Boise & Garden City

This building in Downtown was Boise’s first public library. Here’s what is planned

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.

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One of Boise’s first major public buildings — the Carnegie Public Library — was built with money from the Andrew Carnegie Foundation and the local community. It has been used for offices in recent years. Dana Oland

“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.

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The Boise Carnegie Library was built for $25,000 in 1905. It was paid for by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. The city and the Columbian Club, a women’s group, added $5,000 for furnishings. Idaho State Archives

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.

It was one of 1,689 Carnegie libraries built around the country. It replaced a subscription library and free reading room operated for 10 years by the Columbian Club at Boise City Hall.

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The dedication of the Boise Carnegie Library in May 1905 was heralded by the Idaho Statesman. Judge James Ailshie of the Idaho Supreme Court praised the women of the Columbian Club, which spearheaded the drive to build the library. “The women whose vigilance and industry have so fashioned circumstances and moulded sentiment as to make posible this event and the realizations of this day are to be congratulated; yes, thrice congratulated, upon their splendid achievement,” Alshie said.

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.”

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Offices were added when a law firm took over the Boise Carnegie Library building in 1987. The offices will be removed, returning the building’s earlier open layout. Idaho State Archives

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.”

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Boise developer Ken Howell, right, talks with Christopher Huntley, owner of Huntley Law Firm, which previously occupied the historic Carnegie Public Library building. In 2018, Howell planned to turn the building into the Carnegie Studios, a place for artists to create. But he was unable to make a deal with St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, which had owned the building for 11 years. Katherine Jones
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Reporter John Sowell has worked for the Statesman since 2013. He covers business and growth issues. He grew up in Emmett and graduated from the University of Oregon.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.