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Checking Out Local Libraries

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The Los Angeles General Services Department's efforts to unload a couple libraries at auction further proves that nothing is sacred in this hot real estate market. The former Durant Branch on Gardner in Hollywood and the erstwhile location of the Westchester Branch on Sepulveda Eastway are going on the block next month. Minimum bidding on each starts at $1,000,000.

'Tis a pity that the small scale and mid-century charm of these two neighborhood branches will likely vanish to make way for ugly apartment buildings that will probably max out whatever the sites' entitlements allow. Don’t get us wrong, we support development in this city and housing in particular. But the range of thoughtlessly designed multifamily housing strewn across the city inspires little confidence.

LAist laments the fact that the city is sacrificing a tucked-away neighborhood library structure in Hollywood for the recently constructed, bland Durant Branch on Sunset. What’s more, the opportunity to improve the streetscape and quality of urban design on what’s a pretty dreadful stretch of Sunset was squandered.

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To be fair, however, densely populated neighborhoods like Hollywood need adequate resources for students and local bibliophiles, and the large contemporary Durant library certainly fits the bill. According to one website, parents are quite fond of the new Durant, too. (The relocated Westchester Branch library also boasts an expanded facility.)

We won’t abandon hope for the future of Los Angeles libraries or for forsaken city properties. An outstanding example of an adaptive reuse project involving a municipally owned site which faced an uncertain fate is the charming Edendale Grill in Silver Lake. What used to function as Fire Station Number 56 (1924) on Rowena has become a popular neighborhood watering hole. Although a dining establishment is not the most feasible proposal for the currently for sale Durant Branch building, it would be a fabulous residential conversion project for someone with a lot of cash, imagination, and a stellar mid-century modern furniture collection. Not to mention the will to withstand the city's re-zoning process.

While the quality of contemporary library architecture runs the aesthetic gamut, our public library system showcases a plethora of historic libraries. In addition to the granddaddy of them all, a few of our favorite local places to check out books and enjoy the quiet (at least in theory) include the Fremont Branch in Hancock Park (1927), the Felipe de Neve Branch near Lafayette Park, Memorial Branch across the street from Los Angeles High on Olympic (John C. Austin and Frederick Ashley, 1930), the Cahuenga Branch in south Los Feliz area (Clarence H. Russell, 1916), and the Vermont Square Branch (1913) near Exposition Park. The last two are terrific examples of extant Carnegie libraries in Los Angeles.

Photo of Cahuenga Branch from LAPL photo collection.