Library of Hawaii, Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii

Pre-1954 Library of Hawaii Borrower’s Card No. M 8144 issued to Mrs. Margaret B. Jennings

Pre-1954 Library of Hawaii Borrower’s Card No. M 8144 issued to Mrs. Margaret B. Jennings (front)
Pre-1954 Library of Hawaii Borrower’s Card No. M 8144 issued to Mrs. Margaret B. Jennings (back)

Library of Hawaii

The Library of Hawaii, had its official beginning in 1909, when on April 17th of that year, the Territorial Governor of Hawaii, Walter Francis Frear (1863-1948), signed House Bill No. 143, Act 83, entitled “An Act to provide for the establishment and maintenance of the Library of Hawaii.” 1

Prior to the passing of the Bill, Governor Frear met with Andrew “Andy” Carnegie to discuss Carnegie’s offer of $100,000 to build a new public library building. By selling the property at the corner of Alakea and Hotel Streets, which was occupied by the The Honolulu Library and Reading Room Association (a membership library established in 1879), the proceeds  of the sale would aid in the establishment of the proposed public circulating library. In addition, the Association’s 20,000 volume inventory would be transferred to the proposed public library.2

The Honolulu Library and Reading Room Association at Alakea and Hotel Streets. Pre-1910. Photo by Ray Jerome Baker from the Bernice P. Bishop Museum, R. J. Baker Collection of the Kamehameha Preparatory Department. (Public Domain)

The Carnegie Library

In May 1910, it was announced that New York architect, Henry Davis Whitfield, Andrew Carnegie’s brother-in-law, was chosen to design the new library, and Honolulu architect, Henry Livingstone Kerr, would supervise the construction of the building.3 Whitfield, who also designed Eaton Hall at Tufts University (1908) and the Federal Building in Hilo, Hawaii (1915), was considered at the time to be the world’s foremost expert on library design, having already designed many of the larger Carnegie libraries. Kerr designed over 900 buildings in Hawaii, including Honolulu’s historic McCandless Building (1906) and the Yokohama Specie Bank Building (1910).

Construction of the new Library building began on Saturday, October 21, 1911, when a two by three foot by twenty inch ironstone cornerstore, inscribed “Library of Hawaii, 1911,”4 was laid by members of the Hawaiian Lodge during an elaborate ceremony officiated by the Masons. 

The Library Opens

On February 1, 1913, the Library of Hawaii opened to the public with much enthusiasm. Governor Frear, the recipient of Card No. 1, was issued the first book, “The Government of Our Cities,” by W. B. Munro, by the Librarian,Miss Allyn. A free concert by the Hawaiian Band, and speeches by Chairman A. Lewis, Jr., of the Library Board, and Prof. M. M. Scott of the Honolulu Library and Reading Room Association proceeded the official opening of the doors to the public.5

The Sunday Advertiser, Honolulu, Hawaii, February 2, 1913, page 10;

The two-story Mediterranean Revival style building located at 478 South King Street in Honolulu, was fronted by the signature Carnegie columns. Inside, patrons were greeted by an airy and spacious front delivery area, separate children’s area, catalogue, reading and reference rooms. A lanai reading room, and separate lecture, study, and children’s story rooms were located on the second floor In addition to the new library building, a traveling library was instituted to ensure citizens on islands other than O’ahu would have access to the new public service.6

Pre-1923 photograph by Rice and Perkins.(Public Domain)

In 1927, much needed renovations to expand the building were approved by the territory legislature. Two wings were added to the original building, as well as an open-air courtyard in the middle.

In 1978, the building was designated a historic site and was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The Library of Hawaii is now part of the Hawaii State Public Library System, which is comprised of fifty-one libraries on all of the major islands. The library system contains over 3 million books and reference materials.

Margaret B. Jennings

Margaret Bronson Jennings (1924-2018) born February 15, 1924 in New Orleans, Louisiana. She was an LSU fan and a member and officer of the Krewe of Attakapas.

Sources: [1] The Honolulu Advertiser, Honolulu, Hawaii, April 17, 1909, page 2; [2] The Hawaiian Star, Honolulu, Hawaii, March 26, 1909, page 4; [3] The Hawaiian Star, Honolulu, Hawaii, May 21, 1910, page 5; [4] The Hawaiian Star, Honolulu, Hawaii, October 16, 1911, page 8; [5] The Honolulu Advertiser, Honolulu, Hawaii, February 1, 1913, page 10; [6] The Sunday Advertiser, Honolulu, Hawaii, February 2, 1913, page 10.

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