Kraft Library History
Library Book Plate
Original Blue Print
Nineteen-hundred and six was the year Elizabeth Kraft asked what she could do for the community of Red Bluff. She had lost her beloved husband, Herbert in 1895. The two had spent a good part of their lives living in Red Bluff and she wanted to give the community something in his memory. The Kraft family was very philanthropic and had already given Red Bluff the original site and building for St. Elizabeth’s hospital (the Old Duncan Robertson Residence at the NW corner of Sycamore and Main Streets.), a clubhouse for women and in 1918 a children’s playground (on Rio St.). It was decided that a library would be welcomed by the community. Unfortunately, the San Francisco earthquake struck and construction in California was in disarray. After a long wait, Mrs. Kraft decided to oversee the project herself and hired noted architect, Franklin Pierce Burnham to draw plans for a state of the art library. His blueprint illustrated a magnificent classic revival style building. Mrs. Kraft then hired the best contractors in California to start construction. Living in Oakland, where she had moved to escape the heat in Red Bluff, with plans in hand, she and her sons, Edward and Gustave came to Red Bluff to oversee the project. Originally, she had given the city 25,000 dollars for construction of the library, but as the building was being raised she saw ways to make it even more spectacular, and in the end the Kraft Memorial Free Library cost $40,000 dollars, a very large sum in 1909. Prior to the earthquake, plans must have been to dedicate the building in 1908, which is the date carved in the pediment over the grand staircase and the dedication stone on the southeast corner of the building. One can only assume that these had been carved prior to the knowledge that construction and the completion date would be delayed by a year.
The dedication was held on May 24, 1909 in front of the library with hundreds of people in attendance. Nearly 3000 books were set on the Book Plate bookshelves the following week and the doors were opened. Judge John F. Ellison spoke about the family who had given this wonderful gift to the community, saying in reference to their children, “In this laudable desire she had the sympathy, support and active assistance of all her children, and by her sons, the details of the general plan suggested by her has been looked after and carefully worked out to the minutest detail.” A few of those details included a donation by Edward Kraft of 10,000 dollars for maintenance and Mrs. Kraft’s donation of 5,000 dollars in a trust for maintenance and future purchase of books. At a later date, showing great foresight, Edward Kraft also purchased the land north of the library to protect it, and which would also have allowed for expansion. Although this expansion never occurred, his planning left us the magnificent Deodar Cedar and Douglas Fir trees still standing today. They provide shade for the gardens and picnic tables and umbrella the lovely, manicured grounds of the Kraft building.
For 78 years the Kraft Memorial Free Library was an integral part of the community. It served not only as a place of learning, but a social gathering spot as well. From what hundreds of visitors have told us, it was quite the happening place. Although, according to some that depended upon which librarian was in attendance! Just a few of the comments recorded in our guest book can be read in the side boxes. Eventually the books outgrew the Kraft building and in 1987 the city decided to relocate the library to the old Safeway building on Monroe St. It is very unfortunate that the venerable old building was lost as a public building. The trust stated that the Kraft Memorial Free Library must always be used as a library and/or any other aspect of a library Elizabeth’s great-grandson, Herbert Kraft Walton, who has followed his great-grandparent’s example of philanthropy, was very dismayed at the city’s decision, knowing what his Great-grandmother’s wishes were, and asked them to reconsider. When they would not, he asked the court to return it to the heirs, which the State Supreme Court did in 1987. Not residing in Red Bluff full time, the restoration was a project greater than he and his wife Anne were up to, so they decided to sell the Kraft building. With a passion for preserving historic buildings and part of Red Bluff’s heritage, my husband at the time and I became its new guardians in 1997. After a very involved and lengthy process, the Kraft building was placed on the National Register of Historical Places on April 14, 2000. (www.nationalregisterof historicalplaces.com/CA/Tehama/state.html).
Preventative maintenance to stop further deterioration was the primary focus during the years between the purchase and January 2006 when the bulk of the restoration was started, with completion in September 2006. It was quite a process, with equal amounts of labor and love going into the restoration. An excited energy surrounded the staff and construction crews as we restored the classic elegance to the building according to historic standards. We enthusiastically looked forward to sharing with the community the refurbished treasure. When asked how difficult, or bad it was, I generally answer, ”It could have been a lot worse”. It took nine months of hard work and long hours to complete the restoration and landscape the grounds. Wanting to expand my home décor business, the Kraft provided the perfect venue, so House of Design was relocated, and we opened on October 6, 2006. The Kraft has been home to us for the last 12 years, providing the community access to a beloved building.