Description of Historic Place
Carnegie Library is a two-storey red brick building that exemplifies a Beaux-Arts architectural style with its symmetrical five-bay façade and polychromatic exterior. It is prominently situated at the corner of Victoria Avenue and Armoury Street in the historic downtown area of Niagara Falls. While no longer serving as a library it continues to play a significant role in the development of its citizens' organizations.
The building was recognized for its heritage value in 1999 (By-law 9972).
The Carnegie Library was an early resource centre for Niagara Falls and is associated with the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Erected in 1910, the building provided a permanent site for the city's previously nomadic book collections. It is also linked to the historical movement which advocated free access to educational and cultural materials for all citizens. The library was the sixty-seventh of one hundred and eleven Carnegie libraries built in Ontario. Andrew Carnegie, a steel magnate was one of America's wealthiest men at the beginning of the 20th century. He was also an exceptionally generous philanthropist who dedicated much of his time and savings to providing resource centres to cities and towns all over United States and Canada through the library grants offered by the Carnegie Foundation. These grants, as in the case of Niagara Falls, were generally based on terms that required the city to provide the land and guarantee at least ten percent of the building's cost.
Those attending the opening ceremonies were asked for contributions of books to add to the library's collection. A request that was granted by nearly everyone in attendance netted nearly 8000 contributions. The building continued to serve as an educational and cultural resource centre for 64 years, until a new library was built in 1974. Since then, it has provided office space for many organizations, particularly those in the non-profit sector.
The architectural features of the Carnegie Library are an exemplification of the Beaux-Arts style. It is also described as being subdued in appearance yet rich in neoclassical detail. The two-storey, red brick building features a raised limestone block basement and yellow brick quoins. This polychromatic exterior is typical of the Beaux-Arts style and used to establish a decorative element. It is a classical display of symmetry with a centrally located main entrance and front portico with brick columns and an egg and dart motif on the trim. It has a five bay façade with the central three bays projecting forward and is topped with a truncated roof. The library also features a central gable with a closed pediment, and entablature with flat modillions and a semi-circular fanlight. The large Venetian style windows are a dominant feature. On the interior, the floors have been laid with hard wood and finished in natural oak.
Although this particular library has unique qualities associated with a local vernacular, its use of Beaux-Arts style with large windows is highly comparable to the majority of the Ontario libraries that have been built from the same Carnegie Foundation grants. As part of a movement which sought free public access to educational and cultural resources, the Carnegie Library in Niagara Falls has contributed to the personal and business development of its citizens by providing a more inclusive forum for learning. Many of the businesses and organizations in the early 1900s were able to benefit from the library's open space. It was often used for instructional seminars which allowed for the expansion of skills and knowledge in the community. The building's location on the corner of Victoria Avenue and Armoury Street provided easy access for its past and present uses, and continues to contribute to the historic character of the two streets.
Sources: “Carnegie Library”, Planning and Development, City of Niagara Falls, 1999; “The Best Gift: A record of the Carnegie Libraries in Ontario”, Beckman, Langmead, and Black, 1984; “Old library building still stands today”, Sherman Zavitz, The Review, December 6, 1997; “Local Library Got Its Start 76 Years Ago”, Eileen Weber, Evening Review, September 17, 1954.
Character defining elements that depict the heritage value of Carnegie Library include its:
- prominent location on the corner of Victoria Avenue and Armoury Street
- polychromatic exterior of red and yellow brick
- raised limestone block basement
- symmetrical five bay façade with centrally located entrance
- truncated roof
- central gable with a closed pediment
- entablature with flat modillions and semi-circle fanlight
- large windows of Venetian style
- hard wood floors on the interior