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Today in Downtown History: Library Declared Work of Art

By Eric Richardson
Published: Wednesday, August 20, 2008, at 04:02PM
Torch of Learning Eric Richardson [Flickr]

On top of the Central Library stands the Torch of Learning. Visitors are able to get up close with the Torch inside the Library's second floor rotunda.

Thirty-nine years ago today, on August 20, 1969, the city's Municipal Arts Commission declared the Central Library building and grounds a work of art. The building was forty-seven years old, and the designation was part of an ultimately unsuccessful fight to keep the library from building an employee parking lot on the site now occupied by Maguire Gardens.

At the time, the Library Commission faced a tough challenge. On one side, the Librarians' Guild had threatened a strike if their parking conditions weren't improved. On the other was a vocal group dedicated to preserving the park space, then home to fountains and cypress trees.

On August 6, the Times published a letter by Gloria Joyce Elliott, laying out the plight of library employees. She talked of purse snatchings and two murders that had recently occurred in the library's vicinity.

The Arts Commission's action on the 20th was intended to give it the power to veto the parking plan, but only a few weeks later the Commission completely reversed course. On September 5th, the Commission voted 3-0 (with two commissioners absent) to approve a plan nearly identical to the one it had previously rejected.

Robert Alexander, at the time president-elect for the L.A. chapter of the American Institute of Architects, called the reversal "an act of unconscionable vandalism to public property."

In October a state committee would get involved, calling for a moratorium on the lot's construction. The City Council instead voted 8-4 to let the Library Commissioners have the final say in the matter.

On October 29, 1969, the Library Commissioners gave final approval for the $55,000 project, and the Board of Public Works issued a construction contract the very same day.

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