Steel tycoon and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie built libraries all over the U.S. with at least 14 of them in the Central Valley. Today, only a handful of those original buildings remain. One of them is in Hanford. There’s now a museum inside, but its future may be at risk.
Last week, the city issued the Hanford Carnegie Museum board president a letter. It listed 18 things that needed to be repaired or maintained; most of them within ten days. If not, the city has the right to evict the board and museum from the century-old building.
“It kills me to think that we might lose this,” says Patricia Dickerson, general manager of the museum. “It's a magnificent building; we've got the Romanesque architecture.”
She gestures to the building’s high ceilings and then shows me a glimpse of what life was like more than a century ago when the library first opened in 1906. Behind one window is a mannequin dressed as Miss Alice Hall, one of the city’s early librarians. She sits beside books original to the library. Next to that display is a kitchen with an ice box.
“Wood burning stoves, nothing like we have today,” says Dickerson. “And of course the old washing machine,” she says, pointing to a metal cylinder that’s outside the display so kids can touch it. “You put your clothes in here,” she says, opening the drum. “Your soap and stuff comes in here.”
There are other displays too, like the one on the region’s military history. There’s even a dress designed by Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic ocean. She taught flying at Chandler Airport in Fresno, says Dickerson.
She taught "one of our Hanford residents, Mary Packwood, how to fly,” Dickerson adds. Packwood and Earhart were friends, and before Earhart departed on her last flight, she left the dress behind.
It’s history like this that Dickerson fears will be lost if the city revokes the museum’s lease. She says board members and volunteers have been working non-stop to meet the September 3 deadline.
“The community has put so much into this, and we're not going to stop,” says Dickerson. “We'll keep doing what we're doing and hopefully the city council sees we are trying.”
Outside, volunteer Jennifer Cortez is sweeping and shoveling dirt. “We were clearing away all the debris from the wrought iron down here because that’s what they wanted,” she says.
She’s referencing one of the items on the list, asking the board to “Remove all dirt that covers portions of the wrought iron fence in the rear.”
Cortez says her 13-year-old daughter loves the museum.
“She comes over here, she’s learning the history,” says Cortez.
But history aside, Darlene Mata, Hanford’s community development director, says the board isn’t keeping up the building and grounds.
“You walk by and you can see that it hadn't been cared for the way it should have been,” Mata says. “There are people in the public that do care about the building that have, my understanding is, voiced their opinions.”
Francisco Ramirez, whose district includes the museum, says those complaints are political. “Those same people that don't like me are using this as fire to push it, even to where we’re at today,” he says.
Ramirez was recalled from the council in January of 2018 after a Kings County Grand Jury said he violated campaign finance laws. However, he paid a fine to the Fair Political Practices Commission and won his seat back later that year. He says the general manager of the museum, Patricia Dickerson, supported him, and that upset some community members.
He says if the council won’t negotiate: “Then I’m going to be in front of that council meeting, and I’m going to walk off that dias, go in public comment, and talk about the issues as a regular citizen. If that doesn’t work, then I’m going to be picketing with all the people that support the Carnegie Museum.”
Sue Sorensen, council member and mayor of Hanford, says the city just wants to make sure the building is being cared for appropriately.
“I would be sad that people would think that the goal of the city is to shut their doors,” says Sorensen. “That is not the goal of the city. The goal of the city is to follow the agreement and to make sure that this facility is being maintained.”
The Museum’s board has set up a $10,000 GoFundMe campaign to support the repairs. So far, it has yet to crack a thousand dollars. The city will do an inspection next Tuesday to see if the repairs have been made.