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“Rebirth” of Historic Carnedie Library Sets DC’s Historical Society on a Welcome New Path

Accompanying images can be viewed starting on page 1 of the July 2019 issue pdf

By Larry Ray*

Long-time Columbia Heights resident George Porter reminisced about his boyhood, taking the 14th Street streetcar south to the Carnegie Library: “I spent all my boyhood there.”

Now DC residents can spend time once again at this vintage, beautifully restored Beaux-Arts building, made possible by Apple’s CEO Ted Cook. In return, Apple has entered into a long-term lease arrangement for portions of the building with Events DC, the city agency that not only manages the Carnegie building but also other important sites like the Convention Center directly across K Street from the Carnegie’s north side.

Similarly, the Historical Society has also entered into a long-term lease for the portions of the building occupied by its DC History Center exhibition galleries, Kiplinger Library, local history-focused museum shop, and offices.

For background, this building was known as the Central Public Library and is situated in Mt. Vernon Square. It was donated by industrialist Andrew Carnegie to DC, January 7, 1903, and since that time has been an important DC historic site, so much so that its just completed total restoration and adaptive re-use was strictly reviewed <> by the two, key federal commissions from which approvals were required and granted in the late Spring of 2017 — the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital

“The new DC history Center,” the trustees board chair Julie Koczela told The InTowner, “has something for everyone — emotionally provocative exhibits, research library, program spaces, and our beautiful new DC History Center store. We’re grateful to Apple for the wonderful restoration, and for letting their patrons know we are just upstairs. We’re thrilled to be welcoming new and long-time Washingtonians, convention attendees, and pop-in visitors from around the world.”

The Society’s then Executive Director, John Suau, in responding to our request last month for his views regarding the significance this re-opening for both the Society and the public  described the planners’ vision as being “to create a sense of identity, place, and pride in Washington, DC . . . and [with] Apple focused on the local community and storytelling, so we anticipate many exciting ways to partner on dynamic DC-centric programming. We are able to provide historic context for contemporary issues while continuing to document today’s Washington for future generations. The local Apple team is engaged and already helping the DC History Center reach new audiences.”

And, added Consulting Curator Jane Levey in an email, “The Historical Society’s collections are the heart of the institution — 125 years worth of documents, journals, maps, books, art, and ephemera that record our local history.”

The new DC Hall of History exhibit in the North Gallery, for example, offers a glimpse into this treasure trove. Divided into four themes — transportation, social life, business, and urban development — the pictures and artifacts on display remind us that DC history is America’s history.


Alexander M. Padro, Executive Director of Shaw Main Streets and also a member of the Shaw Advisory Commission, shared these thoughts about this renewal of the Carnegie Library building:

“The lines of people waiting to get in to Apple Carnegie Library on opening day demonstrate the excitement about what this hybrid of retail destination and experience hub offers to visitors. Unlike an Apple store where customers only come to purchase new tech and get their cracked iPhone screens replaced, locals and out-of-towners alike will come to the restored former central library for the events and exhibits offered by both the DC History Center and the Forum, formerly the library’s Great Hall.

“The restoration of the building is truly a gift to the city and our neighborhood, and the “Today at Apple” programming represents an ongoing dialogue between the ubiquitous brand and its legions of devotes. Hopefully, Apple Carnegie Library visitors will explore the food and drink and history that Shaw has to offer after their immersive experience in the white marble building on Mt, Vernon Square.”

*Senior Writer Larry Ray is a former member of two separate Advisory Neighborhood Commissions and is Senior Faculty at The George Washington University School of Law teaching negotiation for the past 33 years. He has also been Senior Faculty for the American Management Association for the past 25 years.

Copyright © 2019 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Larry Ray. All rights reserved.