A tale of three libraries

The early 20th century was an incredible period of library building in the United States and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie was its main driver. He gave $55 million dollars to communities all over the world between 1889 and 1923 to establish buildings where “anyone with the desire to learn could educate themselves and be successful like he had been.” (www.carnegie.org)

Even small communities were recipients of Carnegie’s generosity, and I saw this in action in three towns in central California. Between 1905 and 1910, prominent citizens in San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles and Lompoc petitioned Carnegie for funding and each received $10,000 to build a library.

What makes them interesting to me is that they were designed by the same architect, William H. Weeks, provided library services in the Carnegie building for over 50 years, and all became community museums after the libraries moved into larger facilities.

San Luis Obispo Carnegie Library

  • Built in 1905, coming in under budget at $9,750
  • Romanesque style
  • Was a library until 1955 
  • Now the History Center of San Luis Obispo County

Paso Robles Carnegie Library

  • Built in 1908
  • Classical Revival style
  • Was a library until 1998
  • Now the El Paso de Robles Area Historical Society Museum

Lompoc Carnegie Library

  • Built in 1910
  • Classical Revival style
  • Was a library until 1968
  • Now the Lompoc Museum, administered by the Lompoc Valley Historical Society


  • 2,509 around the world
  • 1,679 in the United States
  • 142 in California

“Currently, only 85 of the original Carnegie public library buildings in California are still standing. Of these 36 are still operating as libraries; 21 are museums, 13 are used for community services; the remaining 15 have a variety of uses.” (www.carnegie-libraries.org)