In 1901, American steel magnate Andrew Carnegie was convinced to donate $50,000 to build a city library if Vancouver would provide free land and $5,000 annually to support its operation. A fight immediately developed between East and West side Vancouver as to who would get the new cultural institution. A public plebiscite fixed the site at Hastings and Westminster (now Main) streets, next door to the first City Hall (pictured here to the left of Carnegie).
The building was designed by Vancouver architect George Grant and is in the style of Romanesque Renaissance, with a domed ionic portico and French mansard roof. Granite for the foundation came from Indian Arm and sandstone for the 10 inch thick walls came from Gabriola Island. Inside were hardwood paneled walls and ceilings and oak floors, eight fireplaces, a steel (9,888 lbs.) and marble staircase and a massive three-panel stained-glass window with three smaller coloured windows below. There were special reading rooms for ladies and for children, a chess room, newspaper reading room, picture gallery, lecture hall, and on the third floor the Art, Historical and Scientific Association (now Vancouver Museum). The cornerstone was laid in 1902 and the library opened in November 1903.
Carnegie served as the city’s main branch for many years. In 1957 a new central library we built at Burrard and Robson streets. The Museum moved downstairs to occupy the full building. They too left in 1967 when the Centennial Museum opened. For the next ten years the building remained empty, its roof leaking and the inside deteriorating. Various uses were proposed for the old structure, including an office and restaurant complex, a rock museum, and a parking lot. The mayor wanted to sell, lease or give away the building. After massive public protest, much of it spearheaded by the Downtown Eastside Residents Association, City Council in 1976 agreed to renovate the building for use as a community centre. The lot adjacent, once occupied by the original City Hall, was purchased and an extension to the building was built. The Carnegie Community Centre opened its doors again to the public on January 20, 1980.
The Carnegie Community Centre is owned by the city of Vancouver and is funded by the Social Planning Department. The Centre Is open 9AM to 11PM (l4hrs), 7 days/week, 365 days/year and its services are tailored to the unique and diverse community it serves - The Downtown Eastside.
Some interesting historical facts about Carnegie:
Underneath the Cornerstone (which was placed in 1902) are various Masonic documents, a copy of the City’s Act of Incorporation, lists of various civic officials and a copper casket containing all specimens of current postage stamps and coins.
The small stained-glass windows depicting Bums, Scott and
Moore were removed when the library was converted into the museum building in
1958 and were missing for 30 years! They were located intact in 1985 and returned
to their original home at Carnegie.
During the Depression forced labour camps for the unemployed were set up in the Interior. The men were paid 20 cents a day to build roads and clear land. In protest against lack of work and camp living conditions, a corps of well organized workers barricaded themselves in the 3rd floor museum on May 18, 1935 (no damage was done to the building). Sympathetic Vancouverites filled buckets with food to be hauled up by rope to the third floor museum. Mayor G.G. McGeer agreed to pay the strikers $1800 for food and lodgings. Two weeks later, 1800 men left Vancouver by rail on the On-To-Ottawa Trek. Their slogan was "Work and Wages!". The Trek was stopped by the RCMP with the Regina Riot on July 1,1935.
The City received the 1981 REGIQNAL AWARD OF HONOUR from The Heritage Foundation for the preservation of the Carnegie Centre.
compiled by Lisa Lilge
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