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'Dangerous Conditions' Shut Down Pasadena's Historic Central Library Due To Earthquake Concerns

A view of the Central Library in sunlight, with palm trees and a green lawn out front.
Pasadena's historic Central Library has been closed due to seismic concerns.
(Courtesy City of Pasadena)
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The city of Pasadena is closing the historic Central Library location because of seismic safety concerns.

In-person library services only recently resumed at the location, as well as other branches, after COVID-19 closures.

But a recent structural assessment found most of the building consists of bearing walls made up of unreinforced masonry. That creates an "imminent life safety hazard," according to an order from the city,

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This library cannot remain vacant, and we need to conserve it for another century of use.
— City Manager Steve Mermell

City Manager Steve Mermell called the closure "devastating news for us all."

"Sadly to say, I think this is gonna be measured in years in terms of the overall rehabilitation of the building," he told us. He said the city is committed to updating and reopening the historic building.

So what went wrong?

In 1993, Pasadena officials passed an ordinance requiring all buildings with unreinforced masonry be retrofitted, emptied, or demolished. The Central Library was not in that list.

Mermell said the city hasn't found any record of why the building wasn't identified as part of that project or whose job it was to do so.

He says the city is now considering setting up a satellite location for the library's 350,000 + items.

"So there's also a need to figure out where those items are gonna go," Mermell said. "People still want to be able to get items, and they can still do that by visiting our branches, so we're gonna need to find a way to get to the collection."

The bottom line: For now, the building is unsafe to occupy.

The front facade of Pasadena's Central Library, with a fountain in front of steps.
The front facade of Pasadena's Central Library,
(Courtesy City of Pasadena)
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The Pasadena Central Library was designed by Myron Hunt in 1924 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Among the films that have been shot at the location are 1978's "Foul Play" and the 2001's "Legally Blonde."

Updated May 4, 2021 at 3:37 PM PDT
This story was updated with additional comments from an interview with Steve Mermell.