Once an application for a Carnegie Library had been approved, Carnegie provided progress payments for the construction of the building.  However, the selection of the site of the library, as well as the design and construction of the library, fell upon the recipient community.  Site selection for a Carnegie Library was left to the community with “the only stipulations being that it should be convenient of access and large enough to give light all around the building and to allow of its extension, if should become necessary in the future” (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace).  Library architecture and construction experts of the period recommended that “a main public library should be situated as near to the centre of population as possible without establishing it on a traffic artery, with the accompanying inconveniences of noise, dust, etc.” (Wiley, 1918, Library Architecture and Construction).    

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Selecting a site was not an easy task for the San Diego Public Library Board of Trustees.  The inability to agree upon a site and how that site was to be purchased, delayed the construction of the library.  Eventually, “the half block on E Street between Eighth and Ninth Streets” was purchased for $17,000.  The City contributed $9,000 and the “rest was raised by private subscription, in which was included $600 from the Wednesday Club” (McGrew).   The library would be built on the corner of “E” and Eighth Streets – just one block off the major Broadway Street thoroughfare.    


 “Mr. Carnegie, always a firm believer in home rule and in the educational value of responsibility and learning by doing it, left the matter of the plans entirely to those managing the affair locally” (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace).   Accordingly, Lydia Horton, on behalf of the San Diego Public Library Board, announced a competition to design the new Carnegie library:   

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Architects entering this competition shall submit their plans on or before March 15, 1900. . . . Total cost of the building, including book-stacks furniture, lighting and heating apparatus, is limited to $50,000.  The building must be as nearly fire-proof as practicable.  (San Diego Public Library, 1899, Competition for architects to complete for building of Carnegie Library).      

New York architects Ackerman and Ross submitted the winning plans and were awarded the contract in November 1900.  (Kamerling, 1990;  

 Crawford, 2008).  Images 23, 24 and 25 below are copies of Ackerman and Ross’ winning blueprint design.  Click the images to enlarge.  

Image 24: Plan of First Floor

Image 25: Plan of Second Floor

Image 23: Plan of Basement


The San Diego firm of Hebbard & Gill acted as superintendents on the job.   

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 Ten years later, Hebbard & Gill were the lead architects on the National City Public Library, another Carnegie library built in San Diego County.  At the turn of the 20th century, there was debate about the proper way to design and build libraries.  This was such a hot topic, that the Library Journal published an article entitled “Scientific Library Planning.” (Wiley, 1918, Library Architecture and Construction).       

Initially, Carnegie did not require a particular floor plan or design for the libraries he funded.  That practice was abandoned because “in many cases architects showed an almost inconceivable neglect to the lay out floor space economically or effectively, and designed ponderous or ornate exteriors” (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace).  The problems of library design at the turn of the 20th century had four causes:  1) an “effort to erect a monumental building”; 2) an attempt to conform to an architectural style unsuited from library purposes; 3) the appointment of an architect unfamiliar with library design and function; and 4) the “failure to consult with the librarians” (Wiley, Library Architecture and Construction).  Given that these were common issues in library design, James Bertram, Carnegie’s secretary, authored six editions of “Notes of the Erection of Library Buildings with Type Plans” (id.).  Bertram included sample floor plans for efficient library design.   

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The San Diego Public Library was larger than the sample plans outlined by Bertram:      

The building is two stories in height, and is built of brick, covered with cement painted white, giving somewhat the effect of white marble.  The delivery room occupies the center of the first floor; opening from this, one the one side, are the children’s room and a women’s magazine room; on the other a men’s magazine room and a reference room.  Behind the delivery room are the librarian’s and catalogers’ rooms, back of which are the stacks.  The second story contains an art gallery, a lecture room with seating capacity of 100, a museum, trustees’ room, and two small rooms for special study.  The light green tint of the walls throughout the building blends harmoniously with the color of the oak furniture.  The stack room is fireproof, the remainder of the building of slow-burning construction.  The cost of the building itself was $40,000; the furniture, book stacks and fees amounted to $20,000 (Koch).      

As described above, the San Diego Carnegie library was two stories, with a basement.  Ackerman and Ross’ plans for the San Diego library were more elaborate that the Bertram plans, however, contained all of the same elements:  lecture room, boiler room, staff room, adult reading rooms, children’s reading room, reference room, librarian room, work room and the delivery.  Ackerman and Ross’ plans fulfilled all of Bertram’s requirements:       

The bilding [sic] should be devoted exclusively to: (main floor) housing of books and their issue for home use; comfortable accommodation for reading them by adults and children; (basement) lecture room; necessary accommodation for heating plant; also all conveniences for the library patrons and staff.  (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace).       

Additionally, the Ackerman and Ross’ blueprints for the San Diego Public Library had separate reading rooms for men and women, an art gallery, museum, a trustees’ room and a bicycle room.   

On March 19, 1901, the cornerstone of the new San Diego Public Library building was laid in a public celebration.  Lydia Horton spoke at the ceremony and recounted a “slight historical sketch of this building” (McGrew).  She closed her remarks saying:      

Let us hope that it will bind not only the walls of our building together, but unite us as a people in the unselfish desire for the common good, and our realization of the common need.  It is this desire, this realization, which prompts Mr. Carnegie’s splendid gifts to humanity, believing as he does, with Lowell, that the best part of man’s education is that which he gives himself.  This is the opportunity which our public libraries furnish – the means of self-education.      

This foundation gives promise of a substantial building, but broad and deep as it looks, it is ‘just such stuff as dreams are made of,’ for this material form was but the ‘shadow of a dream’ five years ago.  Mr. Carnegie is a believer in dreams.  In a speech made in Dumfries, Scotland, he said: “I would not give much for the man who does not dream dreams.”      

What are his benefactions to-day but the realization of the dream of his youth, when as a mill boy he was given, with the other boys of Allegheny, the privilege of using Mr. Anderson’s library? . . . Our own city to-day is the realization of the dreams of a man who thirty-three years ago next month stood on these heights above us with a wilderness before him, but seeing clearly in his mind’s eye visions of a fair city . . . These men were trained in a hard school, but as their hands wrought, and they grew strong with labor, their dreams were wings which freed the spirit and taught them to work for humanity. (Koch).      

In total, Carnegie provided the San Diego Public Library $60,000 to build the library.  The actual cost of construction was $59,774.50 — $225.50 under budget! (San Diego Public Library, Cost of Construction of Carnegie Library Building).  In April 1902, the San Diego Public Library moved from the upper floor of the Keating Building into the Andrew Carnegie San Diego Free Public Library.   Opening day was April 25, 1902.  The ceremony included a poem written by Joseph Jessop, a San Diego jeweler and clockmaker, “To Andrew Carnegie” thanking him for his generosity.        

Image 29: San Diego Free Public Library

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