Focus On: Conclave Theatre Tour 2014 | Carnegie Library Music Hall of Homestead

Home to the world’s first Nickelodeon, Pittsburgh, our destination for the 2014 Conclave Theatre our is chock-full of internationally renowned venues that we can’t wait to share with you for the first time EVER.

We’ll tour the heart of the Steel City, visiting Heinz Hall, Benedum Center, The Byham Theater, The O’Reilly Theater and The Harris Theater.

Then, we’ll stroll through the unique neighborhoods of Oakland, Dormont, Carnegie, Homestead, McKees Rocks, and East Liberty.

Once we’ve introduced you to the ‘burgh, we’ll show off the beautiful highlands of Pennsylvania with stops in Zelienople, Erie, Grove City, Meadville, Vandergrift, Uniontown, Connellsville, and Scottdale. In each town we’ll spotlight an architecturally significant movie theatre, civic auditorium, vaudeville house, or Carnegie Library, which feature elegant music halls built by American industrialist Andrew Carnegie.

It’s going to be a great tour, and we can’t wait to share it with you.

Each week, we’ll focus on a venue we’ll visit — today, we’re looking at the Carnegie Library Music Hall of Homestead in Munhall.

Carnegie Library of Homestead

Carnegie Library Music Hall of Homestead | Munhall, PA
510 East 10th Avenue, Munhall, Pennsylvania 15120
OPENED: 1898
ARCHITECTS: Frank Alden and Alfred Harlow

The Carnegie Library, Music Hall and Athletic Club of Homestead is a public library founded by Andrew Carnegie in 1896. It is one of 2,509 Carnegie libraries worldwide and the third of 1,689 built in the United States. Completed in November 1898, it is the oldest Carnegie library in continuous operation in its original structure in the U.S.

The building houses a library holding over 34,000 volumes, a 1,000-seat music hall, and an athletic club with a heated indoor pool. The Carnegie Library of Homestead is an independent entity; it is not a “branch” of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, which operates one main facility and 19 branches within the city of Pittsburgh.

The library was constructed on a hill in Munhall, Pennsylvania overlooking the Homestead Steel Works, the site of an 1892 labor strike where Pinkerton agents fought with union workers, resulting in 16 deaths.

Groundbreaking for the $300,000 project took place in April 1896. The French Renaissance design was the work of Pittsburgh architects Frank Alden and Alfred Harlow.  Renovations and modifications have not altered the original physical arrangement of the building, that of three separate facilities- library, music hall and athletic club- under one roof.

While Carnegie required communities to use public funds to subsidize the operation of his libraries, Homestead was one of the few exceptions. Operation of the libraries in Braddock, Homestead and Duquesne were originally funded by Carnegie’s plants in those towns. After the sale of his business to U.S. Steel in 1901, Carnegie established a $1 million trust to support the three facilities. In the 1960s, the Braddock and Duquesne libraries were turned over to the school districts in those communities by the Board of the Endowment for the Monongahela Valley. The Homestead library is now the sole beneficiary of Carnegie’s gift.

USX Corporation, the successor to U.S. Steel, continued to provide major support until 1988, when the corporation terminated its regular donations and the Borough of Munhall assumed responsibility for the library. Despite the closing of the Homestead Steel Works two years earlier and the precipitous decline in employment and tax revenue, the library remained open and operational with grants secured by community volunteers and the investment income from Carnegie’s endowment. When the financial crash of 2008 reduced the value of the endowment by $300,000, the library board furloughed its executive employees and assumed management responsibilities rather than cut services.  The library’s operating budget is $850,000, not including capital expenditures — of which only $650,000 came from government funding. Fundraising efforts, revenue from athletic club memberships, music hall rentals, and concession sales have maintained the library’s viability.

The recently renovated hall, along with a new fitness center, reading room and other amenities have transformed the Homestead library — located in Munhall — from an antiquated white elephant of a building in a faded neighborhood into a self-sustaining multipurpose facility for a newly reinvigorated community.  There’s more to come: a swimming pool in the basement — the longest continually operating heated pool in Western Pennsylvania, complete with marble columns reminiscent of ancient Rome — has been renovated, as will an old bowling alley, which is now an indoor baseball training facility.

Last year, a community block grant was used for infrastructure improvements, along with foundation grants to renovate and enlarge the children’s and teen areas. The children’s library, across from the new adult reading room, is a marvel. Its walls, ceilings and columns were hand-painted in trompe l’oeil fashion by artist Elizabeth White, while the teen area — called “the Sky Room” — was painted in shades of dark blue, punctuated with stars, by artist Ian Green.  The adult reading room was also restored to its original design.

“The building has rightfully in the center as the focus ‘The Library’– Music Hall upon the right and the Working Man’s Club upon the left. These three foundations from which healing waters are to flow for the Instruction, Entertainment and Happiness of the people. Recreation of the working man has an important bearing upon his character and development as his hours of work.” —Andrew Carnegie on the Homestead Library

About the Carnegie Music Hall of Homestead:

Looking inside the hall itself, it’s no wonder the venue has been such a popular place for musicians and other performers to ply their trade. The hall, which can seat up to 1000 people when packed, has a beautiful grandeur about it, giving audience members a very warm and traditional feel. Add to that the excellent acoustics, and you have everything you could ever want in a performance venue. Designed to house performances long before the age of microphones, the hall projects sound without much need for amplification, which speaks volumes about the genius of its designers. Past attractions at the Carnegie Library Music Hall include Joe Jackson, Colbie Caillat, Brian Setzer, Crosby Still and Nash, Drew Carey, Christina Perry, Paula Poundstone, Mick Fleetwood, Rick Springfield, Foreigner and more.

At a time when nonprofits and other “community benefit” organizations are reeling from cuts in public funding, the Homestead library is a textbook example of social enterprise and reinvention, experts say, using revenue from the music hall and its fitness club memberships to stay viable. The library’s core mission has been preserved, and then some: you can check out a book or use a computer, take a Spinning class, have a cup of coffee or see a show.

The new-found notoriety of the facility has captured fans across the nation, including the Syfy Channel’s “Ghost Hunters” squad.  As history reports, Robert Peebles “was found dead in eight feet of water” in the pool on November 28th, 1899, “under mysterious circumstances” according to the Homestead Messenger. No one has claimed to see his spirit hovering, but there are plenty of other eerie experiences connected to the complex. Books fly off the stacks and switch positions on the library shelves for no apparent reason, and doors open and close without any human intervention. Loud disembodied voices have been reported (no doubt drawing a frown and a “shhhh” from the not-easily-spooked librarians). The ghosts of old steel hands, still dressed in their sooty mill outfits, wander about the structure. The library isn’t the only hot spot for the unexplained. The housekeeper claimed to have seen a shadow moving in the back steps of the old music hall in the library; shadow figures of both sexes are regularly sighted in the building. The voices of ladies giggling in the basement locker room have been heard, and by no less than the Syfy Channel’s “Ghost Hunters” squad. The TAPS team visited the library in May 2011, and in September aired an episode from Homestead including Carnegie’s building.

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Information submitted by the Carnegie Library Music Hall of Homestead for the 2014 Conclave Theatre Tour. Images © Carnegie Library Music Hall of Homestead.

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