AKA: Seattle Public Library, Carnegie Library #1, Seattle, WA; Seattle Public Library, Central Library #1, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - social and civic buildings - libraries

Designers: Cawsey and Carney, Contractors and Builders (firm); Somervell and Cote, Architects (firm); Weber, P.J., Architect (firm); John E. Carney (building contractor); Charles Challace Cawsey (building contractor); Joseph Simon Cote (architect); Woodruff Marbury Somervell (architect); Peter J. Weber (architect)

Dates: constructed 1904-1906, demolished 1957

3 stories

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1000 4th Avenue
Downtown, Seattle, WA 98104-1109

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Fourth Avenue between Spring Street and Madison Street.


The Carnegie Corporation of New York financed the construction of thousands of public libraries across the US during the last years of the nineteenth and the first decades of the twentieth centuries. For many places, the construction of a new public lending library became a sign of cultural maturity, replacing makeshift or improvised spaces with a dedicated and technologically modern facility. For Seattle, this shift was tremendous, as the previous main library was located in Henry Yesler's old, Queen Anne Style mansion, that burned in 1901 and the Territorial University of Washington Main Building, completed in 1861.This stylistically up-to-date, Beaux-Arts building, designed by Chicago architect P.J. Weber and whose construction was supervised by two well-educated and prominent architects, W. Marbury Somervell (1872-1936) and Joseph S. Coté (1874-1957), became a cultural center for the city for many years. Seattle's first public art exhibition space (a forerunner of the Seattle Art Museum) occupied space here.

Building History

A grand, Beaux-Arts-styled Carnegie Library, Seattle's first Main Downtown Library opened to the public, 12/19/1906, located on the Meacham Block parcel of downtown Seattle, WA. Steel and banking magnate Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) donated $220,000 to be matched by the city to build its first main library facility.

Prior to settling into this grand structure at 1000 4th Avenue, the Seattle Public Library had occupied a succession of second-hand spaces in Downtown Seattle. Between 1894 and 1896, it received stack space on the fifth floor of the Collins Block. For three years, between 1896 and 1899, it was located on the second floor of the Rialto Building. During the period 1899 through 1901, it used the vacated Henry and Sarah Yesler House #2 (1899-1901) at 516 3rd Avenue (between James and Jefferson Streets). The Yesler Mansion burned on 01/02/1901, resulting in the loss of the 25,000-volumes stored there, jolting the community and prompting it to seek rebuilding funds from Carnegie. After this fire and during the period 1901 through 1906, the library operated in the then-decrepit Territorial University of Washington Building on Seneca Street between 4th and 5th Avenues.

The Seattle Public Library staged a national competition for the design of its main facility. In the Thirteenth Annual Report of the Seattle Public Library 1903, City Librarian Charles Wesley Smith (1887-1956) commented about the process of building the new Carnegie Library: "After two years' delay, the first taken up with securing necessary legislation and waiting for decisions of the courts, the second spent in selecting a satisfactory site, in holding a special election to authorize the purchase and actual negotiations with the owners, the Board was able, almost coincidently with the beginning of 1903, to take up the problem of constructing the long-desired building. Professor William R. Ware was secured from the first as professional adviser. His ability and acknowledged authority were of great service to the Board to the end of the period of experiment and selection. The problem of the selection of an architect and a design of our building, as is the case with all public buildings, had to be solved by a more or less open competition. The program for that competition, issued with Professor Ware's aid, has been pronounced a model of its kind and the whole competition, it is believed, was eminently fair and as satisfactory to the contestants as it has proved to the Board. Six eminent firms accepted the Board's invitation to submit designs, each to receive the sum of $200.00 for the sketches furnished. The Board also gave a general invitation to all architects residing within the state of Washington to enter the competition, the best three of the Washington designs also to receive a premium of $200.00 each, whether winning, or not winning, the grand prize. In all thirty sets of plans were submitted, ten by Washington architects and twenty from outside the state." (See Charles Wesley Smith, Thirteenth Annual Report of the Seattle Public Library 1903, [Seattle: Dearborn Printing Company, 1903], p. 4.)

The calendar of events in 1903 went as follows: "From its first session of the year, on January sixth, at which the program for the architects' competition was first considered, the chief though of the Board has been the designing of the building which Andrew Carnegie's gift to Seattle. The following calendar of events shows in a succinct form the progress of operations: January 6--Permit issued to clear the site. February 5--Mr. Carnegie's cashier reports satisfacton with the proceedings. March 31--Architectural competition advertised. June 1--Competition closed. July 10--Plans and recommendation received from Professor Ware. August 22--Design of P.J. Weber selected. September 7--Mr. Weber met with the Board and was instructed to prepare detailed plans and specifications. October 22--Revised floor plans received and adopted. December 31--Architect announced completion of plans and specifications and Secretary directed to prepare advertisement for bids." (See Charles Wesley Smith, Thirteenth Annual Report of the Seattle Public Library 1903, [Seattle: Dearborn Printing Company, 1903], pp. 3-4.)

The following 30 architects and teams submitted competition entries: William Henry Jewett, Seattle, WA; Putnam and Cox, Boston, MA; John Galen Howard, Berkeley, CA; J.M.A. Darrach, New York, NY, and Everett P. Babcock, Tacoma, WA; Clarence Z. Hubbell, Spokane, WA; James Stephen, Seattle, WA, and Bernard R. Maybeck, John White and M.H. White, San Francisco, CA; Albert R. Ross, New York, NY; York and Sawyer, New York, NY; Albert J. Bodker, New York, NY; Davis and Brooks, Hartford, CT; Horatio R. Wilson, Chicago, IL; James F. Denson, Washington, DC; Ferry and Clas, Milwaukee, WI; Copeland and Dole, New York, NY; C. Alfred Breitung, Seattle, WA; Wilson and de Veaux, Seattle, WA; Edwin J. Weston, Seattle, WA; A.W. Spalding, Seattle, WA; F.H. Palmer, Seattle, WA; W.D. Kimball, Seattle, WA; Stockton B. Colt, New York, NY; Van Brunt and Howe, Kansas City, MO; Foster, Gade and Graham, New York, NY; Ackerman and Partridge, New York, NY; Patton and Miller, Chicago, IL; an unknown entry; James Schack and W.D. Van Siclen, Seattle, WA; P.J. Weber, Chicago, IL; and Dennis and Farwell, Los Angeles, CA. Of this group, only Putnam and Cox, John Galen Howard, Albert R. Ross, York and Sawyer, Horation R. Wilson and Patton and Miller were invited before the competition to submit entries.

One of the non-invited contestants, Peter J. Weber, won the competition.

Building permits for the Seattle Public Library Main Building #1 were issued on 04/30/1904: "1100-1122 Fourth Avenue, build 3-story and basement brick, stone and steel library building, 200x200, P.J. Weber, architect; Cawsey and Carney, contractors." (See "Building Permits," Seattle Daily Times, 05/02/1904, p. 7.) If each floor plate contained about 40,000 square feet, the rough square footage of the building would have been around 160,0000.

Interestingly, it was Charles W. Smith, a lawyer by training, who campaigned so vigorously for the Carnegie Library's construction, but he chose to serve as the Librarian of the Seattle Public Library between 1895 and 1907. Shortly after its completion, Smith resigned on 09/30/1907 to work as WA State Examiner of Municipal Corporations. His successor as City Librarian, G.A.C. Rochester, said of Smith: "Mr. Smith's decision to leave library work and resume the practice of law was deeply regretted by his friends in Seattle and in the library world. The splendid record of growth of the library during the twelve years of his administration and the present high standing of the institution in the community are the best tributes to his faithful and energetic service." (See Seventeenth Annual Report of the Seattle Public Library, [Dearborn Printing Company, 1908], p. 5.)

Building Notes

The 17th Annual Report of the Seattle Public Library, written by Rochester, reflected on the SPL Main Library's first year of operation, 1906-1907: "The new central library building was formally opened to the public December 19. 1906, and this report therefore covers the first full year in the new quarters. The circulation of books for home use increased from 302,203 in 1906 to 454,735 in 1907, a gain of 50 per cent. While this record of circulation is perhaps the most tangible evidence of the library's growth and usefulness, other departments of the work show a corresponding growth. The six reading rooms for public use have been crowded from the first, and the wisdom of the Board in following Mr. Carnegie's advice to plan the building for future extension is already apparent. This increase in the use of the library is the best possible evidence that Mr. Carnegie's generosity is appreciated by the people of Seattle. It also proves that the mere transfer of a library to a beautiful and adequate home, properly located, adds largely to its effectiveness." (See Seventeenth Annual Report of the Seattle Public Library, [Dearborn Printing Company, 1908], p. 6.)

The Seattle Public Library Main Library #1 had a men's reading room in 1918.


Foundations of this grand building were disrupted by tunnel boring activities of the Great Northern Railway, owned by James J. Hill (1838-1916). The City of Seattle Library sued to recover damages. New front stairs had to be built c. 1908, to allow pedestrians to reach the library during a regrading project of 4th Avenue. At that time, City Engineer R.H. Thomson (1856-1949) lowered the level of 4th Avenue ten feet. Architects Somervell and Coté were selected to design two new, terraced staircases and entrance ways to the Seattle Public Library during the 1908-1909 project. Somervell and Coté was one of seven firms that submitted designs for the new stairs and entryways. Their stairs were to be constructed of Tenino Stone. Shrubbery was planted at the rear of the central library by a landscape gardener in 1914. (See Daniel B. Trefethen, Twenty-fourth Annual Report of the Seattle Public Library, 1914, [Dearborn Printing Company, 1914], p. 6.) Two levels of underground storage were added under the main Seattle Carnegie Library c. 1946-1947; the stacks spanned the distance from Madison Street to Spring Street and half the way from Fourth Avenue to Fifth Avenue;


Seattle's first purpose-built main library was torn down in 09/1957.

PCAD id: 4097