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Looking Back at the Central Library on Its 90th Birthday

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A very brief history of the building in 11 pictures

The Central Library in Downtown LA bounced around to a few locations before finding a permanent home, mostly renting floors in large buildings Downtown. But in the 1920s, Los Angeles experienced a significant population boom. As Los Angeles grew in size, its visibility also rose. Having a big, beautiful library was one way that Los Angeles could put itself among the other major cities in the country. Also, more people meant more library users, says the Los Angeles Public Library blog.

Construction began in 1924 on the the Bertram Goodhue-designed building that currently makes up part of the Central Library. (The newer Tom Bradley wing to the east of the Goodhue building came later, in the 1990s.)

The Central Library opened on July 6, 1926. Goodhue died before it was completed; his colleague Carleton Winslow saw the project through.

Designed in the early Art Deco style, the Goodhue building’s "monumental simplicity serves as a backdrop for an ambitious program of decorative sculpture," such as those that adorn the Flower Street entrance.

As the pyramid atop the library suggests, the design includes hints of Egyptian influence, as well as "Roman, Byzantine, and various Islamic civilizations," and revival styles like Spanish Colonial, says the Los Angeles Conservancy. Its interior is also richly decorated, featuring murals, elaborated paintings, and an incredible hanging ironwork piece in its gorgeous rotunda.

And yet, in the 1960s and 1970s, the Library was threatened with demolition. (The threat of demolition of the library building prompted the formation of the Los Angeles Conservancy.)

The library was an amazing institution, but structurally, it wasn’t in the best shape. By the mid-1980s, it was "a filthy fire trap" badly in need of renovations, LAPL map librarian Glen Creason told the LAPL blog. So, it probably didn’t surprise too many people when two fires devastated the library in 1986. What likely did surprise them was that the fires were deemed to be acts of arson. The arsonist was never caught.

After the fire, recovery took many years, but the disaster had prompted some positive change: "Remodel plans that had been in various stages of development for over twenty years moved to the forefront and Central Library was finally a priority." The Central Library reopened again in 1993, expanded and improved. The library is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a city-designated Historic-Cultural Landmark.

Central Library

, , CA 90071