Plans to bring old Carnegie Library back to its former glory
When Boise’s Carnegie Library was dedicated on May 3, 1905, the Idaho Statesman described it as marking an “epoch in the city’s history.”
“This library is a light in the window of Idaho toward which all her children may turn,” Judge C.C. Goodwin, a Salt Lake City resident who spent 21 years as editor of the Salt Lake City Tribune, said at the dedication ceremony.
The two-story neoclassical building at 815 W. Washington St. served as the city’s library for nearly 70 years. That use ended in 1973, when the library moved to the former warehouse at 715 S. Capitol Blvd. that it still occupies.
Earlier this year, Shawn Swanby, the CEO of Ednetics, a North Idaho tech firm, bought the building and said he planned to renovate it. This week, Swanby gave reporters a tour of the building. He has hired Hummel Architects, the same firm that designed it a century ago, to restore the Boise Carnegie Library to its original glory.
Offices created for a law firm that used the building for 30 years will be removed. So will its reception desk. A stairway behind the desk that was also added later will go. Some metal radiators will be polished and retained because they were part of the original building, but a switch to a modern geothermal heating system means they’ll be decorative, not functional.
The Carnegie Library, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, has sat vacant for 18 months, after the law firm moved out.
“It’s a part of the history of the city of Boise,” Swanby said. “It’s a building that really needs somebody to be a good steward.”
While the building will serve as the company’s Treasure Valley office, bringing in about 25 employees who work out of an office in Meridian, it will be open to the public for select events, Swanby said.
The building was made from brick and sandstone mined from Boise’s Table Rock.
It was designed by renowned Boise firm Tourtellotte & Hummel Architects, predecessor of today’s Hummel Architects. The firm designed some of Boise’s most important buildings, including the nearby Idaho State Capitol, Boise High School and St. John’s Catholic Cathedral.
Philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, owner of the Carnegie Steel Co., initially offered $15,000 toward the library. He later added another $5,000 and then decided to fund the entire $25,000 cost himself.
Initially, the city donated $4,000 toward the building cost, along with providing the land, while the Columbian Club, a women’s club that spearheaded efforts to build the library, chipped in $1,000. After Carnegie donated the final $5,000, that money went to furnish the library.
Swanby expects the renovation to take eight to 12 months. About 25 people who work for Ednetics at the company’s Meridian office will move into the building after the work is completed.
When the building purchase was announced in May, Swanby told the Idaho Statesman he paid “near the asking price.” It had been listed by Colliers International for $1.3 million. Renovation costs have not been totaled, but Swanby said the final bill would “be substantial.”
“Our goal is really to bring the building so it’s ready for the next century,” he said this week.
The remodel will involve removing offices on both floors that were added by the law firm during a 1987 remodel and returning the space to much of its original look, said Scott Straubhar, Hummel’s principal architect.
“This entire area was open,” Straubhar said, while walking across the upper floor. “Everything you see as far as these walls was added in the 1970s and during a major remodel in 1987.”
Downstairs, there used to be a large reading room and a theater, where classes, lectures and stage productions were held. As the group walked across the floor, some rooms were higher than others.
“it’s our ambition to see if we can get the floor level in here all at one elevation for (Americans With Disabilities Act) and for life safety,” he said.
Ednetics, based in Post Falls, provides information technology services to schools and government agencies.
Swanby, who grew up in Kuna, said his mother told him stories about driving to the library when she was a girl.
“This was the one place they could run free,” he said. “There’s a lot of responsibility [for me] because there’s so much history in this building.”