Fri, Jul 30 2010 04:00 PM Posted By: Richard Pena
In researching the story we did last week on Kathy Wigginton we recalled seeing the photograph of one of the buildings, the city library, that at one time sat on the grounds of what is now the Norman Park Senior Center on F Street.
I described it to Mary Oswell, the director at the Bonita Museum, and she searched the archives and came up with a photograph of the building.
To be truthful, I scarcely remember this building. I know that I had seen it a few times and probably went into it at some time or other, but that was about it.
What I know and like about the structure is what it represented at the time, particularly in its heyday.
Something that the general public may not know - and here I am referring to those who read books - this building was just one of more than 1,000 libraries built in U.S. communities. The literature tells us that in the first 20 years of the 20th century 1,679 library buildings were built in 1,412 communities. There were others built in other English-speaking countries.
All of this was due to the philanthropy of one individual, Andrew Carnegie.
Carnegie was an immigrant from Scotland who had amassed a fortune from steel companies during the height of the Industrial Revolution that had begun in the last stages of the 19th century. His operations were headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pa., a city that still has many landmarks that bear his name.
It is said that he contributed more than $40 million on this venture, a tidy sum of money in any age.
By today's standards the libraries of that age weren't much when it came to size. They measured 2,100 square feet. Some of the children's reading rooms in present libraries measure more than that. What they lacked in size, however, they made up in class.
The one in Chula Vista was of mission style in keeping with the architecture of the times. It was made of brick and hollow tile. The initial cost was $10,000. The city, it is believed, threw in a few extra dollars for furnishings and other amenities.
The library I truly remember was the edifice on Buena Vista Street in San Antonio. It was about three blocks from where I grew up. I used to haunt those hallowed halls about as often as I hung around my grandmother's kitchen. The latter had those aromas that used to drive us insane and the former had the material that would leave us in awe.
The library had tables and chairs for the use of the patrons but they were generally reserved for adults. The kids were usually relegated to the floor, something that really made little difference since we were more comfortable in that position. We were thus introduced to the likes of Agatha Christi, Marjorie Kinnons Rawlings, Craig Rice and all the other greats, an introduction that carried us into adulthood.
We could, of course, check out books. We preferred, however, to do our reading in the library. for many reasons. For one thing, the library protocol and behavior was strictly enforced. As a result there always seemed to be a peaceful air about the place, something we could not get at home or, for that matter, in school.
Also, there were some books that could not be checked out. One that I remember was "Gone with the Wind." If I remember correctly, the library had only one copy of the book hence the librarian was not going to let it get out of her sight.
It was along about this time that a group of us, all boys, became fascinated with the old Street and Smith pulp Wild West Weekly.
The local drug store sold the magazine for 15 cents. This was enough money to buy three Milky Ways or three packs of Wrigley's. We somehow coerced the librarian into purchasing the magazine for the library, thus saving our hard earned cash.
Pulp magazines, in any age, are not rated very highly on the literary scale, so it must have been quite a hard sell on our part. In retrospect, I remember visiting the library a few years later (after I had left home) and the magazine shelves were loaded with pulps. They must have changed librarians.
By the way, the other day when I was at the Norman Park Center someone told me that late in the afternoon, when things are rather quiet, they can almost hear the voices and sounds of children. We must remember that the site was not only a library but, before that, the F Street School that taught Chula Vista's young.
Folks at Norman Center, therefore, thought the spirit of children was still there. I listened and heard the same noises so I investigated by going outside. It was the wind.
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