Libraries Round the World: La-La Land

This massive library, in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, may not be that close to Hollywood, but the eclectic mix of styles could easily double as a film set. The library checks off nearly every period imaginable: ultra-modern, fantasy, art deco, Egyptian, medieval, murals, mosaics, and Latin American. And they do all this while filled with books!

The main library for Los Angelenos is still housed in the original 1926 building after surviving a few devastating fires and earthquakes. If you are passing through downtown or stopping to tour the Walt Disney Concert Hall a few blocks away, consider a quick visit.

The library’s theme is the Light of Learning and a sculpture of a golden torch of learning, resembling that same torch held by the Statue of Liberty in New York’s harbor. And like most everything, it’s changed with the times, but in a good way.

The building’s rooftop pyramid is capped with a hand holding a burning torch and adorned with a sunburst. Above the doorway is a Latin phrase which means “like runners they bear on the lamp of life.” No doubt about it: books illuminate!

The library’s art studded garden was almost paved over for parking back in 1969. After the threat, the building and Mediterranean-Egyptian garden were placed on the National Registrar of Historic Places.

A vivid entry hall ceiling features names of local novelists by the artist Renee Petropoulos. The old children’s reading room murals retell the days of romance and chivalry, way back to the 12th century, by illustrating scenes from Walter Scott’s novel Ivanhoe.

The new children’s department has a huge California bear (check out the state’s flag) and photos covering the history of California. This is the only reading room that still looks much like it did when it was the local history department in the 1920’s.

In the vast rotunda, Mexican murals from 1933 depict the Americanization of California.

The zodiac chandelier includes the solar system, planets, and a moon. Forty-eight lights represent each state in the USA back in 1926. (Alaska and Hawaii weren’t added until 1959.)


The library added a modern eclectic wing doubling the size with the vertical eight-story atrium addition. Three impressive chandeliers have different world themes including natural, man-made, and spiritual. A library store is available for shoppers, and frequent free tours are offered.

And if you get hungry, walk over to the still popular hundred-year-old Grand Central Market at 317 South Broadway. The route is too complicated to explain. But it’s a fun treasure hunt walk full of zig-zags: riding escalators, crossing courtyards, and meandering past high-rise buildings. A narrow gauge funicular railcar will take you down the final stage from Bunker Hill to the Market. Even on a Saturday, when most downtowns are quiet, the Central Market was a happening place. Being a Texan, I must recommend the Horse Thief Barbeque café with picnic table seating outside on a shaded patio.


P.S. If you need a nearby place to stay, consider the still futuristic Bonaventure across the street. My old home sweet home in the ’90s.

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Karen Stensgaard is the author of the novel AQUAVIT, the first book in the Aquamarine Sea Series with a second novel underway. AQUAVIT is available as a paperback from Amazon and Ingram Spark or as an e-book from almost everyone else. Libraries have free access via Overdrive.  Link to free chapters on Amazon

P.S. I must give a shout out to author Susan Orlean and her book, THE LIBRARY BOOK, about this very library. Her book was published after this blog was sent out. Each library I visit has its own distinct personality, like a person, and this one has definitely been through lots of ups and downs and deserves its own book!

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