Carl Chapman remembers the 1960s when he strolled down to the Carnegie Library, where the neighborhood librarian greeted him by name and suggested titles of new books he might...
Carl Chapman remembers the 1960s when he strolled down to the Carnegie Library, where the neighborhood librarian greeted him by name and suggested titles of new books he might like.
“I was only 5 or 6 years old, but it was the neatest place to be in town,” he said. “And Mrs. [Geraldine] Earls, she’s the kind of librarian who dropped books off for kids on her way home, especially if they were sick.”
At one time, the stately structure evoked power, elegance and grandeur. The 1910 building stood proudly as a focal point for the community. Its eclectic white stucco Renaissance Revival and Prairie style was unusual at a time when most Carnegie libraries sported Neoclassical designs fashioned out of brick.
Decades later, Chapman, 50, still frequents the Carnegie Library building but for a different reason. As the city’s lead supervisor of wastewater collections, his office is crammed into a corner of the old building, where columns are sealed off with plastic to prevent cracked plaster from peeling off and falling on him.
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“It’s dilapidated, and it’s pretty sad,” Chapman said, slowly shaking his head.
Although the structure has not been restored, residents have fought over the years simply to keep it from being demolished.
But the Carnegie, 105 Cedar Ave., is about to undergo another transformation.
Last summer, Snohomish commissioned an architectural firm to draw up plans for rehabilitating the building. The group is not only assessing the structure’s integrity but also researching ways to restore it while adhering to modern-day codes and regulations.
Instead of a city office, the remodeled building, with its refurbished multipurpose spaces boasting a capacity of 130, will be open for public use.
The extensive Carnegie rehabilitation effort represents a larger trend in Snohomish County. Cities such as Snohomish and Sultan are drawing from the past to revive their economies.
Snohomish annexed the Bickford Avenue corridor two years ago to increase its tax base, which has shrunk since several recent voter initiatives limited property-tax levies. And Sultan, also affected by property-tax caps, has been struggling with several years of budget shortfalls, including a $1.5 million debt in 2002 alone, according to state auditors.
With projects such as the Carnegie Library renovation and a new visitors-information center in Sultan, the cities hope to attract tourists, newcomers, businesses and investors. City leaders also want to celebrate history by providing their communities with handsome structures that serve as local meeting places or new landmarks.
Creating the past
The Carnegie building is within the 26-block Snohomish Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
In addition to the restoration, Snohomish will begin to build a $357,000 visitors-information center next spring by re-creating a train depot that was demolished several decades ago. Scheduled to be completed in October, the tourist center will be constructed on a parking lot in the historic district.
The city also has commissioned a $20,000 streetscape-planning study to improve the downtown area. Consultants will suggest sidewalk- and landscape-design changes to shape the district into a more attractive pedestrian-friendly historic destination.
“When they see the historic business district and residential district and the potential of what can be done with the Carnegie, this is what makes people come to Snohomish,” said City Councilwoman Melody Clemans. “It’s what makes people choose to live here.”
Locals young and old have spent hours at the Carnegie, from its inception in 1910 until the library moved to a larger facility on Maple Street last summer.
When the community first needed more space for books several decades ago, the city added a wing to the Carnegie Library. The 1968 glass-and-brick expansion destroyed most of the facade of the original structure.
Currently, the annex is being used by the Arts of Snohomish as a gallery where a group of local artists exhibit their work. The city’s parks department houses its temporary office in another part of the addition.
“The town was excited about it,” Clemans said of the modern wing. “And now we look on it in horror.”
Clemans, 60, who has lived in Snohomish all her life, made the restoration and preservation of the Carnegie Library building one of her priorities when she ran for office last year. She now chairs the Carnegie Preservation Committee.
BOLA Architecture + Planning of Seattle is scheduled to come up with a cost estimate this month. The firm will present its report to the City Council in January. If the council approves the design, city officials and volunteers may begin soliciting donations and applying for grants.
Asked why the city hasn’t tried to restore the building until now, Clemans said: “It just always met our needs. Money’s always an issue with a small town.”
BOLA, which specializes in historical-preservation planning, is researching ways to separate the 1968 addition from the original building, make the repairs necessary from years of neglect and mend the earthquake damage.
In addition, the firm must consider access requirements while trying to re-create century-old details. Along with rehabilitating the original facade and entrance stairways, BOLA will be adding an external ramp and an elevator to the building, said principal Susan Boyle.
“We’re also looking at old photos to restore some of the original parklike setting,” she said.
A majority of the $25,000 architectural study of the Carnegie is being funded by the city, which received a $4,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and a $1,000 grant from the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation last year.
The citizen connection
Many longtime Snohomish residents have stories about the Carnegie.
“It’s a building with which many people in Snohomish have a connection,” said City Manager Larry Bauman. “It served generations of Snohomish residents.”
Like Chapman, Clemans remembers the old library fondly. “I just have warm memories of Mrs. Earls,” she said.
“She was kind about it when we were late” with overdue books, letting residents check books out that day anyway, Clemans said. “It was always a penny a day.”
Earls died in 1996.
Residents also wanted to preserve the Carnegie to save the home of another beloved librarian or the ghost of that librarian. Many, including Chapman, believe Catharine McMurchy, who worked at the library in the 1920s and ’30s, still resides in the building.
The structure itself has “historical significance,” Bauman said. It was a “dramatic achievement for a small town like Snohomish” to be awarded with one of the Carnegie Library endowments.
More than a century ago, Snohomish founder E.C. Ferguson helped obtain money from the Andrew Carnegie Foundation to build a town library.
Philanthropist Carnegie founded nearly 1,700 libraries in the United States in the early 20th century. Only two other libraries in Snohomish County were established by Carnegie: one in Everett and another in Edmonds.
The Everett structure has been converted into county-government offices, and the Edmonds building now serves as the home of the city’s historical museum.
Clemans, who began serving a four-year council term in January, believes it will take three to five years to raise the amount required for reconstruction. “My goal is to have it during my time on council,” she said.
City meets the Sky
About 15 miles to the east, off Highway 2, a similar transformation effort is taking shape.
Settled beneath the snow-covered Cascades, Sultan’s lonely Main Street is punctuated by the sounds of an occasional car or the footsteps of a passer-by.
Incorporated in 1905, the rural community markets itself with the phrase “Where the Sultan Meets the Sky,” a reference to the city’s location at the junction of the Sultan and Skykomish rivers.
Sultan was once a booming town, said longtime resident Donna Murphy, referring to old photos she’s seen of the city. Murphy, the city’s grants coordinator and economic-development director, has lived and worked in Sultan since 1979.
She hopes to make it flourish again.
“Ever since I’ve been here, people have said, ‘If we could just find a way to pull the people off the highway and get them to come downtown to spend some money and go shopping, it will be an economic-development opportunity,’ ” Murphy said.
In 2000, Sultan received a $370,600 grant from the state Department of Transportation to build the Sky Valley Visitor’s Information Center. But disagreements over where to construct it delayed the process for several years, Murphy said.
Some people objected to erecting a tourist stop on Highway 2 across from Sultan’s businesses, citing the dangers of crossing the busy road to Stevens Pass and pointing out that it would have been too far to bring people into town.
Recently, work on the visitors-center plan resumed.
The city paid $206,000 for a former bank building at 320 Main St. earlier this year, Murphy said.
Across from the Sultan Library and City Hall, near the city’s businesses, the vacant one-story structure wears a beige facade and a brick frame. Cracked red paint flanks the sides of the building, where the city plans to paint two murals one of a community picnic and another of a train engine.
The visitors center is scheduled to open in spring to prepare for the tourist season, Murphy said. Its completion will also coincide with the city’s centennial. Because the city government did not have enough money to organize events for the celebration, residents and volunteers formed a committee to do so, Murphy said.
Maybe more visitors will stop at Sultan next year. Debbie Copple, the director of the center, considers it a resource for recreational activities from Sultan to Skykomish.
“It gives us a chance to promote the Sky Valley on a one-to-one basis,” she said. “And that kind of advertising is more valuable than anything else we can do.”
Judy Chia Hui Hsu: 425-745-7809 or firstname.lastname@example.org