In this Untapped series, we’re visiting the Carnegie branch libraries of San Francisco. In part I, we got to know the Richmond, Mission, and Noe Valley branches-the first three Carnegie branches built in the city. Now, we’ll take a look at the Golden Gate Valley and Presidio branches, located just about a mile from each other and both recently renovated.
Golden Gate Valley
The Golden Gate Valley library just reopened in October 2011, after almost 2 years of renovation. Located in Cow Hollow, the library originally opened in 1918 as the ninth branch in the SF public library system. Its elegantly curved structure, meant to evoke a Roman basilica, is unique among the Carnegie branches:
This library was designed by English architect Ernest Coxhead, who lived in San Francisco for many years and left a lasting impact on Bay Area architecture. In addition to the library, Coxhead designed iconic homes and nearly 20 churches in the area-many of which still stand today. The San Francisco Chronicle noted: “Few architects have created buildings as quirky, playful and personal as Coxhead…or as historically informed and serious. And few architects cast the same spell.”
The recent Golden Gate Valley renovation process is detailed by the San Francisco library website, which offers an interactive tour. The tour highlights key eco-friendly features (like solar panels and the all-important seismic retrofitting), which hopefully allows this almost century-old building to serve patrons for years to come.
[Source: SF History Center/SF Public Library]
The final Carnegie branch built in San Francisco, the Presidio library opened its doors on Sacramento Street in 1921, replacing the Fillmore branch established in 1898. Like several other local SF branches, the Presidio branch only came into existence after several years of petitioning by library advocates. While Carnegie funds were available for its construction, the city was originally unable to commit to the operating costs of an expanded branch. Ultimately, the library advocates prevailed (assisted by some timely increases in city tax revenue), and the completion of the Presidio branch helped to usher in a high point in library funding and collection growth.
The Presidio branch has played an important role in the library system over the years, serving as the home for the Library of the Blind and holding special performing arts and international collections. Today, the freshly-renovated building makes a grand statement, set apart from Sacramento Street’s charming shops and restaurants by a large front lawn:
The Presidio branch was designed by architect G. Albert Lansburgh, perhaps best-known for the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles and the War Memorial Opera House here in SF. He also dominated the design of the SF Carnegie libraries with his work on the Mission, Sunset and North Beach (now Chinatown) branches. Inside the Presidio branch, high ceilings and arched windows resemble those in the Mission library:
A look inside the Presidio branch in the 1970s [Source: SF History Center/SF Public Library]
Stay tuned for part III of our series, where we’ll visit the final two Carnegie branches: the Chinatown and Sunset libraries!