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150 Years of Los Angeles Public Library

LAPL's Central Library

Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) is celebrating its 150th anniversary in grand style, with 150 days of events and activities. From December 7, 2022, through May 6, 2023, the library is hosting events at branches throughout the city, everything from storytimes and the creation of a district-wide book banner to workshops on the history of drumming and architectural modeling and more. We’re especially jazzed about the anniversary offerings on LAPL’s website—a virtual escape room, an LAPL-themed reading list, an activity-based challenge where participants can earn badges and potentially a gift card for the library’s store, a web-based storytelling platform where people can share LAPL stories from their lives, and more.

An LAPL history lesson

We’re huge history buffs here at I Love Libraries, so we’re particularly drawn to the site’s LAPL timeline, which uses text and photos to trace the library’s growth, from its humble beginnings in rented spaces in 1872 to its life serving a thriving metropolis with its Central Library and 72 neighborhood branches.

Some of our favorite LAPL factoids include:

1872: John Littlefield is the first librarian hired and earns $75 a month. The former editor of the Weekly Express has no prior library experience but is good at collecting past due payments.

1880: Mary Foy, appointed City Librarian, becomes the city’s first female head of the library department and a tireless advocate for women’s suffrage.

1896: First electric lights installed in LAPL’s City Hall location. “The installation of electric lighting into all of the rooms devoted to library use has contributed largely to the comfort of the patrons and the convenience of employees.” (Eighth Annual Report of the Library Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Public Library and Report of the Librarian, December 1896)

1908: Central Library moves to the Hamburger Department Store at Broadway and 8th Street, the largest department store west of Chicago. The library floors are located between women’s wear and furniture in the five-story building.

1910: Andrew Carnegie gifts $210,000 for the building of six branch libraries: Vermont Square, Lincoln Heights, Cahuenga, Arroyo Seco, Vernon, and Boyle Heights.

1918: The library closes for seven weeks as part of a city-wide shutdown due to the Spanish Flu. This is the first full system closure of the library.

1926: On July 15, hundreds gather for Central Library’s formal dedication ceremony.

1930: The American Library Association, founded in 1876, holds its annual conference in Los Angeles for the first time at Central Library.

1944: Ray Bradbury begins writing The Fireman, which eventually becomes Fahrenheit 451. He spends most of the 1940s at LAPL and is quoted as saying he was "library-educated." Bradbury said, "the library was my nesting place, my birthing place; it was my growing place."

1950: The library’s bookmobile is christened Little Toot and decorated with the beloved namesake tugboat of the 1939 children’s book. The book’s creator and Disney animator, Hardie Gramatky, lives in Southern California and gives his blessing to the bookmobile’s naming.

1960: Jose G. Taylor, the first Latino LAPL librarian, is hired. Taylor is one of the co-founders of the Committee to Recruit Mexican American Librarians (CRMAL) and serves as president of REFORMA (1976-1977).

1969: The Central Library is placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

1971: The 6.6 magnitude Sylmar Earthquake results in 65 deaths and half a billion dollars in property damage throughout the city. The quake causes the closure of 26 branch libraries. At Central Library, more than 100,000 books fall to the floor and after City Librarian Wyman Jones calls for volunteers, 230 residents respond, and all the books are reshelved by the following day. The damage to Echo Park, Vernon and Benjamin Franklin branches is extensive, and all three branches are condemned.

1982, April 13: The Hollywood Branch Library fire. Only 20,000 of the library’s 90,000 book collection is salvageable. Community members, corporations, and other library organizations contribute their own volumes to help refill the shelves. Orson Welles records a public service announcement in support of the drive.

1986: The Frances Howard Goldwyn Hollywood Regional Branch Library opens in a building designed by architect Frank Gehry and is built with the support of the Samuel Goldwyn Foundation.

1986: On April 29th, a devastating arson fire tears through Central Library. The massive fire burns for 7 hours, reaching temperatures of 2,500 degrees. More than one million books were destroyed or damaged. The fire led to a 7-year closure of Central Library.

1992: In the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict, the temporary replacements for the John Muir and Junipero Serra Branch Libraries both burn to the ground during the Los Angeles Riots. The two branches are temporarily located in mini-malls while their historic buildings undergo seismic upgrades.

2004: The new Hyde Park Miriam Matthews Branch Library opens at Florence and Van Ness Avenues in December. The branch is renamed in honor of Miriam Matthews, the first African American librarian in California.

2014: Amanda Gorman becomes the first Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate at a ceremony at Central Library.

2015: LAPL wins the National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the nation’s highest honor for museums and libraries, in recognition for its significant and exceptional contributions to the community.

2018: New Americans Initiative launches, making LAPL the first public library to partner with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. The initiative evolved from the “Your Path to Citizenship Starts at the Los Angeles Public Library” program which began in 2010.

2020: The COVID-19 pandemic closes all 73 library locations to the public, only the second full closure in LAPL history.

2020: LAPL goes fine free, part of an effort to remove barriers to access and make the Library more welcoming to the city’s neediest residents.

2021: A video of L.A. local teen punk band The Linda Lindas filmed at the Cypress Park Branch Library goes viral, racking up 4.4 million views on Instagram, winning two Webby Awards, and making The Linda Lindas the most-talked about band in the country.

"An integral part of the community"

On December 13, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden tweeted a special birthday message for the library. “For 150 years, you have empowered generations who have walked through your library and digital doors,” she said. “You are an integral part of your community.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Happy 150th anniversary, LAPL!

Photo: Los Angeles Public Library's Central Library by Matthew Field, via Wikimedia Commons

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