Free Library of Philadelphia, Cobbs Creek Branch, 5800 Cobbs Creek Parkway, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, PA
Significance: Completed in 1925, the Cobbs Creek Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia was the next to last of twenty-five branch libraries built through an endowment from industrialist-turned-philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. The impact of Carnegie's grant program on the development of public libraries cannot be overstated. He came of age in an era when libraries were rare, privately funded institutions and access was through subscription. Believing in the power of libraries to create an egalitarian society that favored hard work over social privilege by allowing equal access to knowledge, between 1886 and 1917 Carnegie provided forty million dollars for the construction of 1,679 libraries throughout the nation. The vast resources that he allotted to library research and construction contributed significantly to the development of the American Library as a building type. In addition, by insisting that municipalities supply a building site, books, and annual maintenance funds before bestowing grants Carnegie elevated libraries from the arena of private philanthropy to that of civic responsibility.
Philadelphia was the recipient of one of the largest Carnegie grants for library construction. Although the city was among the first to establish a free library system, it had no purpose-built structures prior to the Carnegie endowment. The branch libraries were built between 1905 and 1930, under the direction of the city appointed Carnegie Fund Committee, and designed by a "who's-who" of Philadelphia's architects. The twenty extant branch libraries remain as a remarkable intact and cohesive grouping, rivaled only by that of New York City, with fifty-seven. The Cobbs Creek Branch was designed by Edmund B. Gilchrist who was known for his English-style "Cotswold farmhouse" designs. It is typical of Philadelphia's Carnegie libraries in its T-shaped plan and symmetrical fenestration, but completely atypical in its building materials and architectural styling; rather than the almost formulaic, understated Beaux Arts style and brick construction that came to define Carnegie Libraries nationwide, Cobbs Creek combines elements of stripped-down classicism with streamlined Moderne, and is built of steel and cinder blocks with a façade of stucco cement and terra cotta. Cobbs Creek is also unusual in that over half of the construction cost was paid for by funds issued through a city ordinance or collected by local citizens and businessmen, a situation necessitated by the unanticipated decrease in the Carnegie grant funds towards the end of the building campaign, caused by inflation.
Unprocessed Field note material exists for this structure: N1445
Survey number: HABS PA-6751
Building/structure dates: 1925 Initial Construction