LA Central Library

The Los Angeles Central Library system serves the residents of the City of Los Angeles
  • Address: 630 West 5th Street Los Angeles, CA 90071
  • Type: Educational Institution
  • Architect: Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue and Carleton Monroe Winslow
  • Opened: 1926

General Information

The Richard Riordon Central Library (commonly known as the Los Angeles Central Library) is the third largest public library in the United States in terms of book and periodical holdings. The original name of this building was the Central Library, but the building was renamed in honor of Rufus B. von KleinSmid. He was the longtime president of the Board of Library Commissioners and President of the University of Southern California. In 2001, the building was renamed after Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.


This was not the first central library Los Angeles. Between 1878 and 1926 there were several structures at various locations. This structure was constructured in 1926. Los Angeles County Central Library was designed by architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue. The architecture of this building mimics that of ancient Egypt. There are similarities to Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln, Nebraska which was also designed by Goodue. The central tower is topped with tiled mosiac pyramid with suns on either side with a hand holding a torch representing the "Lights of Learning" at the apex. Other components include sphixes, snakes and celestial mosaics. The building was dedicated on July 15, 1926. Unfortunately, Goodhue died in 1924 and never saw the product completions.

On then morning of April 29, 1986, a major fire occurred at the Los Angeles Central Library. Extinguishing the fire required sixty fire fighting companies, 1 arson unit, 9 paramedic rescue ambulences, 3 helicopters, 4 salvage companies, 1 squad, 2 emergency air units, a heavy utility company, and over 40 staff and support personnel, for a total of almost 350 Fire Department personnel. Approximately, 45% of the on duty Fire Department resources were committed to this fire. Members of this department were commended for their bravery, courage, determination and outstanding effort in controlling the loss of precious resource of the City of Los Angeles. There were no deaths or critical injuries and one minor civilian injury. There was an estimated loss of $2 million to the structure and $20 million to its contents. More importantly, 85% of the total value of the structure and contents were saved. There was a second fire on September 3 of the same year which destroyed the contents of the Music Department Reading Room.

The Los Angeles Central Library sold its air rights to developers as a part of a rehabilitation plan, this allowed the construction of the Library Tower (now known as U.S. Bank Tower) skyscraper across the street. Mayor Tom Bradley raised additional funds through the "Save The Books" campaign. Other funds were raised through corporate and individual contributions.

It was extensively renovated and expanded in a "Modernist/Beaux Arts style" from 1988 through 1993, including an enormous, eight-story atrium dedicated to former mayor Tom Bradley, a five-term mayor of Los Angeles, California. The interior of the library is decorated with various figures, statues, chandeliers, and grilles.


In the main lobby on the first floor, Los Angeles artist Rebee Petropoulos painted the ceiling with a cornucopia of color, text and imagery. This 36 foot by 36 foot ceiling has Los Angeles novelists names intertwined in the design. Petropoulos as a statement about counterpoint to the building's symmetry painted the design off center. The light fixture is the center of the room.

The Thomas Bradley Wing is an enormous skylit atrium which runs the length of the wing. This addition to the library is eight stories. In order for the wing not to be taller than the Library Tower, four floors are above ground, and four below. Stacks and reading rooms are on each side. Massive glazed terra cotta columns are aligned on one side. The wing was designed by Hardy, Holzman, and Pfeiffer Associates.

There are three chandeliers hanging the Bradley Wing atrium were created by Therman Statom. For the chandeliers, Statom explores the concepts of man-made endeavors, natural phenomena and ethereal ideas. Each chandelier will evoke one of these themes which were designed to echo the elements of the solar system reflected in the Cook Rotunda chandelier.

The lanterns in the atrium, located at each escalator landing and entitled "Illumination" are designed by Anne Preston. The title Illumination refers to light, understanding and books. There is a latern at each escalator landing in the atrium. There is a fixture at the base that shines light up to a reflector located inside the latern which will illuminate light in the surrounding area.

There are more than 9,000 square feet of murals in the Lodwrick M. Cook Rotunda. There are four murals depicting four eras of California history:

Mission Building

The Founding of Los Angeles

Dean Cornwell was awarded the contract in 1927 and spend the next fived years doing research for the final canvas. Cornwell has distinguished himself with his murals and as a magazine illustrator. Completed in 1932, their color values were purposely restrained to harmonize with the many-colored mosaic-like dome decorations by Julian E. Garnsey.

The Globe Chandelier that hangs in the Rotunda was designed by Goodhue Associates, modeled by Lee Lawrie and manufactured by the Thomas Day Company of Los Angeles. Historical Arts and Casting of Salt Lake City restored the Globe Chandelier in the 1980s. It is 9 feet in diameter and weighs one ton.

The Chandelier is part of a model of the solar system. A translucent blue glass globe with hand-painted continetns hangs in the middle. The chains that suspend the globe are decorated with planets and a crecent moon. There is a sunburst on the ceiling directly above the globe. Around the glob is a ring with zodiac signs and 48 lights which represent the 48 United States in 1926 when the building opened.


1. ^ a b c d e "Central Library". Retrieved on 2009-08-01.
2. ^ a b "Central Library Fire April 29, 1986". Retrieved on 2009-08-01.
3. ^ a b "Art & Architecture in Central Library". Retrieved on 2009-08-30.


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