West Duluth Public Library

The West Duluth Public Library. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

701 North Central Avenue | Architect: William J. Sullivan | Built: 1912 | Lost: 1992

The Village of West Duluth never had a public library, but the Women’s Christian Temperance Union began operating several reading rooms in the burgeoning community in 1892. After Duluth annexed West Duluth in 1895, the city’s Public Library took over, sponsoring the West Duluth Reading Room for $105 a year. The reading room evolved into the West Duluth Branch of the Duluth Public Library, which was housed within a rented building on Bristol Sstreet that had once served as a hospital.

In 1910 the library board purchased a lot and hired Duluth architect William Sullivan to draw up plans for a library. As it had for its 1902 downtown library, Duluth turned to Andrew Carnegie, robber baron turned philanthropist, to finance its construction.

West Duluth’s new library was a simple, one-story Classical Revival building of brick trimmed with white Bedford stone. Ornamentation of the building’s otherwise plain exterior came in the form of keystones atop the window casings, simple columns marking the main entrance, two shield-like terra-cotta ornaments with open-book motifs flanking the words “WEST DULUTH BRANCH,” and a frieze above the entrance stating “DULUTH PUBLIC LIBRARY” between two carved torches. Tiles covered the library’s shallow mansard roof, and inside its walls and ceiling were decorated with gold stenciling, while red oak trimmed the doorways and window casings.

Not long after the building opened in August, 1912, the library announced it would replace long-time West Duluth branch librarian Lydia Marble, stating she was unqualified for the position. The West Duluth Commercial Club and WCTU quickly came to her defense, gathering hundreds of signatures in a petition to retain her. They argued that during her six years at the library, she raised circulation from 6 to 130 books a day. The library board ignored the petition.

More than just a book depository, the West Duluth Public Library served as a community center, even offering a weekly “baby clinic” in 1920. As early as the 1930s, the facility felt the pinch for more space. In 1936 the West Duluth Commercial Club offered $23,000 to see through a planned expansion of the facility, but the addition was never built.

Despite this, the library continued to serve West Duluth until 1991, when the city included room for a branch library within its newly constructed West Duluth Community Center. The old library was then demolished; its lot was incorporated as a playground for the 1957 Laura MacArthur School. The elementary school was demolished in 2011 to make room for a new facility also named for the legendary and beloved Duluth educator.