The New Library Opening: “A Notable Event in Pasadena’s History”

Did you know that Pasadena Public Library is older than the city itself? Founded in December 1882 (1) as a private subscription library under the name “Pasadena Library and Village Improvement Society,” the first library building opened in 1884. Pasadena celebrated the second library building opening just six years later on September 9, 1890 - the same day that the entire state was celebrating the fortieth anniversary of California Admission Day (officially becoming a state). The library occupied land that is now part of Memorial Park on Walnut Street at Raymond Avenue. The park had originally been called Library Park, and the entrance arch from the library building still stands at the northwest corner of the park.

Second Pasadena Public Library, 1901. Photo by Charles J. Crandall. (Main Photo Collection, L2-12p)
Second Pasadena Public Library, 1901. Photo by Charles J. Crandall. (Main Photo Collection, L2-12p)

A 1890 article from Pasadena Daily Evening Star announcing the opening the day prior provides a sketch of the new building as well as a brief history of the city’s library:

“THE NEW LIBRARY - SKETCH OF THE INSTITUTION TO BE THROWN OPEN TO THE PUBLIC TOMORROW.

Sketch from Pasadena Daily Evening Star, 9/8/1890, Page 1 (Newspaper Collection)
Sketch from Pasadena Daily Evening Star, 9/8/1890, Page 1 (Newspaper Collection)

The public library building which is to be formally opened tomorrow forenoon came into possession of the city by vote last spring. It was erected under the auspices of the Pasadena Library and Village Improvement Society, a corporation organized in the fall of 1883 by the suggestion and with the efficient aid of Hon. Abbot Kinney, in conjunction with other prominent ladies and gentlemen of the city. Its stock was put at ten thousand shares of the value of five dollars each, and its first board of directors comprised Mr. Kinney as president, H. N. Rust, vice president, Mrs. Jeanne C. Carr, Dr. O. H. Conger, Capt. A. Wakeley, T. P. Lukens and S. Washburn. The library opened with about 330 volumes, and a building was erected by the corporation on Colorado street adjoining the Santa Fe railroad, where the library has found a home up to last week, when the new building was occupied.

The stockholders embraced many citizens who gave a great deal of their time and attention to fostering the institution, in which they were generously seconded by the community, who contributed freely to various art loan exhibitions, festivals, musicals, etc., for its support. Mrs. S.E. Merritt was appointed the first librarian, and has continued to ably administer the office ever since. She has seen it grow from 330 volumes to 2400, and has passed with it from the little wooden structure built on Colorado street and moved to Dayton street to the elegant stone structure on Raymond avenue now ready for opening.

Without dwelling on the details of the sale of the property on Colorado street, the erection of the new building, the efforts of the directors to provide funds to complete it, and its acquirement by the city, it is only necessary to say that the structure cost about $35,000 and that its entire completion and dedication to use is more due to the enterprise and generosity of Chas. Legge than to the efforts of any one man. He gave the fine lot upon which the building is situated, and saved the property from sale for debt. The building has often been described by the STAR, and it suffices now to say that it is a beautifully proportioned and finished structure of green stone and iron, with all necessary accommodations for books and with every convenience for visitors. It is an honor to the city into whose possession it has come, and its opening is a notable event in Pasadena’s history.”

The library occupied land that is now part of Memorial Park on Walnut Street at Raymond Avenue. The park had originally been called Library Park, and the entrance arch from the library building still stands at the northwest corner of the park.

Entrance arch from the second Pasadena Public Library building, 2021. (Photo by Michelle L. Turner)
Entrance arch from the second Pasadena Public Library building, 2021. (Photo by author)

- Michelle L. Turner

Special thanks to Assistant Archivist Pat Zeider for finding the Pasadena Daily Evening Star article in the Archives.

September is Library Card Sign-up Month - Although Central Library is currently closed, Pasadena’s nine branch libraries are open and offering services to residents.

https://www.cityofpasadena.net/library

(1) Note on the date of the founding of the library: The article from Pasadena Daily Evening Star states that the Pasadena Library and Village Improvement Society was founded in 1883. However, Pasadena Public Library dates its founding, and the establishment of the Pasadena Library and Village Improvement Society, to December 26, 1882. https://www.cityofpasadena.net/library/central-library-history-and-architecture/. In his book, Pasadena, California, Historical and Personal: A Complete History of the Organization of the Indiana Colony (1917), author J. W. Wood also states the incorporation date for the Pasadena Library and Village Improvement Society as December 26, 1882.