A Walk to the Library

Click on a photo to view the caption and photo numbers.
Historic images courtesy of the Arizona Historical Society/Tucson

Carnegie's Gift

In 1901, the generosity of steel industrialist Andrew Carnegie enabled Tucson to construct and open a new library facility. In 1990, after many years of faithful service, the library was closed and a new, modern facility was constructed on the site of the Jacome's department store on Stone Avenue. These historic photographs from the archives of the Arizona Historical Society portray the 1901 library, downtown street scenes and buildings, and the citizens of all ages who would have taken a walk to the library.

In 1883 when Andrew Carnegie was offering land and money to cities that wanted to build libraries, Tucson mayor Charles Moses Strauss seized the opportunity. At the time, Tucson had a small library in City Hall, a step up from the informal lending library that businessman Jacob Mansfeld had at his Pioneer News Depot. Tucson had a winning application for the library funds, and in 1900 construction on the Carnegie Free Library of Tucson began. Architect Henry Trost (who also designed the Scottish Rite Cathedral and the Santa Rita Hotel) was hired to come up with a grand design for the building. The resulting Neoclassical Revival building was constructed of terra cotta, plaster and stone. (images 1-7).

The Freeman Memorial Bench, a tribute to Arizona Pioneers, was added to the front in 1920. The bench, commissioned by Merrill P. Freeman, was designed by Bernard Maybeck and sculpted by Beniamino Bufano (image 8). The bench is made of travertine, marble and onyx.

Tucson's population continued to grow, and the library with it. In 1938 an additional wing was added to accommodate new collections (image 9). 1941 saw the complete destruction of the dome by fire.

Life in Tucson at the Turn of the Last Century

At the end of the 19th century, Tucson was just emerging from its roots as a frontier town. Outlaws and bandits still marauded in the outskirts, but Tucson was increasingly becoming a place where families settled, safe within the city limits. (images 10-19).

The town still retained some of its wild ways, as evidenced by bustling business in "The Wedge," downtown's red light district (image 20). Buehman, the photographer who took many of these photographs, reportedly found the moral atmosphere in Tucson to be lacking.

But the city was moving up in the world. The Palace Hotel (whose restaurant is seen in image 15) was the first in town to offer guests box springs with their mattresses, and later on, indoor plumbing. Business sprouted up all over town to cater to the growing population and the increasing tourism as Arizona sunshine became famous around the country.

In 1885, the Arizona Mining Index stated "our city contains many people who would no doubt resort to a library and thus keep out of more pernicious society" (Eppinga 2000). However, in 1890, Tucson experienced an economic downturn linked to the fall of the price of silver and heavy rains which wreaked havoc on the cattle industry. The result was a population drop, the first in Tucson's history, which left the city with 5,000 residents: 2,000 less than had been reported for 1880. But by the end of the century, the city's population had rebounded, and the need for a public library was clear.

Congress and Stone: The Heart of Downtown

The Carnegie Library's location was conveniently close to all the action at Congress and Stone, the busiest intersection in Tucson at the time. Here were some of Tucson's most popular businesses, including The Consolidated National Bank and T. Ed Litt's drugstore. (images 21-25)

Litt was famous for two things around town: his wacky hat collection and his huge birthday parties to which all the children of town were invited. On his birthday, Litt gave away free toys and ice cream, and one year treated an audience of kids to the Mickey Mouse Club at the Fox Theatre.

Consolidated National Bank was also a common destination for Tucsonans, who banked in the glory of the building's famous pink marble lobby (featured in the movie "A Kiss Before Dying" starring Robert Wagner). Built in 1929, the building is Tucson's oldest skyscraper. Consolidated Bank became Valley National Bank in 1935, which was bought by Bank One in 1993, which merged with Chase Bank in 2005. Chase Bank sold the building to two Tucson investors in the summer of 2007. The new owners hope to renovate and restore the building.

Pennington and Stone

Congress and Stone may have been the heart of downtown, but the intersection at Pennington and Stone (images 26-30) boasted one of the city's most popular shopping venues: Steinfeld's department store. Founded in 1906 when Albert Steinfeld bought his uncle's dry goods business L. Zeckendorf's, Steinfeld's soon became one of the biggest businesses downtown. At its height, Steinfeld's occupied two buildings, one on each of the west corners of the intersection (image 31).

The Steinfeld family also built one of the iconic buildings on the intersection, the famous Pioneer Hotel (image 32). In 1928, when the Steinfelds were drawing up plans for the Pioneer, a mining millionaire proposed to build Tucson's first skyscraper, the Consolidated National Bank building. Wanting to make sure that their building reigned supreme, the Steinfelds instructed their architect to make their building taller than the Consolidated Bank building. The Pioneer was Tucson's tallest skyscraper, but the building was severely damaged by fire in 1970. The hotel closed in 1974, and the building was ultimately converted to an office building. Thus, the Consolidated National Bank building, completed 18 days before the 1929 stock market crash, is considered Tucson's oldest original skyscraper.

How Tucson Grew

Throughout the twentieth century, Tucson grew both in area and population. In 1900 Tucson had 7,531 residents, a number which had more than doubled by 1920. By 1940 Tucson's population was five times greater than it was in 1900, with 35,752 residents. The advent of home air conditioners in the 1950's brought a population boom to Tucson, and by 1960 Tucson had a whopping 212,892 residents. Growth slowed but remained steady after the boom of the fifties, and by 2001, 100 years after the Carnegie Library was built, Tucson had just under a half-million residents.

The bird's-eye views of Tucson seen in images 33-36 show you how the city grew; you can use landscape features like "A" Mountain to orient yourself with the views in the pictures.

Jácome's and the New Library

In 1951, Steinfeld's leased a new building on the northwest corner of Stone and Pennington to Jácome's department store, another staple of any downtown shopping trip (image 37). Jácome's red and green wrapped packages were a welcome sight under any Christmas tree, and the store, along with Cele Peterson's boutique, made Pennington Tucson's "Fashion Street." Like Steinfeld's, Jácome's was a family enterprise, started by former L. Zeck8endorf 's employee Carlos Jácome in 1896.

In the seventies and eighties, as Tucson's suburbs grew larger and larger, businesses began moving out of downtown. The opening of El Con Mall drew many consumers to midtown, and the big downtown stores followed suit. Jácome's was the last of the downtown giants to go, but go it did in 1980.

Tucson's growth affected the library system as well, and the downtown branch was rapidly outgrowing the old library building. So in 1990, the city opened a new downtown library on the site of Jácome's last downtown location (image 38). The plaza in front of the library bears the Jácome name as a tribute to the service the Jácome family provided the shoppers of Tucson for 84 years.

Introduction by Dave Faust, AHS staff
Text by Poorvee Vyas, PCPL Staff
Color photos by John Howley, PCPL Staff

Joel D. Valdez Main staff compiled the information in this brochure from the following excellent sources on Tucson History:

This is Not a Book: Just Memories by Roy P. Drachman

A Pictorial Souvenir of Tucson, Arizona by Jane Eppinga

Greetings from Tucson by Michelle B. Graye

Another Tucson by Bonnie Henry

Tucson Memories by Bonnie Henry

A Guide to Tucson Architecture by Anne M. Nequette & R. Brooks Jeffrey

Tucson: The Life and Times of an American City by C.L. Sonnichsen

Pima County Website