Lending a hand
The Carnegie Library opened in 1916 at West Third Street and South Cheyenne Avenue. The building included an auditorium, an art gallery and a museum for Native American artifacts. Before it was razed in 1970, the Tulsa Tribune referred to it as “the ugly old lady.”
Courtesy Beryl Ford Collection/Rotary Club of Tulsa, Tulsa City-County Library and Tulsa Historical Society
A committed group of Tulsans birthed the city’s first library — with a little help from one of America’s wealthiest men.
Local women’s clubs attempted to establish a Tulsa library beginning in 1905, according to library officials.
When it came to fundraising, the women contacted billionaire steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, an avid reader. Biography.com estimates he supported the openings of 2,800 U.S. libraries.
In 1910, Carnegie offered $35,000 if the City of Tulsa would provide a suitable library site as well as $3,500 per year to maintain it. Unfortunately, the cause lacked public support. A temporary library was created with 800 donated books.
Tulsa’s first formal library was established in 1913 in the basement of the courthouse. The city council appropriated $100 per month for the small venture.
In 1914, the City of Tulsa took over the library and appointed a board of trustees. Board President G.R. McCullough corresponded again with Carnegie, who raised his commitment to $55,000.
Construction soon began on a brick and sandstone building at the northwest corner of West Third Street and South Cheyenne Avenue.
Designed to hold 50,000 books, the shelves of the Carnegie Library held only 4,000 when the doors opened in spring 1916. By 1920, its inventory totaled more than 17,000.
The library quickly grew in popularity and branches opened. In 1927, the American Library Association named Tulsa among the top 10 cities with the highest circulation of fiction materials.
The Carnegie Library operated until 1965, when its collection was moved to the then-new Central Library, which is now being renovated.
Tulsa Urban Renewal Authority then purchased the old library building, which briefly housed the Tulsa Business College. In 1968, the crumbling building was used to store overflow “civil defense supplies,” according to a Tulsa Tribune article.
It was razed in 1970 and — like many early downtown structures — the building Carnegie financed is today the site of a parking lot.