The Carnegie Library

In 1964, the Santa Maria Valley Historical Society said the Carnegie Library would make a perfect museum for the many artifacts it had collected. 

At a meeting held in November 1961 at the Historical Santa Maria Inn, owner Edward D. McCoy cited the success of the book “This is Our Valley,” by Vada Carlson, and called for the beginning of a new project.

He urged the Santa Maria Valley Historical Society to drive for new and permanent headquarters, saying that an early California adobe headquarters building would be appropriate.

Three years later, at an August 1964 meeting of the City Council, the Historical Society requested the board consider the feasibility of restoring the Carnegie Library building at 410 South Broadway for use as a museum and society headquarters.

In his Santa Maria Times column, It Occurs to Me, on Oct. 4, 1964, Ed Laubengayer brought up the question of reported deed constrictions in the sale of property that had been donated to the city of Santa Maria for “ten dollars in gold coin,” by Mr. and Mrs. P.O. Tietzen in 1908. Said property became the site of the Carnegie Library.

There were two deeds, with the first one restricting the use of the property to library and park purposes. This restriction would naturally affect the property being used as a museum. However, City Attorney John Van Ryn’s file carried two deeds, with the second deed lifting this restriction. Therefore, it was his conclusion that there were no restrictions on the property.

On Nov. 3, 1964, prospects of the Carnegie Library being the future home of the Historical Society were dim when an independent engineer hired by the society reported that it would take from $30,000 to $40,000 to make the building safe and to bring it up to minimum code standards.

The Historical Society stepped up to the plate and insisted that the old library would make a perfect museum for the many historical artifacts it had collected.

Aware that the library was in poor condition, Mayor Vince Pollard, hoping for a solution, appointed Councilmen George Hobbs and Charles Dorsey to meet with representatives of the society to establish what measures could be taken to “save” the old building. Although Hobbs, who was also a member of the Historical Society, proposed the sale of the library for $1 at the January meeting of the council when stiff city hurdles were indicated, he decided that leasing the building would be an easier route to take.

In addition, it might be a less complicated transaction for the city. He then proposed a condition to be written into the lease, that the Historical Society would bring the walls up to earthquake law standards, but made an amendment to read that the society would repair the building to “minimum city standards.”

Although both Van Ryn and Councilman Matthew Nolan objected, saying that the council would be waiving the building code, the council voted 5-0 on Hobb’s resolution. In addition to the lease calling for “fixing up” the building, it also stated that adequate liability and fire insurance be carried and that whenever the society ceased using the building for a display of “objects of historical value,” the building would revert back to city control.

Although the Historical Society could lease the old Carnegie Library for a museum, bringing it up to building standards involved more than they bargained for. The cost of renovating the old building and bringing it up to code requirements would cost about the same as rebuilding the library from the ground up.

As Van Ryn pointed out, city code requirements would have to stand and it would be virtually impossible to approve occupancy of the building without a major overhaul.

On Feb. 9, 1965, the Historical Society announced that it would seek state-level assistance in Sacramento. The legislators would be asked to confer with the state attorney general’s office to learn if there was a legal procedure to follow that would allow the building to be retained in its present state.

However, Van Ryn sounded the death knell on their plans when he laid down some hard and fast rules governing the possible rehabilitation of the old Carnegie Library. Then perched among more modern buildings of Spanish architecture in the city hall/library complex, the old library appeared substantial enough, but it was evidently more than a bit shaky in the joints.

He then went on to outline the city’s intention to lease the property to the Historical Society, a lease that had not yet been signed. It stands to reason that the document wasn’t signed because the society simply couldn’t afford to meet the city’s requirements.

The following year, on Aug. 9, the old Carnegie Library was demolished.

All wasn’t lost though as Santa Marians were determined to have a historical museum. Because of the hard work and generous donations of many people, a museum was built on city property located in the 600 block of South Broadway and the grand opening took place on Jan. 20, 1974. The building is shared with the Chamber of Commerce.

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Shirley Contreras lives in Orcutt and writes for the Santa Maria Valley Historical Society. She can be contacted at 934-3514 or at shirleycontreras2@yahoo.com. Her book, “The Good Years,” a selection of stories she’s written for the Santa Maria Times since 1991, is on sale at the Santa Maria Valley Historical Society, 616 S. Broadway.