| Mission Library Numero Uno
By Nicole Cuadra Mar 10, 2007
The Mission Branch Library's construction began in 1914.
Located at 24th and Bartlett, the building was designed
by G. Albert Lansburg with funding from the
Andrew Carnegie's Carnegie Foundation
The Mission District holds the honor of being San Francisco's first neighborhood, so is it any wonder that the Mission Library is also The City's first branch library? Researcher Franz Kunst provides the details.
What was then known as the Free Library of San Francisco (today the San Francisco Public Library) apportioned sufficient funds to open a “Branch Reading Room and Library near Mission and Twenty-second streets.” Branch No. 1, as it was called, opened its doors on August 3, 1889 with an annual budget of under $1800.
At the time, the district was much as it is today: a sunny, residential, working class, neighborhood. City reformers acted on the belief that libraries offered the neighborhood's Irish and German immigrants opportunities for education and self-improvement that were otherwise unavailable to them. “Open to all classes, but principally frequented by the poor,” the opportunities for study and recreation offered by the branch library system were also expected to help the city's working class neighbors stay out of trouble.
After opening day, the new library's collection was enhanced by a donation made by the Mission Branch Library Association. Few records remain of the Mission Branch Library Association, but it was likely an association of private individuals who collected membership dues in order to purchase circulating reading materials for members of the group. What we do know is that the Mission Branch Library Association offered this privately purchased collection to the new, public Branch No. 1.
The early years of the new branch were characterized by frequent moves within the Mission and Valencia, 23rd and 22nd Streets radius, with stops at familiar addresses such as 1108 Valencia or 2664 Mission. Due in part to ever increasing circulation and patronage, these moves saw the library relocate to various rented sites within the neighborhood. Although the branch survived the 1906 earthquake by a mere four blocks, high rents following the disaster once again sent the library packing.
In 1908 the library moved into a new one-room, one-story, 40 x 100 foot building located at 1207 Valencia. Among other perks, Branch No. 1 now enjoyed electric light, which made everyone wonder how they had ever gotten along without it. Other innovations, such as open stacks, had been introduced in the late 1890s.
It wasn't until 1914 that construction began on the now familiar building at 24th and Bartlett. Designed by G. Albert Lansburg, the funding was provided by industrialist Andrew Carnegie's Carnegie Foundation. In the words of the architect, the building was designed in the Spanish or Mission style: “The exterior is in matte glazed terra cotta, with the ornament around the windows and entrances, the frieze and belt courses are done in polychrome terra cotta of tan, green, orange, and blue. There are metal grilles on the ground floor windows, and the roof is wood covered with tile. The frieze contains the name of the building, and the tablets below the reading room are inscribed with authors.”
Some of those authors inscribed on the side of the branch are Dante, Homer, Cervantes, Hugo, Dumas, Poe, Whitman and Tolstoi. While such a list would certainly look different today, Branch No. 1 has been in business at the corner of 24th and Bartlett for ninety-two years. Next time you walk by the branch, look-up and take a look; it's an interesting reminder of our local history.
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