When the Central Santa Rosa Library first opened to the public on Feb. 19, 1967, it was hailed as a modern marvel.
The building at the corner of Fourth and E streets featured Teletype and fax connections for communicating with other libraries, vertical and horizontal conveyor belts for handling books, a contemporary design and more mundane improvements such as hot water and a men’s restroom.
Besides, the original library built in 1904 with funding from Andrew Carnegie had leaky ceilings and was condemned by the fire marshal in 1960.
This month, the Sonoma County Library remembers that history as the Central Santa Rosa Library celebrates its 50th anniversary. Events are planned throughout the month for the celebration, including a 6 p.m. talk Wednesday about the library’s history given by Sonoma County archivist Katherine Rinehart, and a presentation from architectural photographer Darren Bradley about the building’s modernist design at 6 p.m. Feb. 22.
The city’s new library was a vast improvement from the one damaged during the 1906 earthquake, said Winifred Swanson, who worked in both the Carnegie library and the 1967 version.
Swanson, now 86, came to Santa Rosa in 1958 as a librarian for the Santa Rosa location after returning from 21/2 years in France, where she worked as an Army librarian, ordering and cataloging books before shipping them to troops stationed across the country.
“It was very difficult,” she said of coming to the Santa Rosa library. “There were only restrooms on the upper floor, so you had to go up the stairs, and the plumbing was pretty bad.”
When it was condemned two years later, the library was forced to move to a temporary location on the second floor of a downtown building, situated above a bar and next to a beauty salon.
“You had to go up 29 steps,” Swanson said. “And there was the pizza place on the lower street floor, so we had a choice of smells.”
The library board convinced the city council to put a bond measure on the ballot for more funding, but that failed. A second measure failed, too.
But the public said yes to a third, which provided funding access to build the current library with its stained glass windows and walls built from stones salvaged from the demolished Carnegie building.
When it opened in February 1967, 3,000 eager Santa Rosans turned up to tour the inside, and more than 1,000 attended the dedication ceremony, according to Press Democrat archives.
The library looks almost exactly the same as it did that bright and sunny February day, though a bit worse for wear.
Some of the technology is outdated, it’s understaffed and the library’s branches are still closed on Mondays, not to mention $8 million in deferred maintenance. Those are all things Library Director Brett Lear hopes to change soon, thanks to the passage of Measure Y this past November.
The measure increased Sonoma County’s sales tax by an eighth of a cent and will mean an additional $10 million is funneled into the library’s $17 million budget annually for 10 years when it begins April 1.