Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Onehunga's (former) Carnegie Library

Yesterday, I had my first opportunity to visit and see the interior of the former Carnegie Library at Onehunga, a building with a category 1 registration with NZ Historic Places Trust.

The trustees of the Onehunga Library, itself a body set up by the Borough Council in 1901, wrote to Scottish-American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1909asking for financial support toward the building of a large library in the township. He contributed £2000 of the total £2675 cost, and attached some basic requirements, that the library was both free and public, and that the Borough Council provided the site and undertook ongoing maintenance.

Although the date 1911 is prominent on the front of the building, it was actually opened 11 September 1912. The architect was John Park, a later Mayor of Onehunga, and the builder was W Maud. The design is that of a 19th century athenaeum

It served the Onehunga community until 1970 when it was replaced by a newer complex close by. Whether or not it could be preserved as one of only twelve remaining Carnegie-funded library buildings in the country, and the only one in the Auckland region was up for debate through to 1987 when it was restored by the Onehunga Borough Council, and 1998 when it was finally sold by Auckland City Council.

Four Corinthian columns grace its facade, each bearing a different face. Janice Mogford in her book on Onehunga's history had only three names beside that of Andrew Carnegie, but he is above the entry door itself (see second image). The other three are John Park, John Rowe (Mayor at the time) and the builder, W Maud.

But I think the other one is either that of a youthful Queen Victoria. Someone definitely wearing a royal crown atop her head.

Inside is a reading room -- still! -- to the left, where you can read one of the books lining the walls, and have a quiet cuppa. To the right, a dining room, dark wood floors and furniture, all topped by wonderfully -patterned pressed-steel ceilings. I do quite like the new Carnegie at Onehunga, called the Library Cafe. The fates were especially kind yesterday -- the first bit of music I heard playing in the background as I awaited my lunch inside, soaking in the atmosphere, was Little River Band's Reminiscing. How, very, very apt.


  1. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the Library Cafe :) it is the perfect cafe for Mums/Parents of small ones to go and sit and have coffee whilst they play!

  2. Wonderful post - and I love the first photo showing the Corinthian column with the blue, blue sky behind. It must be the week for writing about retired libraries: I just posted about Grafton's ex-library, now Galbraith's Alehouse (though I didn't include your fascinating architectural insights).

  3. Hi Claire -- I saw your Grafton Library post a couple of days or so ago (I do follow you!), and a post on that old library is coming up soon here (with a link back to your one -- loved the interior shots!). I've also told the folks at the Upper Symonds Street business association about your post as well. Keep on doing a cracker job! :-)