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Monday, November 7, 2016

The Los Angeles Central Library - a research repository and a gem of art and architecture

The city of  Los Angeles has many faces. Some people see it as a cancerous urban sprawl, with awful
rush hour traffic, bad air, and crime. For others it's the glitz of Hollywood, the metropolis of business. It is all these things, but the city, including its neighboring areas, is also one of the most important cultural centers of the world. What?! I hear some people call. Yes, and I repeat it: Los Angeles is one of the most important centers of art, architecture, music, and literature. It has some of the most interesting and amazing museums, theaters, and art galleries. If you do just a little of research, you'll find out that many of the world's most famous writers, musicians, singers, sculptors, painters, and other artists have at one time or the other called Los Angeles their home. So, move aside San Francisco and New York! Just kidding.

Of course, the negative sides of Los Angeles do exist. It is a sometimes ugly urban sprawl and anybody who is forced to drive on the freeways during rush hours knows the challenge. And let me tell you, when I first came to Los Angeles over thirty years ago, I told myself that the one city I never wanted to live in was Los Angeles. Well, famous last words. I changed my mind and here I am.

There is a secret about Los Angeles. Well, it's actually no longer a secret. In the midst of cars, gasoline fumes, skyscrapers (some of the world's most beautiful, by the way), and clogged freeways, you find amazing treasures. In two of my last posts, I wrote about the beautiful Huntington Library and gardens in Pasadena.

Today, I want to show you another treasure--the Los Angeles Central Library downtown with one of the most extensive collections of books, maps, and works of art. It's not only a repository of literature, art, and culture, but an architectural landmark. It has been designated a Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument. And I have to admit (and hang my head in shame) that after living here for over two decades, this is the first time I have visited the main library. I've never been without a library card but I have always frequented my local library in Santa Monica. The main reason was that driving downtown and parking there can be such a hassle. But now, that we have a new train line that connects Santa Monica with downtown L.A., the journey is a breeze. And the last station of the newly opened Expo line is just a couple of blocks away from the library.

So yesterday, I embarked on the adventure and here are some pictures.

The new train! Expo Line Santa Monica to Downtown Los Angeles

Left: View from the train

Most of the descriptions below are from the walk-in tours you can either to take on your own or with a docent.

And here it is: Main Entrance from Hope Street

The main building, called Goodhue Building, designed by the architect Bertram Goodhue

The main lobby with the rotunda, wall paintings, and chandelier
The chandelier is made of cast bronze and weighs one ton. The murals above were painted by the magazine illustrator Dean Cornwell.

There are three sculptures by artist Lee Lawrie. This marble figure symbolizes what the Library represents. In her right hand is a book with quotations in five languages. In her left hand is a torch which represents civilization's power over land and sea. The crown contains a miniature model of the Library--two angels for the City of Los Angeles and the bear and star for the State of California.

The two pictures above are from the Tom Bradley Wing. In 1986 two arson fires destroyed 400.000 books and damaged 800.000. 95 percent were saved. After the fire, the library was restored and underwent a major renovation and improvement. One of the additions was the Tom Bradley wing (named after the former mayor of Los Angeles). The three chandeliers above are made of aluminum and fiberglass and weigh 2.000 pounds each. They represent the three themes: the natural world, the man-made world and the spiritual world. (I wouldn't want to stand under them during an earthquake!)

And here is one of the library's reading rooms

How many of you remember this? I do! When I did research in my early college years, that's how we found the books, by going through the card catalog, often very tedious and painstaking work. Nowadays, this is merely a nice memory as we breeze through the search engine on our computers!

Above an early map of Santa Monica

The three pictures below show just how carefully crafted and artistic every room is. So much care went into the building and the renovation. 

 One of the many beautiful ceilings

Right next to the library are the majestic skyscrapers that make out the Los Angeles skyline

I hope you enjoyed the short tour through one of the pearls of Los Angeles. If you want to know more about the library and its history: