Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Trip to the Library - 9 January 2012

My office job is across the street from the main branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, which was built in 1926 and has been a landmark in downtown LA ever since.  In the late 1980s the building suffered two arson fires, and there was a lot of talk about tearing it down as it had already been deemed too small for all its resources and holdings.  Fortunately, the outcry against destroying this beautiful building was strong, and instead it was restored, renovated, and added onto.

From my office’s 7th floor windows you can’t get a full head-to-toe-shot of the side of the library we face, so here it is in two parts, with a good look at the roof with its tiled pyramid topper:


All around the building are chisled quotations about books; one of my favorites is high up at the roofline: "Books alone are liberal and free: they give to all who ask, they emancipate all who serve them faithfully."

At the tip of the rooftop pyramid is a replica of the Statue of Liberty’s arm that holds the torch; in an alcove of the library is a replica of that replica:

Below the pyramid is the a rotunda on the second floor of the original library building.  There is a world globe lighting fixture hanging from the center of the dome, and all around is a mural painted in 1932 depicting early life in California (from the Spanish missionaries perspective) to the founding of the city of Los Angeles:

The rotunda was once home to the card catalogs, but they were removed after all the information had been digitized.  As a design feature, drawer fronts have been attached to the walls, a nice touch to tie the now online-only information to the history of the library.

They even repurposed a lot of the cards in the elevator shafts of the new part of the building.  The car walls are glass so you can watch the catalog cards whiz past as you go up or down:

 The children’s section is a terrific space, with more original murals, original and replica furniture:

There are a number of small exhibition spaces which allow the library to display some of its extensive non-book collection, such as photographs, posters, artwork, etc.,  Currently there are two galleries showing historic maps of Los Angeles:

The new section is a complete architectural departure from the original building – a contemporary, eight story structure (four floors below ground) that has a central atrium with giant modern art light fixtures:

Before the arson fires, the property on one side of the building had been an open, paved parking lot.  With the renovations came a lovely little park (much more extensive parking is now underground) with grass, trees, winding paths, benches, and several water features:

Also in the park is a World Peace Bell, “[A]n internationally recognized symbol of world peace.  The bell is cast from coins and medals donated by 103 countries and represents a common bond among the nations of the world.”  The World Peace Bell Association, working with the United Nations, is working to provide these bells to all nations of the world:

The back of the Central Library is just as attractive as its other faces, even the access tunnel, with more of the elegant statuary and chisled quotations, including my other favorite ("Books invite all, they constrain none"):

The building I work in is known locally as the Library Tower, not because it’s across the street, but because the builders purchased the library’s “air rights” which allowed them to construct build higher than they otherwise would have been able to do (laws, ordinances, etc.), and with more than 70 stories it’s (currently) the tallest building in American west of the Mississippi River.

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