Paso Robles Carnegie Library ready to open a new chapter

The newly remodeled Paso Robles Carnegie Library will reopen to the public Sunday after a five-year closure in Downtown City Park.

The brick building — which was a history museum before the 2003 San Simeon Earthquake — will house the El Paso de Robles Area Historical Society.

“So now we have a home again,” said Norma Moye, historical society co-founder.

The building sat vacant after being damaged in the 6.6-magnitude quake until the Federal Emergency Management Agency authorized the work to begin, officials said.

It cost $2.5 million to repair and retrofit the building, officials said, and $2 million of that will be paid by FEMA. Officials aren’t sure yet when the reimbursement will come in, they said.

The work began in February 2008 and was finished about a year later — in time to host a sponsor party and art exhibit for Amgen Tour of California.

When the work was complete, a tour of its interior revealed a bright room with rich chocolate refinish on original woodwork detailing.

A new, tiered staircase also led down to the rooms where a children’s library once was.

The structure, built in 1908, was a gift by steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie, who provided public libraries to cities throughout America from 1889 to 1923. The other city in the county to receive such a library was San Luis Obispo.

San Luis Obispo’s Carnegie Library, at Monterey and Broad streets, is home to the San Luis Obispo County Historical Museum.

Sunday’s opening ceremony will take place on the front steps of the library at 1 p.m. with tours, “Dixieland Band” music from the 562nd Air Force National Guard Band of the Southwest and homemade ice cream and cookies. Donations will be accepted for the treats.

After the quake, the building was deemed unfit, so the historical society had to move out. Locals helped support the group through its transition — a storage space was donated for its larger exhibits, and the Paso Robles Pioneer Museum loaned one of its rooms so the society could keeps its archives open to the public.

It’s taken since March for the historical society to move its exhibits, historic photos and archives back into the Carnegie, historical society spokeswoman Christie Withers said, as well as to unpack and organize the new space.

“It’s beautiful now with some new bookshelves and arrangements,” she added.

The building kept its original tiles, which rest in delicate blue and white shapes at the top of its tall stone steps outside and slate grey squares that frame an interior fireplace near the entrance.

On the exterior, slate tiles, copper trim and downspouts have been restored to the roof, windows were replaced and all original masonry walls were reinforced with steel bars and polyester resin, officials said.