An Architectural Census: Philadelphia’s 25 Carnegie Branch Libraries

No longer extant: Watson & Huckel’s Frankford Branch -4634 Frankford Avenue. (Free Library of Philadelphia)

No longer extant: Field & Medary’s Spring Garden Branch, southwest corner of 17th and Spring Garden Streets. From The Brickbuilder, July 1907 (Free Library of Philadelphia)

Philanthropic alpha Andrew Carnegie singlehandedly upgraded American attitudes about access to knowledge. He funded the creation of more than 1,600 libraries across the land, more than a century ago, promising a hearty 30 for Philadelphia, as posted previously.

Twenty five were built between 1906 and 1930. It’s quite a collection, these palaces to mass intellect. Individually they made quite an impact. “The feeling you get from these buildings is that you’re somebody,” commented Robert Gangewere, editor of Carnegie Magazine. ”You feel you’re in a temple of learning, a serious place.” Together, they transformed attitudes. After Carnegie, community libraries seemed inevitable, like “a right, not a privilege.”

Despite the persistent belief that Carnegie libraries all look alike, there was great variety among them. As Tom Hine put it in a review of an exhibition of Carnegie’s architectural legacy at the Cooper Hewitt in 1985: “It shows grand Spanish colonial and mission-style buildings in California, little brick Georgian boxes in Wyoming and New Jersey, Romanesque in Maine, arts and crafts in Ohio.” In Philadelphia, noted Hine they “commissioned the best architects in the city to design buildings suitable for each neighborhood.”

Only four of Philadelphia’s 25 Carnegie branches remain unattributed to architects: The Holmesburg/Thomas Holme BranchThe Oak Lane BranchThe Blanche A. Nixon/Cobbs Creek Branch and the Greenwich Branch. We know the 18 architects responsible for the other 21. It’s quite a range of talent, a veritable who’s who of the design profession in the early 20th-century city.

Here are Philly’s 25 Carnegies and their architects (when known) in order of opening:

1 – Walnut Street West/West Philadelphia Branch, 40th & Walnut Street, SE corner, opened June 26, 1906. C. C. Zantzinger, architect.

2 – Frankford Branch, 4634 Frankford Avenue, opened October 2, 1906. Watson & Huckel, architects. No longer extant.

3 – Lillian Marrero/Lehigh Avenue Branch, 6th Street and Lehigh Avenue, opened November 20, 1906. G. W. & W. D. Hewitt architects.

4 – Tacony Branch, 6742 Torresdale Avenue, opened November 27, 1906. Lindley Johnson, architect.

5 – Germantown Branch, 5818 Germantown Avenue, in Vernon Park. Frank Miles Day & Brother, architects.

6 – Holmesburg/Thomas Holme Branch, 7810 Frankford Avenue, opened June 26, 1907.

7 – Spring Garden Branch, Southwest corner 17th and Spring Garden, opened November 18, 1907. Field and Medary, architects. No longer extant.

8 – Chestnut Hill Branch, 8711 Germantown Avenue, opened in 1909. Cope and Stewardson, architects.

9 – The Wissahickon Branch, Manayunk Avenue & Osborn Street, opened in 1909. Whitfield and King, architects. No longer extant.

10 – The Manayunk Branch, Fleming and Webster Streets, opened February, 1909. Benjamin Rush Stevens, architect. No longer a library.

Now a Condo: Benjamin Rush Stevens’ Manayunk Branch, Free Library of Philadelphia, Fleming Street at Green Lane. Ray Gouldey, photographer. October 1984.(PhillyHistory.org)

11 – Richmond Branch,  2987 Almond Street, opened in 1910. Edward L. Tilton, architect.

12 – The Oak Lane Branch, 6614 North 12th Street, opened December 7, 1911.

13 –Charles Santore/Southwark Branch, 1108 South 5th Street, opened November 8, 1912. David Knickerbacker Boyd, architect. No longer a library.

14 – Falls of Schuylkill Branch, 3501 Midvale Avenue, opened November 18, 1913. Rankin, Kellogg, and Crane, architects.

15 – Thomas F. Donatucci, Sr./Passyunk Branch,  1935 W. Shunk Street, opened April 14, 1914. John Torrey Windrim, architect.

16 – South Philadelphia Branch, 2407-2417 South Broad Street, opened in 1914.  Charles Louis Borie, Jr., architect.

17 – Paschalville Branch, 6942 Woodland Avenue, opened in 1915. Henry C. Richards, architect.

18 – The Haddington Branch, 446 North 65th Street, opened on December 3, 1915. Albert Kelsey, architect.

19 – The McPherson Square Branch, 601 East Indiana Avenue, opened in 1917. Wilson Eyre, & McIlvain, architects.

20 –The Nicetown-Tioga Branch, 1715 Hunting Park, opened ca. 1917.  John Torrey Windrim, architect. No longer extant.

21 – Logan Branch, 1333 Wagner Avenue, opened November 16, 1919. John Torrey Windrim, architect.

22 – The Kingsessing Branch, 1201 South 51st Street, opened on November 29, 1919. Philip H. Johnson, architect.

23 – Blanch A. Nixon/Cobbs Creek Branch,, 5800 Cobbs Creek Parkway, opened in 1925.

24 – The Greenwich Branch, 4th and Shunk Streets, opened in 1929. No longer extant.

25 – The Wyoming Branch, 231 East Wyoming Avenue, opened October 29, 1930. Philip H. Johnson, architect.

Very Much a Library and the Last Carnegie Branch to Open Anywhere. Philip H. Johnson’s Wyoming Branch, Free Library of Philadelphia, East Wyoming Avenue and B Street, photographed January 16, 1931 (PhillyHistory.org)

[Sources: Thomas Hine, “Public Libraries were his gifts to the world,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 25, 1985; Stevenson Swanson, “Carnegie Legacy Built on a Need for Knowledge,” Chicago Tribune, November 25, 1985. Free Library of Philadelphia, Digital Collections, Carnegie Libraries (Institutions).]

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