LORAIN — The Carnegie Center celebrates Lorain’s past, but organizers say it’s also about the city’s future.
Among the exhibits at the former Carnegie Library will be a display board with key words about the future of the city such as collaboration, ethnic culture, schools and waterfront. The idea is to inspire ideas to improve Lorain by being forward-thinking.
“We need to be,” said Barb Piscopo, executive director of the Lorain Historical Society, which is renovating the building. “Or we’re never going to get there.”
Piscopo, who gave The Chronicle-Telegram a Sunday tour of the building, said besides preserving history, the city and Lorain Port Authority hope renovation of the center will help leverage federal taxpayer money for much-needed improvements to the surrounding neighborhood.
About $1.1 million in private money has been pledged for the society’s $2 million renovation goal, which includes a $500,000 state grant.
Another $1 million in pledges is being sought for an endowment to keep the building operating in perpetuity.
“We’re happy to not only preserve the building but to really be part of community redevelopment,” Piscopo said, adding that redevelopment will take five to 10 years.
The 10,000-square-foot building, formerly known as the Streator Building, is at 329 W. 10th St., in Streator Park off Lexington Avenue. The park is named after industrialist, railroad developer and state Sen. Worthy Streator, who donated the land stipulating that it be used for municipal or community purposes.
The library opened in 1903 and was one of 1,679 Carnegie libraries built in the U.S. It closed in 1957 when the city decided to build a library closer to downtown and moved the books to the Lorain Public Library System’s main branch at 351 W. Sixth St.
The center was a civil defense building until 1974, when it became a Parks and Recreation Department building until about 2009. The society acquired it from the city and Lorain Port Authority last year.
The society is moving its offices and exhibits from the Moore House Museum, 309 W. Fifth St., to the center.
The Moore House, named after former Lorain Mayor Leonard Moore, will remain as a historical early 20th-century home. Piscopo said the Moore House lacked the room for a growing number of artifacts and exhibits.
The move is being done in two phases. The just-completed first phase, which cost $650,000 and included installing a new cooling and heating system, involved moving the Moore House offices to the center. When the second phase is completed, many of the exhibits on the center’s first floor will be moved to the second floor.
The second phase’s completion will depend on when pledges are paid. Pledges need to be paid within five years.
The first floor will include a community room, gift shop and society offices. The second floor will include a children’s history center, ethnic heritage space, industry and business space and reading room.
Items on display Sunday included books by Lorain authors like Toni Morrison and Helen Steiner Rice, a replica of a 1947 Saturday Evening Post cover by Lorain artist Stevan Dohanos and a photo of Conrad Reid.
Reid, for whom Reid Avenue is named, was Lorain’s first mayor when it was a village. Lorain became a city in 1894.
Also on display was a photo of the Carnegie Library groundbreaking. Piscopo said Carnegie — founder of the company that became U.S. Steel and the second-richest man in the world at the time — built the library for $30,000.
When the $1.5 million in pledges are made, the $500,000 grant can be spent. Ben Norton, society board of trustees president, said he hopes the $1.5 million goal will be met by October.
Norton said he hopes Sunday’s tour will inspire donations. He said great progress has been made.
“For the age of the building, it’s in great shape,” he said.
- An ice cream social and open house will be 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday t the newly renovated Carnegie Center, 329 W. 10th St., Lorain. The event is being run by the Lorain Historical Society, which is renovating the building. Tickets are $5. For more information, call Barb Piscopo, society executive director, at (440) 245-2563.