NESTLED IN THE CENTER OF A LEAFY GREEN, the 1904 Carnegie Library brought neoclassical gravitas to New Town. East Las Vegas hatched the monument to book-learning by asking steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie, who was known to fund libraries throughout the country, for a $10,000 grant. The town’s leaders vowed to raise a tenth of that amount for the annual upkeep of the library.
Carnegie bit, in keeping with his self-penned The Gospel of Wealth, which called upon so-called robber barons like himself to use their fortunes to improve society. The result, as architect P.J. Martin laid out in a Greek Cross plan, is a domed, columned library modeled after no less an icon of Classical Revival architecture than Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.
“It’s a perfectly preserved 19th-century park,” says Elmo Baca of the surrounding green. The preservationist, who earned degrees in architecture and historic preservation from Yale and Columbia universities before returning to his hometown, calls the library itself “just a really beautiful building.” The progressive City Beautiful movement of the era fueled its design, following a philosophy that aimed to spark civic, moral, and intellectual virtues in developing American cities.
MEET ANDREW CARNEGIE
Once the richest American alive, after he sold Carnegie Steel, the industrialist devoted the rest of his life to philanthropy. He built 1,689 libraries across the United States and seldom refused a grant to any town that requested one.
*Illustration by Rick Geary.
Again, the design drew from the Continent for inspiration. “The Acropolis has this collection of monumental buildings with perfect vistas,” he says. “If you look at the siting of Carnegie Library, it sits smack-dab in the middle of that park. It’s a very classical 19th-century design, probably the best in New Mexico that survives.” Indeed, the Las Vegas Carnegie Library is the only one remaining in the state. Baca says the period houses on the surrounding block complement its grandeur. “The whole neighborhood is an ensemble.”
Library manager Jeff Rudolph grew up coming to the genteel center to check out books. “This was the place to go, at least before the internet,” he laughs. Now his eight-year-old daughter joins the children’s librarian downstairs every Wednesday for story time. He says that while the New Town institution is currently engaged in securing city funding to shore up some crumbling steps, the stunning building never fails to impress visitors, who often say that once inside, they feel like time travelers.
“I had a gentleman come from Ohio,” Rudolph says. “He said he brought his daughters here when they were little, when they lived here. He had to stop in Las Vegas to see the library once again. He started crying downstairs. This place affects people.”
The Carnegie Library’s stylized capital sits atop its columns before its recessed portico entryway. Its form scrolls outward in a style known as the Ionic order.
*Illustration by Rick Geary.