by Derryl Dumermuth
The oldest surviving public building in Tulare was built in 1882, at what is now 88 West Tulare Avenue, by the Southern Pacific Railroad as a recreation center for their employees. The building was made available to the entire community, and was used for parties, dances, billiards and as a reading center. It housed a library, with the first books donated by the Railroad, and thus became known in those early days as “Library Hall”. Bookshelves lined the south, east and north walls of the meeting room, and use of the library and reading room was open to all who paid 50 cents per person per month. The first librarian was a Mr. Hauseman, and when a patron indicated that he wanted to borrow a certain book, the librarian would unlock the glass door, remove the volume, and carefully re-lock the door before surrendering the book.
The building was dedicated with a grand ball on Friday night, May 19 1882, with 76 couples in attendance. The evening entertainment started at nine o’clock with the band playing the grand march. At 11:45 the band played the supper march, and all made their way across the tracks to the Pacific Hotel, where a midnight feast had been prepared under the supervision of Mrs. Madden, wife of the owner of the hotel. After supper they returned to the ball and resumed dancing until 4:00 a.m.
Harriet Wright Higdon, wife of William J. Higdon, wrote an article describing the evening for the local newspaper, the Daily Telegraph. In it she covered every detail, even describing the dresses worn by 48 of the ladies present. For example, we know that Mrs. J. Goldman, wife of the leading Tulare merchant, was wearing “black cashmere trimmed with heavy pasmentre and beaded fringe, with blue silk collaret trimmed with Spanish lace”. Other ladies mentioned in the article were: Mrs. Andrew Neff, wife of a locomotive engineer; Mrs. Charles Hall, wife of Tulare’s first mayor; and Mrs. John Goble, wife of a banker.
Library Hall continued to serve the community in many ways over the years. The school, without an auditorium of its own, made use of the hall for plays, debates, operettas, concerts, public speaking contests, pre-game rallies, after-game celebrations and annual commencement exercises. It was used for civic affairs, political rallies, lectures, theatrical productions, banquets and receptions. One example can be found in an advertisement in the March 19, 1888 Tulare Daily Evening Register. It announced that the famous cartoonist, Thomas Nast, would appear at Library Hall Wednesday evening, March 21. He would entertain by “Drawing in black and white and painting oil colors, in the presence of the audience”. Admission was $1 for reserved chairs, 50 cents for bench seats. Tickets were on sale at “Rosenthal’s News Depot”.
After the Southern Pacific moved their shops out of Tulare, the hall was seldom used by the few remaining employees. In 1896 the railroad relinquished ownership of the building to the city. It continued to house the town’s books until the Carnegie Library was completed in 1905.
By 1912 the building needed extensive repairs. In that year the Woman’s Club of Tulare leased the building for $5 per year and agreed to maintain the facility. 57 years later, in 1969, the Woman’s Club returned responsibility for maintaining the building, by this time known as the Woman’s Club House, to the city. In the agreement with the city, the club reserved the privilege of holding their regular meetings there. The city refurbished and enlarged the building, and from 1974 until 1991 used it as the Tulare Senior Citizens’ Center. Seniors now have their own facility, the Senior Community Center, on F Street. The 120-year-old treasure once again served as the home of the Tulare Woman’s Club, as well as a community meeting place.