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May 18, 2010 > History: Hayward's Pride

History: Hayward's Pride

Though Hayward has been proud of many things throughout its long history, the talk of the town in 1905 was the opening of a new public library. With a grant from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie of New York, dedicated community members worked for years to achieve what was a crown jewel to the growing city and one of 142 Carnegie Libraries built in California.

The Hayward Public Library began as a reading room in a rented storefront in April 1896. Individuals and local organizations provided the books, magazines, and newspapers. By 1901, the popularity of the reading room prompted town officials to place the library into the city's budget.

Library trustees and members of the Ladies Improvement Club decided by 1903 that Hayward needed a large, permanent home for its library. Thus began a two-year letter writing campaign to Carnegie seeking funds to build a dedicated public library.

Carnegie began giving money to communities around the country to construct libraries in 1889. Requests for funds were rarely turned down as long as the community requesting the money met certain criteria. Those conditions included: the town had to provide the land for constructing the library, the town council had to agree to appropriate at least $1,000 for the library's yearly maintenance, and the library had to be free to the public.

Hayward's library trustees sent the first letter to Carnegie in January 1903. The short note written by Secretary G. W. Toyne went as follows "Dear Sir, I am instructed by the trustees of the Haywards Free Library to write asking if you would give our town a library building. Our town has a population of 2,000 with about 5,000 outside on fruit and poultry ranches. We have 2000 books on our shelves which is well used beside magazines and papers on the reading desk. Awaiting your answer. "

Apparently having received no response, a second letter was sent in March 1903. This letter expanded on the town's virtue, growing population, economy, and library use and asked for $8,000 to construct a building. In May 1903, president of the Ladies Improvement Club of Hayward, Mrs. Annie Wilbert, sent a letter to Carnegie asking for $10,000 to help the town construct a library in the Plaza. The Improvement Club had formed in 1902 from concerned Hayward women who wanted to clean up the town's Plaza. In her letter to Carnegie, Mrs. Wilbert writes that the Plaza had been planted with flowers and lawn and a 130-foot diameter space in the center of the Plaza would be a perfect place to build a free public library.

At some point, the trustees and the Improvement Club were informed that Mr. Carnegie would get back to them when he returned from Europe. Many months later, in January 1904, Mrs. Wilbert sent yet another letter to Carnegie asking again for $10,000. This time an additional letter of support signed by several local lodges and businesses accompanied her letter. Finally, in February 1904, word came from Carnegie's New York office-yes, Carnegie would supply the $10,000 if the city agreed to provide the land and continue support of the institution after construction.

The town council promptly passed a resolution meeting all of the grant's stipulations and soon settled on a location for the building. Rather than the Plaza, a site on the corner of B and First Streets was purchased from H.F. Nebas. It seems the library trustees felt the location was more centrally located to the main shopping and business district on B Street than the Plaza between C and D Streets.

By midsummer 1904, the trustees had chosen an architecture firm from San Francisco, Stone & Smith, and already had plans for the new Mission Revival style building. The construction estimates exceeded the $10,000 so the trustees wrote to Carnegie requesting an additional $3,000. A pithy letter was returned stating that Mr. Carnegie felt $10,000 was enough for the construction and no more money would be given. The actual construction costs when the building was finished actually came to under $10,000, so apparently, Mr. Carnegie's estimations were correct!

The library cornerstone was laid on April 8, 1905 with much pomp and circumstance. The event was such a big deal in town that, according to an account in the San Francisco Chronicle, "business was entirely suspended and practically every resident of the town and its environs assembling about the site of the new building." The library opened to the public later that year with an equal amount of celebration.

The Hayward Journal newspaper, whose editor George Oakes was also president of the library board of trustees, proclaimed, "It is to our mind the model and prettiest library building of its size in the Golden State." The building consisted of 11,000 square feet with a separate children's area, a new idea at the time, and adult books.

The library had only been open for a few months when the devastating earthquake of April 18, 1906 struck the Bay Area. The library building was severely damaged. In July, the trustees turned to Carnegie again seeking funds for the repairs-"The handsome brick library building that you so kindly donated $10000 to establish in Hayward is among those that were badly damaged and about wrecked. It is absolutely unsafe at the present time and should we have another severe shock its condition would be irreparable." They requested $1750 for the repairs which Carnegie granted.

The city grew in leaps and bounds in the following years. By 1918 the library was bursting at the seams. Once again, the trustees turned to Carnegie requesting funds to expand the library facility. Carnegie turned them down this time citing the war in Europe. Hayward residents were going to have to make do with the facility they had.

The growth of Hayward in the years following World War II brought the development of a new shopping district on Foothill Boulevard called "The Strip." The library, unfortunately, stood in the way of progress, no matter how proud Hayward was of their library building. Hayward's Carnegie Library served the community until December 31, 1948 when it was demolished to make way for widening of Foothill Boulevard. Two years later, a new modern library facility opened at its current location on the Plaza-where the Ladies Improvement Club had wanted the library in the first place.

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