A rendering of the renovated Carnegie Library as an Apple store. The building will also again be home to the Historical Society of Washington. (Apple)
Columnist

It’s quite possible that nothing looks less like an Apple store right now than the building that by the end of the year will be Washington’s newest Apple store.

It’s the old Carnegie Library, at Massachusetts Avenue and Ninth Street NW, in Mount Vernon Square. The 115-year-old building is undergoing a rather robust renovation, with all the mess and disruption that entails. Interior walls have come down. The roof is awaiting a fancy skylight. A small bulldozer sits incongruously in the basement.

I tagged along on a recent hard-hat tour with representatives from the Historical Society of Washington (HSW), which once occupied part of the building — and will again, when the work is done.

John Suau, the historical society’s executive director, toted a set of artist’s conceptions of what the D.C. History Center — the new name for HSW’s Carnegie offerings — will look like. The Kiplinger Research Library, beloved by genealogists and historians, is moving from the west side of the building to the east side. A brand-new D.C. history book store will open on the second floor.

There will be three exhibit spaces. The large West Gallery, where the Kiplinger Library was, will host rotating exhibits, starting with “The Big Picture,” featuring panoramic images from the 1900s. The lower-level Bicycle Room (where library patrons once parked their bikes) will highlight the Carnegie Library itself. A new North Gallery will house a small interactive space that introduces visitors to the District and the historical society.

If any of this reminds you of the ill-fated museum that nearly doomed the historical society 15 years ago, Suau said not to worry.


A rendering of the Carnegie Library exterior (South elevation) after it reopens with a new Apple store. (Apple)

“This is not 2003’s City Museum,” he said.

The society does want to engage the visitors who will come in search of iPhones and iPads. While the HSW used to attract 20,000 to 30,000 visitors a year, Suau said the building may draw that many each week.

“The most interesting part of this project for us is that more parts of the building will be accessible to the public than ever before in its history,” Suau said.

That’s the future. As for the present, part of the society’s collection has been at the Newseum, available to researchers by appointment. That access will end June 29 as the staff prepares for the move back to the Carnegie Library and an expected reopening some time in December.

This means that the D.C. Public Library’s Washingtoniana department — which had been sharing space with HSW at the Newseum — will also be on the move. Again. Washingtoniana has been the couch-surfing friend who wonders whether he can crash at your place.

“The core special collection has been very nomadic,” said Richard Reyes-Gavilan, DCPL’s executive director.

When the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library was emptied for its renovation, part of the local history collection moved into the Carnegie Library with the historical society.

“I thought they were going to live there happily till MLK reopened,” Reyes-Gavilan said. “Then the exciting Apple project occurred, and we had to work something out with the historical society to move with them into the Newseum.”

Reyes-Gavilan said he thought it would take two to three years for Apple to get the permits it would need to transform the Carnegie Library. That happened a lot more quickly.

“Lo and behold, here we are again needing to move special collections,” he said.

To where? The hope is that some portion of the collection that’s at the Newseum can move into the storefront near the Van Ness-UDC Metro that has been the interim Cleveland Park Library while that neighborhood got a new building.

The interim library will close May 19. The new Cleveland Park Library will open June 16. Reyes-Gavilan said he hopes a new temporary Washingtoniana could open at 4340 Connecticut Ave. NW — in 3,000 feet of storefront space owned by the University of the District of Columbia — by the fall.

A complication: Right now the library may lease that space only through July 2019. MLK won’t be finished until mid-2020.

“We still need some help to extend the lease,” Reyes-Gavilan said.

If not, they might have to move a fourth time before moving back to MLK.

Are they fearful some vital piece of archival stuff may go missing in all this packing and unpacking?

“I’m not worried about losing anything,” Reyes-Gavilan said. “These guys value this material more than they value just about anything.”

Reunited

These local schools are reuniting soon:

Bethesda-Chevy Chase High Class of 1968 — June 9. Email BCCClassof68@gmail.com.

Fauquier High Class of 1968 — Weekend of Sept. 15. Email Connie Daniels at conniedncr@gmail.com or call 540-434-6966.

Walter Johnson High Class of 1963 — Oct. 27. Email eve@vchurch.net.

James Madison High (Vienna, Va.) Class of 1988 — Oct. 20. Email jmhs1988@reunited.com or call 303-596-4520.

Frederick Sasscer High Class of 1968 — June 9. Email fshs68reunion@gmail.com or look on Facebook for FS Class of ’68 — 50 Year Reunion Information Page.

Washington-Lee High Classes of 1957 and 1958 — Sept. 7-9. Contact Al Richmond (Class of ’57) or Kitty Sherwood Richmond (Class of ’58) at 703-276-4699 or email wlhs1957@yahoo.com or wlhs1958@yahoo.com.

Western High Class of 1968 — June 22-24. Email western68reunion@yahoo.com.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/people/john-kelly.