Half-way there: Friends of Carnegie Library reach midpoint in preserving historic structure
Vince Van Heuveln remembers visiting the Carnegie Library when he was a kid. That memory prompted him to become a shareholder in Friends of the Carnegie Library. The group is working to protect the building after city officials threatened to tear...
Vince Van Heuveln remembers visiting the Carnegie Library when he was a kid. That memory prompted him to become a shareholder in Friends of the Carnegie Library. The group is working to protect the building after city officials threatened to tear down the historic library at 1204 Hammond Ave. in November 2005.
Friends of the Carnegie Library is a limited liability corporation consisting of 75 people who came together to save the former main library. A core group -- four to six people -- is working to preserve the distinctive neoclassic building designed by Carl Wirth in 1901. The Superior structure was among the prominent architect's last major works at the turn of the century.
After years of complaints from neighbors frustrated with vandals, boarded-up windows, a massive over-grown yard and deteriorating sandstone, the city ordered former owner David Wehr of Esko to vacate so demolition could begin. It was the final straw after twice issuing orders to repair or raze the building -- orders that netted little improvement.
That prompted the creation of Friends of the Carnegie Library to spare the historic building. Members pooled their money to buy the building from Wehr after sitting vacant since 1991.
The building was constructed in 1902, funded by $50,000 from the Carnegie Foundation and named for the Scottish-American industrialist and businessman Andrew Carnegie. The foundation was responsible for building 1,679 libraries in 49 states. Superior was one of the few communities to benefit twice from the philanthropic industrialist's efforts to build libraries for immigrant education. The other Carnegie library in Superior was renovated as a home in East End after the branch was closed.
Architectural beauty is a hallmark of Carnegie libraries.
There is a "huge amount of pride from working on the building," Van Heuveln said.
The group has been working to keep the lawn mowed, the property clean and has begun to replace windows and repair the roof on the structure completed in 1902.
"It has needed a new roof for 50 years," said Friends member Bob Swanson.
He said there is a misconception about the group's goals.
"We're not restoring the building," Swanson said. "We're preserving the building."
Swanson said he can imagine the historic library becoming a gallery, or an upscale restaurant, but Friends of the Carnegie Library will need to find a developer to make any vision for the building a reality. The Friends are working to make the building more appealing and protect it from further damage from the weather.
While much of the woodwork inside remains in excellent condition 16 years after it closed as a library, water problems have caused sections of the plaster walls in the mirror-image reading rooms to fail.
Since starting work, the group has replaced windows on the north and west sides of the building and is currently working to replace windows on the south side, said Mark Lach, a core member who comes out every Thursday and every other Saturday to care for the building and surrounding property. Windows for the back of the building were delivered Thursday night, he said. The dank, musty smell that was prevalent when the city ordered its demolition more than 11?2 years ago is gone today.
"It is part of our heritage," Swanson said. "We have put hundred and hundreds of hours on that thing."
The group is hoping the repairs will enable perspective buyers to envision restoring the building.
The group is past the halfway point in its preservation effort.
"I think it is exciting," said Van Heuveln.
Financial contributions are still needed to help with the cost of roof materials.
Help is also needed for yard maintenance. Just stop by the library 5-8 p.m. Thursday evenings to lend a hand.