Santa Cruz County History - Libraries & Schools

The History of the Santa Cruz Public Library System: Part 3-- 1901-1904
by Margaret Souza

Building the Carnegie Free Library, 1901-1904

[There were four grants from the Carnegie Corporation, between 1903 and 1921, for library construction-- a main library and three branch buildings. The Carnegie Free Library discussed here refers to the first Carnegie library built, which became the main library in Santa Cruz. RAP--ed.]

From the beginnings of the Library in 1868 to April 14, 1904, the Santa Cruz Public Library was located in various places; some of the rooms were rented, others were not. The idea for a permanent building began in October, 1899, when the Library Board meeting "Adjourned to permit citizens to consider matters pertaining to securing a site and permanent building for the Library."[1]

Photo of Andrew Carnegie at the train depot
Andrew Carnegie visiting Santa Cruz in 1910.

This photograph shows Andrew Carnegie at the train depot, being met by local officials. Later that day he visited the Library. [Photograph from the Library collection]

Evidently from this citizens' meeting, a committee was appointed to look into the possibility of a permanent building because Samuel Leask, Sr., was appointed in 1899 to serve on a committee to secure financial assistance from the Carnegie Corporation for a public library. Among others on this committee were Dr. C. L. Anderson, Dr. F. W. Bliss, and F. A. Hihn.

In February, 1900, a citizen suggested that Henry Cowell convert the St. Charles Hotel into a library and give it to Santa Cruz. Mr. Cowell said he was not under any obligation to Santa Cruz County; he had spent millions of dollars there already. The roads he used were not kept up and he was taxed heavily.

Until March, 1901, there was no further mention of progress in getting a library building in either the Sentinel, or the Library Board Records, when the following appeared in the Sentinel:

"The Sentinel calls Mr. Carnegie's attention to the fact that there is not a city in the world that would appreciate a library building more than Santa Cruz. Wonder if the retired steel king will take the hint?

Well, we don't know. He has Santa Cruz's application."[2]

According to the Sentinel, the citizens of Santa Cruz were speculating on the amount of money that they would receive from Mr. Carnegie even before they had word that their application had been received. Santa Cruz needed between $25,000 and $50,000. And by February 7, 1902, the San Jose Mercury stated that several San Jose businessmen were helping a movement to get a donation from Andrew Carnegie for a library in Santa Cruz. It was understood that Mr. Carnegie looked with favor on the proposition and would make a gift of $30,000 or $40,000.

On January 2, 1902, Santa Cruz learned that Andrew Carnegie had heard Santa Cruz's request and had sent a form to Dr. C. L. Anderson to be filled in. (This form had been received by other cities which had subsequently gotten funds for their libraries.) Provisions for the funds were: a site which was not to be near a saloon was to be provided, and the library was to be maintained. By January 5, 1902, this form was filled in and on its way back to Andrew Carnegie.

The Sentinel reported that Mr. Carnegie was studying the population and size of Santa Cruz between January 11th and 13th. A few days later, Dr. C. L. Anderson was requested to explain the difference in the population figures given by him and those taken by the census. Dr. Anderson stated that the population was 10,000; he had included the population of East Santa Cruz (outside the city limits) and the vicinity, both having library privileges, plus the population of Santa Cruz City. He presumed that the amount of the donation was based on the population.

THEN, the great day came! On February 21, 1902, it was learned that Andrew Carnegie would provide $15,000 if Santa Cruz would support the library at a cost of not less than $1,500 per year and would furnish a suitable site. The letter was dated February 15, 1902, and was from James Bertram, Private Secretary to Andrew Carnegie.

"There was great disappointment among the committee members that the sum was not larger."[3] Editorials in the Sentinel on February 16th and other dates stated that Santa Cruz had hoped to get a $20,000 to $30,000 grant and would have received at least $20,000 if East Santa Cruz had been within the municipal limits.

Several days after Mr. Carnegie's offer had been received, D. C. Clark., F. A. Hihn, and H. F. Kron were appointed to go before the City Council and request that a sum of not less than $2,500 per year be provided for library purposes. It was hoped that this amount might lay the foundation for a still greater gift from Mr. Carnegie. On March 3, the City Council adopted a resolution for the levying of a library tax. The rate would be set at a level to raise $3,000 annually provided this rate was not greater than that fixed by law.

Mr. Samuel Leask went to New York at his own expense in an effort to get an augmentation to the amount already given by Mr. Carnegie. Dr. Bliss received a letter from Mr. Leask on April 6, 1902, telling about his interview with Mr. Bertram, Mr. Carnegie's Private Secretary. Later, Samuel Leask wrote this account of his trip.

"The Andrew Carnegie institute gave $15,000 for the project. This news was conveyed to me one morning by Dr. Bliss as he was passing the store on the way to his office... The amount seemed altogether inadequate for a building such as Santa Cruz needed. After thinking over the matter a few hours, I approached Frank Mattison, County Treasurer, explained the situation, asked what he thought of my going to New York to make a personal appeal for an increase of the grant to $25,000. Mr. Mattison thought this wonderful, if I could spare the necessary time and money. As a matter of fact, I had already made up my mind and after a few days collecting facts relating to Santa Cruz and its library, I left for New York. This was in the spring of 1901.

At the Carnegie corporation I was met by a bright young man with a pronounced Scotch accent whose attitude was decidedly sceptical. I unloaded my facts and arguments at considerable length without, as far as I could see, making any impression whatever and was about to retire when something inspired me to ask,

What part of Scotland are you from?
Edinburgh, he said.
I immediately announced I'm from Aberdeen.

It developed that Mr. Carnegie also was an Aberdeen-shire man. For the first time there was a faint suggestion of a smile on the face of my hardboiled countryman. As we made our way to the door he said,

When you get back to your hotel embody in a letter the facts we have been discussing. I will submit them to our committee.

I lost no time in mailing the letter requested, to which a reply, based on a misunderstanding of something I had said, was received. This gave me an opportunity to reply, the next development being a second letter from the corporation saying the grant had been increased to $20,000. This was later supplemented by three additional grants of $2500 each to aid in construction of branch libraries at Seabright, Garfield Park and Soquel Avenue at Water Street."

Years later, City Treasurer F. W. Lucas, one of the pioneers, Father of the late Superior Judge Harry C. Lucas, running for reelection gave additional details of the Carnegie transaction. The money was paid in and paid out through Mr. Lucas' office as ex officio Tax Collector, an office in part paid by a percentage of receipts. He was clearly entitled to the percentage on this money, which would have amounted to $200, a handy sum to one in his circumstances; but he waived his right to it on the ground that it was not a regular part of the city's receipts. His decision, he said, to forgo his legal rights on ethical grounds was largely strengthened by the conduct of Mr. Leask.

The Carnegie bequest came in the form of drafts on New York in denominations of $5,000, each payable as the work advanced. As the money was turned over into the treasury, Mr. Leask asked whether I preferred the draft or the cash. I replied that since I would deposit it, cash would be equally acceptable. New York ex- change was then $10 on a draft of that size; but instead of taking the draft and using it in his business as Mr. Leask had a right to do, he paid into the library fund the cost of exchange. Mr. Leask explained that he had been undecided before as to his duty in this matter, but that he then resolved not to take his lawful commission, but become the invisible donor to the library fund.[4]

Samuel Leask returned to Santa Cruz on May 3, 1902, and on May 6, he was appointed to the Library Board. He took the place of David C. Clark,who had had to resign because he had been elected Mayor of Santa Cruz.

Bickering about the site of the new library began before Andrew Carnegie donated the $15,000 grant in February, 1902. An editorial in the Sentinel on January 5 insisted that the location must be solved immediately, that there was no time to bicker. "Anywhere and now is better than nowhere and never."[5] In the bitter controversy that followed this statement, over twenty different suggestions were printed in the Sentinel between January and August. On September 2, 1902, this letter was delivered to the City Council by Samuel Leask:

"To The Honorable Mayor and Council of the City of Santa Cruz, Cal.

The Board of Trustees of the Santa Cruz Free Library beg leave to call the attention of your honorable body to certain portions of the law providing for the establishment and maintenance of public libraries within municipalities, approved March 23, 1901, the construction of parts of which seems to be somewhat obscure.

In view of the donation of $20,000 by Mr. Andrew Carnegie for the purpose of providing a building for library purposes in this city, a donation which we understand was formally accepted by the Mayor of the City, the purchase of a lot on which to erect said building has become necessary.

Section 7 of the law referred to seems to imply that the legislative body of any municipality shall levy a tax for the maintenance of an established public library and for purchasing property necessary therefor. There is a provision in said section which limits the amount that may be levied for the purposes named after two years from the passage of the act referred to above, which time would expire March 23, 1903.

In order to take advantage of the gift of Mr. Carnegie, and under the provisions of the law referred to, we feel that immediate action is necessary.

We believe that the only just and practicable way in which a suitable lot for a library building may be procured is by the levy of a tax on the property of the entire city, and we respectively ask your honorable body to make such levy as will in your opinion be adequate for the purposes named.

Respectfully submitted,

Board of Library Trustees"[6]

Mr. and Mrs. F. A. Hihn offered to deed property which they had owned for forty years to the City of Santa Cruz for forty dollars a month for ten years, beginning November 1, 1902. The City was to pay all taxes levied on the land since September 14, 1902. A library was to be built within two years. Mr. Hihn was to be allowed 90 days from September 22 to remove any improvements he desired. This lot, 100 feet by 200 feet, had 100 feet of frontage on both Church and Locust Streets.

This proposal was accepted by the City Council on Saturday, September 27, 1902, and the City Clerk was instructed to have the deed filed that day in Recorder Cooper's office.

Early in November, 1902, Andrew Carnegie's agent notified the Library Trustees that the $20,000 grant was ready in blocks of $5,000.

This sum would be sent to the Library Board as needed upon receipts signed by the President and Treasurer accompanied by the supervising architect's certification that a certain amount of work had been done and that funds were needed. This indicated that the Library Board could proceed with the selection of building plans and putting the plans out to bid.

Preliminary steps toward the erection of the library building were taken on November 8. Trustees Leask and Linscott wrote the draft of notice to the architects for the plans while Trustees Bliss and Anderson were sketching the lot and its surroundings. Architect interviews were set up by November, with Mr. Bliss Interviewing Mr. Van Cluck and Mr. Leask interviewing W. A. Weeks of Watsonville.

On November 18, 1902, the Sentinel stated that the Library Trustees would soon advertise for plans and that they had been communicating with the trustees of the Carnegie libraries to ascertain the method of procedure. By November 26, 1902, it was learned that Mr. Carnegie was satisfied with the lot and that the Santa Cruz Library Trustees had submitted a general plan for his approval.

The specifications for the library which was to have a California style of architecture were:

"The Board of Library Trustees of Santa Cruz, California, hereby invite architects to submit plans and estimated cost of construction for a public library building.

The site selected for the proposed building is a lot running from Church Street 200 feet north to Locust Street, and has a frontage of 100 feet on each street from east to west. On the west of the lot is the garden of Mr. F. A. Hihn, the distance from the westerly line of the lot to his residence being about 200 feet. To the east of the lot are residences and outbuildings connected therewith, the highest structure being 30 feet. Both Locust and Church are residence streets and present no architectural features with which the proposed building must harmonize. The soil is river loam, subsoil gravel.

A sketch showing the location of the lot and its surroundings will be furnished on application, also the cross-section of the lot from north to south.

It has been decided that a story building with basement will best serve the purpose in view. The building will be visible from all four sides. The Board does not wish to limit architects to any special style of architecture, but it is the unanimous opinion that convenience of arrangement should not be sacrificed for architectural effect. No special building material is insisted on, but the structure must be as nearly fireproof as possible.

It is desired to have a basement, the ceiling of which shall be of sufficient height so that rooms may be fitted up for lecture or club rooms. Provision should be made in basement for:

  • Receiving room for books, etc.
  • Storage of Fuel.
  • Fuminating [sic] Room
  • Bicycles.
  • Inside stairway to main floor.
  • Men's Toilet.
  • ?iter connecting with Librarian's Room on main floor.

All parts of the basement must be accessible from outside of building.
That portion of basement not needed for purposes named above may be left unfinished, but so arranged that if at any time the unfinished part should be needed for lecture room, reading room and heating plant it will be suitable for those purposes.

The main floor should contain the following:

  • General Reading Room about 28 x 32.
  • Juvenile Room 18 x 22.
  • Librarian's Room 12 x 16.
  • Committee Room 18 x 22.
  • Book or Stack Room to accommodate 30000 vols. on main floor.
  • Librarian's Desk.
  • Ladies' Toilet, opening in to Committee Room and also into Main Room.

In planning for this floor, special attention is requested to the problem of how to secure the greatest possible amount of sunlight for the Reading and Juvenile Rooms without depriving the books of the light and heat necessary for their preservation. In this connection the use of skylights is suggested. It may also be stated that arrangements for proper ventilation will be regarded as indispensable.

Permanent partitions are to be avoided except where absolutely necessary, and a view to economy of administration, simplicity, convenience and flexibility is a necessity. No partition is desired between Stack Room and Reading Room.

The Juvenile Room should be near to and in plain view of librarian's desk, and so located that visitors to it will not have to pass through Reading Room.

The librarian's room should be easily accessible from the desk and should contain a large cupboard or closet.

All drawings shall be drawn to a scale of four feet to one inch, on white paper, and shall contain the following:

  1. Basement or foundation plan.
  2. Main floor plan.
  3. Elevation on the west.
  4. Elevation on the south.
  5. Sectional Drawing.
  6. Perspective of exterior.

The plans must be delivered flat, covered and sealed, all express charges prepaid, on or before 12 o'clock M., February 15, 1903, to J. W. Linscott, Secretary of the Board of Library Trustees. Each drawing shall be signed with the architect's name and address.

Architects are requested to furnish an itemized estimate of cost of construction.

The successful architect will be required to deposit with the Secretary of the Board of Library Trustees a certified check for $200. as a guarantee that the building can be constructed as per his plan for the sum available, $18000.

All plumbing, gasfitting and fixtures, electric wiring and fixtures, cost of designs, specifications and superintendence should be included in estimate which must not exceed $18000. Architect's fee for plans and specifications should be given with and without superintendence.

The Board reserves the right to reject any or all plans submitted., and no decision shall be regarded as final until working plans are made, estimates obtained, and the cost of carrying out the chosen designs shall be found to come within the limit stated in the conditions of competition.

F. W. Bliss
E.L. Williams
C.L. Anderson
J. W. Linscott
Samuel Leask

Board of Library Trustees
Santa Cruz, California.
December 15, 1902."[7]

Eight sets of plans from five companies had been received by February 17, 1903. Two were from W. H. Weeks of Watsonvillie, two from Burnham and Bliesner of Los Angeles, one from Ernest Martin Hoen of Sacramento, one from Skidmore and Schroeffer of San Francisco, and two from J. Marquis of Santa Cruz. The consensus of public opinion favored the Skidmore plan after these plans had been put on display. The Library Board thoroughly studied and discussed the plans; on April 20, they decided to adopt one of Mr. Weeks' plans.

By June, the Sentinel was complaining that not one brick had been laid in the construction of the new library and that the community had hoped to see the building under cover.[8]

The Library Board was advertising for contractors and builders early in July in the local newspapers - Santa Cruz Daily Surf and Santa Cruz Sentinel. Six sealed bids were opened at 8 p.m. on July 18 by the Library Board. Four days later, the indications were that the contract was to go to McPhee and Sutton of San Francisco. The Library Board discussed the articles of agreement, bond, etc., with McPhee and Sutton on July 24. The bond they had put up was not in correct form; after McPhee and Sutton had corrected it, it was approved by the acting City Attorney, Mr. K. B. Knight. Finally, on August 5, Samuel Leask proposed that the Library Board accept the $17,925 bid of McPhee and Sutton to construct the Santa Cruz Free Library; the Board adopted the resolution unanimously.

Local labor was to be used, according to McPhee and Sutton. On August 8, Mr. C. D. Folsam was appointed the local superintendent with the approval of Architect Weeks.

Early in August, 1903, the Library Board began to make the arrangements for the formal laying of the cornerstone. The work of constructing the foundation had to be stopped from August 22 through September 1 because there was no more cement. The ordered cement was stranded at the Napa railroad depot; there were no engines and cars to ship the cement to Santa Cruz.

September 29, 1903, was the date chosen for the laying of the cornerstone. The Masonics, Grand Lodge of California, F & A M, were the hosts of this great event. All Santa Cruz turned out to participate. The cornerstone, which had been inscribed "Gift of Andrew Carnegie-1903," contained a copy of the Santa Cruz Morning Sentinel, September 29, 1903, a copy of the Santa Cruz Surf dated September 28, a guide to Santa Cruz, rules and regulations of the library, a 1903 directory of Masonic Lodge members throughout the state, a history of the library, examples of library cards, and a list of the books the library had accumulated by 1899.

Contractors McPhee and Sutton sublet the plumbing to Byrne Brothers, the painting to George Root, and the electric wiring to Robert Cardiff, all of Santa Cruz; the concrete work went to Granite Rock Company of Watsonville.

The Santa Cruz Sentinel and the Santa Cruz Surf kept up a running commentary on the progress of the construction of the library. During this same period, September, 1903, through April, 1904, the Library Board of Trustees' Records contained changes in plans and materials which were approved.

On April 14, 1904, the new Carnegie Library of Santa Cruz was formally opened with the appropriate ceremonies. The Santa Cruz Ladies' Improvement Society were the hostesses for the evening. A detailed account of the opening ceremonies is provided in the Santa Cruz Surf Free Library Supplement.[9]

This Library Supplement also contained:

  1. a thorough room-by-room description of the library;
  2. the statement that "the Santa Cruz library has the largest collection of books in proportion to population of any town in the State"; [10]
  3. lists of contributors to the Art and Loan Exhibit;
  4. letters from Theodore Roosevelt, Edward Everett Hale, Edwin Markham, and W. D. Howells;
  5. gifts to the library and their donors;
  6. information about Mr. Carnegie.

Because the Library Trustees had decided to use the entire $20,000 grant for the building itself, there were no funds for its furnishings. Two large events were promoted to provide the library with furniture. The Santa Cruz, Capitola and Watsonville Electric Railway Company donated the receipts of December 29, 1903, toward the fund. The young lady conductors collected $144.70, while the regular conductors took in the remainder of $167.80 as Santa Cruz turned out for the event. An Art and Loan Exhibition was conceived early in December, 1903; it was held in the new library on April 14, 15 and 16, 1904. The Santa Cruz Improvement Society hosted this project, which netted $450. The Society also donated another $300 toward the fund.

Other large gifts and benefits for the Furnishing Fund were a lecture given by Dr. Emily Noble entitled "Among the Brahmins of India," with receipts of $163; a Poster Exhibit on November 27, 1903, which netted $24.20; $100 donated by the Humane Society; and Scottish entertainment presented on February 19, 1904, by the Native Daughters at the opera house in order to furnish the lecture room in the southwest corner of the basement (which in the contract was not supposed to be finished).

On April 28, 1904, the Santa Cruz Free Public Library was opened to the public at 9 a.m.

>>Part 4: Minerva Waterman, Librarian 1890--1941


  1. Minutes of the Meetings of the Santa Cruz Library Board of Trustees, Oct. 3,1899, p. 150.
  2. Santa Cruz Evening Sentinel, March 27, 1901, p. 2.
  3. Robert Burton and Thomas L. McHugh, Samuel Leask; Transplanted Scot Citizen par Excellence (2nd printing, 1964; Felton, Calif.: The Village Print Shop), about p. 4. (Unpaged.)
  4. Ibid., about p. 5-7.
  5. Editorial, "Library Location," Santa Cruz Morning Sentinel, Jan. 5, 1902, p. 2.
  6. Letter found in scrapbook.
  7. specifications, scrapbook.
  8. Editorial, Santa Cruz Evening Sentinel, June 11, 1903, p. 2.
  9. Free Library Supplement, Santa Cruz Surf, n.d., p. 2.
  10. Ibid., p. 1.
  11. Edward Martin, History of Santa Cruz County (Los Angeles: Historic Record Company, 1911), p. 77.

Copyright 1970 Margaret Ann Souza. Reproduced with the permission of the author. This article is a chapter from an unpublished Master's thesis, The History of the Santa Cruz Public Library System, San Jose State College, August 1970.

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