City Plans to Restore Carnegie Library

Camden Courier-Post – March 20, 2004

Camden Will Seek State Funds to Help Repair Historic Building

By Jim Walsh, Courier-Post Staff

The Carnegie Library, a long-vacant landmark so neglected that trees are growing inside it, could be restored as part of the city’s turnaround effort. The city is preparing to spend $250,000 to stabilize the century-old building at Broadway and Line Street, said Arijit De, executive director of the Camden Redevelopment Agency. Improvements would include a temporary roof for the once-stately structure, which is considered one of New Jersey’s most endangered historic buildings. Officials then will seek $4 million in restoration funds from the state and other sources, De said.

“Architecturally, it’s a very significant building and an imposing building,” said De, who called the neoclassical structure “a symbol of the city.” He said the restored building is expected to have “a civic institutional use.”

The two-story building, built with a $120,000 donation from steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, was the city’s main public library until 1986, when its operations were moved to the city’s current downtown library on Federal Street. At that time, a consultant’s report estimated the Carnegie Library needed some $1 million in repairs Now, much of its roof has collapsed and walls are crumbling. Birds flit through empty windows to perch inside on branches that reach about 30 feet high.

People who live and work nearby welcome the city’s plan. “That would be good for everybody,” said city resident Tootsie Cole, 40, as she walked along Broadway. “It should be a place to learn.” “It would give the kids a place to go,” said Bong Lee, who runs a nearby grocery store.

The Carnegie Library was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. It was named an endangered building in 1995 by Preservation New Jersey, a nonprofit that works to save historic structures. A citizens’ group, Friends of the Camden Library, also has pushed for the building’s restoration.

“The way the library is now, it’s kind of a marker for the decline of Camden,” said group member Megan Searl of Moorestown, an urban studies major at Rutgers-Camden. “Something definitely needs to be done with it.”

The former library is in the Lanning Square neighborhood, a depressed area due for sweeping changes under the city’s recovery project. Stabilization work is to begin this year, said De, while the building’s restoration could take two to three years. Still, some residents expressed skepticism.

“I’d have to see it,” said Cole as she stood on a dilapidated block of Broadway. “Seeing is believing.”

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