Free Library of Philadelphia, Lehigh Avenue Branch, 601 West Lehigh Avenue, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, PA
Significance: Completed in 1906, the Lehigh Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia was one of the first 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 he 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 Lehigh Branch was designed by the well-known Philadelphia architectural firm of Hewitt & Hewitt. It is among the most elaborate of the branch libraries, and at 126' x 60', it is also the largest. While its overall plan and design is quintessential Carnegie library, its size, terra cotta facade, and level of detailing set it apart from most of the Free Library's more understated brick-constructed branch buildings. The lot was provided by the city of Philadelphia in recognition of the need to serve the growing, largely immigrant community then populating this area of the city.
Survey number: HABS PA-6756
Building/structure dates: 1906 Initial Construction