The Goodman Library is one of the oldest continually occupied library buildings in California. Built between 1901 and 1902 through a generous donation of land and money by local bank magnate George E. Goodman, the library offered a permanent solution to Napa’s struggle to find a home for its free library.
The first library in Napa County was organized at the behest of a local teenager, Charles Burrage, who formed the Excelsior Club, a fundraising organization dedicated to starting a library in Napa City. The parents of the teens also became involved and Napa’s first library association was established September 1, 1870.
Napa’s first library was subscription based, charging a fee for use. It made its home on Brown St. inside the Pioneer Engine Company and consisted of 160 books. The 1878 passage of the Rogers Act allowed incorporated cities and towns to levy taxes in support of free public libraries and in 1885 the city of Napa embarked on just such a mission.
Opened as the Napa Free Library, its first location was above W. W. Thompson’s store on Brown St. In 1888 the collection was moved to a spare room at the Goodman Bank, Napa’s first financial institution. By 1900 both the Goodman Bank and the Library had grown too large to be housed in the same building. The bank’s president George E. Goodman announced his intention to build a permanent home for the library on a lot he owned on First St. Upon the announcement the Napa Daily Journal had this to say:
“The present epoch, upon which we have just entered, may be known as the age of the public library. There is no other influence in this land today which is so widely uplifting. There is no other which promises so much for the future.”
Goodman hired local architect Luther Turton, but this choice almost did not pan out. Turton was seriously injured in a bicycle accident soon after being named as architect and things were touch and go for a while for Napa’s most notable architect.
Schools let out early May 2, 1901 so that local schoolchildren could attend a ceremony for the laying of the building’s cornerstone. The building opened to the public March 6, 1902 and was named the Goodman Library for its benefactor George Goodman. In the building’s original layout library services were restricted to the top floor while the ground floor housed a tea room and a billiard parlor, offering places for locals to recreate. In 1939 the billiard room was converted to a children’s library.
For many years the city’s library services ran in parallel to Napa County’s library system which also hosted a branch in the City of Napa. In 1963 these two systems merged. The children’s library remained at the Goodman while another library a few blocks away on Randolph housed adult collections. Ground was broken on a plan to combine both collections in a large new building in 1973, leaving the Goodman vacant. This new building is today the Napa Main Library on Coombs St.
In 1974 the Goodman’s current resident, the Napa County Historical Society, moved into the building. This, however, required a decree from Napa’s Superior Court. George Goodman’s original deed for the building had stipulated that it must be used for a free public library or the deed would revert to the Goodman heirs. The court’s ruling stated that the Historical Society was operating within the intent of the original deed by providing a library of historic materials. In 2012 Napa County Landmarks, a preservation advocacy group, also moved into the building, sharing space with the Historical Society.
A 2007 retrofit likely spared the Goodman Library from more serious damages in 2014's South Napa Quake, but the large stones that fell from the library's fortress-like crown made dramatic images for the news cameras. Nonetheless, the building was declared non-occupiable by the City of Napa because of the danger of falling stones from the exterior. The Library's collections were mostly salvaged, but library operations moved off-site while repairs were initiated.