SNOHOMISH — More than 110 years since construction and nearly two decades since renovation discussions began, the Snohomish Carnegie Library is almost ready to reveal its facelift.
The $2.7 million restoration was funded by state grants and the city of Snohomish for improvements to join modern times and preserve the vintage details of the historic building.
The sturdy wooden entryway resembles the authentic state, but the energy-efficient heating and cooling system and LED lighting are fit for the 21st century. A 90-inch flat-screen TV hangs on the wall between two of the large, wavy glass windows and their original wood frames from 1910.
An outdoor elevator opens the building to a new audience. Before the renovation, the split-level library was inaccessible for the mobility-impaired.
“The reality is, when you open this building up, everyone expects a totally modern building,” said Steve Schuller, Snohomish city administrator. “We do not live like we did 50 years ago.”
Built at 105 Cedar Ave., the library was paid for by a grant from Andrew Carnegie’s philanthropic foundation and served as the city’s main library until 2003. It was one of 1,687 public libraries built across the country with help from the steel magnate. Roughly 800 are still in use as public libraries. More than 300 others, such as the Snohomish building, are used for other purposes, such as offices, and community and cultural centers.
After its life as a library, the Snohomish Carnegie building was used as a community space for special events before closing in 2017. The next year, the Snohomish City Council voted to restore it.
To find a balance between past and present, the city enlisted help from the Snohomish Carnegie Foundation, a nonprofit formed in the early 2000s in support of preserving the library for community use.
Melody Clemons, 76, is a founding member and the president of the foundation.
Clemons, a lifelong Snohomish resident, said she wanted to give a second life to a place that gave her so many fond memories.
“If you’ve been in this town, you have a long history,” she said. “It was my father’s public library, it was mine and my families’.”
Twenty years later, Clemons said she and the dozen or so foundation volunteers pinch themselves to believe the work is almost complete.
Several times a week, Clemons said, she walks to the corner of Cedar Avenue and First Street to admire the accomplishment. She said it brings tears to her eyes.
“I’ve never seen anything so grand in our town,” she said. “It just stands out.”
On the exterior, a fresh coat of butterscotch yellow paint highlights the building’s original tile work uncovered in the repairs. The century-old slabs were repaired and are now visible on all sides of the building, including four distinct printer’s marks above the entrance.
The cherry on top of the renovation is an imposing, 7-foot crystal chandelier. Made around 1915 of more than 1,000 Czechoslovakian leaded crystals, the opulent ornament originally hung in the Everett Carnegie Library on Oakes Avenue.
Since the 1930s, the chandelier hung in a number of area funeral homes. It was donated to the Snohomish Carnegie Foundation in 2018.
On Friday evening, eight volunteers from the nonprofit carefully unboxed and cleaned the 100-year-old crystals.
Strands were held together by brittle wire. Others dangled in small sets of two or three.
Using toothbrushes and a special solution, they scrubbed the dust off the reflective rocks before adding them one by one to the chandelier frame.
Light from the setting sun crept in through the windows, catching the crystals and giving a glimpse of the chandelier’s full beauty.
As the hours passed, the volunteers swapped stories of years past in Snohomish. Some went to high school together and shared memories of old friends, others traded tales of the lost books from the old Carnegie library and the kind librarian who would grant forgiveness.
“Snohomish was so small, the world existed inside this library,” Mac Bates said.
The building’s one other previous addition, an annex built in 1968, was toppled last February.
In coming years, the city and the Snohomish Carnegie Foundation plan to build a park on the land where the annex once stood. Among the trees, bushes and benches, there are plans for a veterans memorial.
The city hopes to open the building for tours and events in May. More information will be available soon on the city’s website.
“It is exactly what is meant to be, that building,” Clemons said. “When you see it, you see it in 1910 in all of its glory and grandeur.”
Ian Davis-Leonard: 425-339-3448; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @IanDavisLeonard.
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