal authorities in each town were required to hire their own architect, Santa Monica chose the design team of Kegly & Gerity. Notice the symmetry of the façade of the Ocean Park library; inside, ceilings are of a uniform height, and rectangular rooms are evenly lit from windows that start six feet from the floor. Although less dramatic than the monumental spaces of 19th-century libraries, Carnegie Library rooms were less intimidating and allowed readers to fetch their own books directly from the shelves lining the walls which surrounded them.

For women and children, the new library offered freedom. Women were no longer segregated into ladies' reading rooms, as they had been in the 19th century. These libraries also provided a special reading room for the use of children.