Sun, Jun

‘Dem Books


LEANING RIGHT-The Los Angeles Central Library, originally constructed in 1926, is a downtown landmark. It is the third largest public library in the United States in terms of book and periodical holdings. Originally the Central Library, the building was renamed in honor of the longtime president of the Board of Library Commissioners and President of the University of Southern California. The new wing of Central Library completed in 1993 is named in honor of former mayor Tom Bradley. 


Architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue designed the original Los Angeles Central Library with influences of ancient Egyptian and Mediterranean Revival architecture. The central tower is topped with a tiled mosaic pyramid with suns on the sides with a handholding a torch representing the "Light of Learning" at the apex. Other elements include sphinxes, snakes, and celestial mosaics. 

There was an arsonist fire in 1986. Then the makers and shakers of Los Angeles got together. These were business people, engineers, and scientists, and entrepreneurs so they got it right. They created something that is beautiful as well as functional. They were not government people. 

The library was extensively renovated and expanded in a Modern/Beaux-Arts architecture (according to the principal architect of the renovation Norman Pfeiffer) from 1988 through 1993, including an enormous, eight-story atrium dedicated to former mayor, Tom Bradley. The interior of the library is decorated with various figures, statues, chandeliers, and grilles, notably a four-part mural by illustrator Dean Cornwell depicting stages of the history of California. 

The building's limited access had caused a number of problems. Generally, the accessible public stacks in the reading rooms only displayed about 10 to 20 percent of the actual collections of the Central Library. For anything else, a patron had to submit a request slip and a clerk would retrieve the desired material from the internal stacks. 

Internal stacks were packed very tightly and had very little headroom. For example, while the normal reading rooms had ceilings of anywhere from ten to fifteen feet, the internal stack areas were many shelves of about six-foot height, stacked internally, so that while the public access area was about two floors plus the Science and Technology alcove, the internal stacks were approximately five or six floors. To fix this would have required substantial renovation a cost the city was not willing to cover, especially after hours of operation were cut in response to the 1978 property tax reduction measure Proposition 13. 

The catalyst for the renovation was the devastating arson fire of April 29, 1986. Although the building was safely evacuated, its vintage construction precluded the ventilation of heat and smoke, and limited firefighter access. Some 400,000 volumes—20 percent of the library's holdings—were destroyed, with significant water and smoke damage done to the surviving works. A second fire on September 3 of the same year destroyed the contents of the music department reading room. 

The Library's renovation was completed in 1993. The Central Library reopened on October 3, 1993. 

The renovations are the result of businessmen, engineers, scientists, and entrepreneurs. No government people were involved, therefore they got everything right. 

The square footage was tripled without changing the sky-line. 

Problems that persist due to government people are: 

● Bar codes are located on the back of books. They should be on the spine of the books. This would allow scanning from anyplace in the library. 

● There should be a metal detector in each book. This would allow tracking of the book from anyplace in the library. I once spoke with tourists from Korea and they could not imagine this does not exist. 

● Library staff should be rotated through all the departments. 

● This list goes on. 

Visit the library the next time you are downtown.  It should be compared to the library of Hawaii and the New York Library. 

 We can share lunch in the library gardens.


(Kay Martin is an author and a CityWatch contributor. His new book, Along for the Ride, is now available. He can be reached at  [email protected])







Vol 11 Issue 89

Pub: Nov 5, 2013



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