Richard J. Riordan Central Library

Coordinates: 34°03′01″N 118°15′18″W / 34.05028°N 118.25500°W / 34.05028; -118.25500 (Los Angeles Central Library)
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Richard J. Riordan Central Library
(listed as Los Angeles Central Library)
South entrance at Hope Street
Richard J. Riordan Central Library is located in the Los Angeles metropolitan area
Richard J. Riordan Central Library
Location in Los Angeles
Richard J. Riordan Central Library is located in California
Richard J. Riordan Central Library
Location in California
Richard J. Riordan Central Library is located in the United States
Richard J. Riordan Central Library
Location in United States
Location630 W. 5th St., Los Angeles, California
Coordinates34°03′01″N 118°15′18″W / 34.05028°N 118.25500°W / 34.05028; -118.25500 (Los Angeles Central Library)
Arealess than 1-acre (0.40 ha)
Built1925 (1925)
ArchitectBertram Grosvenor Goodhue
Architectural styleArt Deco, Mexican Late Baroque
NRHP reference No.70000136[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHPDecember 18, 1970
Designated LAHCMMarch 1, 1967[2]

Richard J. Riordan Central Library, also known as the Los Angeles Central Library, is the main branch of the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL), in Downtown Los Angeles. It is named after Mayor of Los Angeles Richard Riordan.

It consists of two buildings: the Goodhue Building and the Tom Bradley addition, from 1925 and 1993, respectively.[3] The former was listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) on December 18, 1970.[4]

Cornerstone of the original building, laid in 1925
Los Angeles Central Library at Flower Street


The historic Central Library Goodhue building was constructed in 1925 and is a Downtown Los Angeles landmark.[5] The Central Library was designed by the architect Bertram Goodhue.[6] The Richard J. Riordan Central Library complex is the third largest public library in the United States in terms of book and periodical holdings. Originally named the Central Library, the building was first renamed in honor of the longtime president of the Board of Library Commissioners and President of the University of Southern California, Rufus B. von KleinSmid. The new wing of Central Library, completed in 1993, was named in honor of former mayor Tom Bradley.[7]

An expansion/renovation was proposed from circa 1966, but the library system did not enact them until 1986, when the library experienced two fires, one on April 29 and one on September 3, both due to arson.

The April 29 arson fire “destroyed 20 percent of the central library collection and suspended service on the 5th Street building…The catastrophes came amid prolonged public debate concerning the future of the Goodhue building, which for years had been cited for major fire and safety hazards.”[8]

After the second it remained closed until 1993, when its renovation opened.[9] The 360,000-square-foot (33,000 m2) addition,[10] eight stories tall, had a cost of $213.9 million. The addition has about the same size as the original building. The project included a garage with 940 spaces, an atrium with a glass roof, an auditorium with capacity for 235 people, and a puppet theater. Amy Wallace of the Los Angeles Times wrote that "Where the old edifice was cramped, the new is expansive and imaginative".[11] Christopher Knight of the Los Angeles Times described the wing as "a major architectural disappointment" but that some of the pieces of art that were commissioned to be installed in the building "partially mitigates the fiasco."[10]

The complex (i.e., the original Goodhue building and the Bradley wing) was subsequently renamed in 2001 for former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, as the Richard Riordan Central Library. Michael Finnegan of the Los Angeles Times wrote that initially there was some "political uproar" but as the renaming came it "was all but forgotten".[12]


The Los Angeles Public Library received the National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the nation's highest honor given to museums and libraries for service to the community.[13] City Librarian John F. Szabo and community member Sergio Sanchez accepted the award on behalf of the library from First Lady Michelle Obama during a White House Ceremony on May 20, 2015.

The Los Angeles Public Library was selected for its success in meeting the needs of Angelenos and providing a level of social, educational, and cultural services unmatched by any other public institution in the city. The award recognizes the library's programs that help people on their path to citizenship, earn their high school diploma, manage personal finances and access health and well-being services and resources.[14]


A portion of the four-part mural by illustrator Dean Cornwell depicted the stages of the history of California at the Los Angeles Central Library.

Goodhue designed the original Los Angeles Central Library with influences of ancient Egyptian and Mediterranean Revival architecture. The central tower is topped with a tiled mosaic pyramid with suns on the sides with a hand holding a torch representing the "Light of Learning" at the apex. Other elements include sphinxes, snakes, and celestial mosaics. It has sculptural elements by the preeminent American architectural sculptor Lee Lawrie, similar to the Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln, Nebraska, also designed by Goodhue. The interior of the library is decorated with various figures, statues, chandeliers, and grilles, notably a four-part mural by illustrator Dean Cornwell depicting stages of the History of California which was completed around 1933.[15] The building is a designated Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.


The Central Library was extensively renovated and expanded in a Modernist/Beaux-Arts architecture, according to Norman Pfeiffer, the principal architect of the renovation by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates from 1988 through 1993. It included an enormous, eight-story atrium wing dedicated to former mayor Tom Bradley. Now, the library contains an area of 538,000 square feet (50,000 m2), and has nearly 89 miles (143 km) of shelves and seating for over 1,400 people.[16]

Access needs[edit]

The building's limited access had caused a number of problems. Generally, the accessible public stacks in the reading rooms only displayed about 10 to 20 percent of the actual collections of the Central Library. For anything else, a patron had to submit a request slip and a clerk would retrieve the desired material from the internal stacks. The internal stacks, contained in two concrete structures joined by a catwalk, were packed very tightly and had very little headroom. For example, while the normal reading rooms had ceilings of anywhere from 10 to 15 feet (3.0 to 4.6 m), the internal stack areas were many shelves of about six-foot (1.8 m) height, stacked internally, so that while the public access area was about two floors plus the Science and Technology alcove, the internal stacks were approximately five or six floors. To fix this would have required substantial renovation, a cost the city was not willing to cover, especially after hours of operation were cut in response to the 1978 property tax reduction measure Proposition 13.


Plaque honoring those fighting the arson fire of 1986

The catalyst for the renovation was a devastating arson fire that began in the stacks on April 29, 1986.[17] Although the building was safely evacuated, its vintage construction precluded the ventilation of heat and smoke, and limited firefighter access. It took firefighters over seven hours to extinguish the fire and little fires continued to sprout for several days.[18] Some 400,000 volumes—20 percent of the library's holdings—were destroyed, with significant water and smoke damage to 700,000 more.[17][19] The estimated cost for replacing the 400,000 works lost was over $14 million.[20] A second fire, on September 3 of the same year, destroyed the contents of the music department reading room.


As part of the rehabilitation plan, LAPL sold its air rights to developers, enabling the construction of the eponymous Library Tower across the street. The skyscraper was subsequently renamed the First Interstate World Center and later the U.S. Bank Tower.[21] Additional funds were raised through corporate and personal contributions which flowed from the effort of the "Save the Books" campaign formed by Mayor Tom Bradley.[citation needed] Among the findings during the re-cataloguing of the library's collections was a Shakespeare Fourth Folio.

The campaign, co-chaired by Lodwrick Cook, then CEO of Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) had targeted a goal to raise $10 million through corporate and individual contributions ranging from schoolchildren's nickels and dimes to $50,000 contributions by Los Angeles businessman Marvin Davis and MCA Chairman Lew Wasserman. William Eugene "Gene" Scott, an LAPL neighbor and member of the 43 strong blue ribbon committee, donated the use of his University Network television studios and himself to what became a 48-hour telethon to raise $2 million towards the total objective.

The Library's renovation was completed in 1993. It included a large new underground parking facility, with a park designed by Lawrence Halprin over it. The Central Library reopened on October 3, 1993.

Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection[edit]

The Central Library houses and archives the extensive Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection of over 3 million historic photographs from varied sources and collection acquisitions. Many images can be viewed by the public via the online photo collection.[22] The physical Photo Collection is an important resource for researchers, writers, curators, and educators.[23]


The Photo Collection's sources have included: the former Los Angeles Herald-Examiner newspaper photo morgue (2.2 million images); the Security Pacific Bank Collection (250,000); the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce image archives (60,000), Hollywood Citizen News/Valley Times Newspaper Collection (30,000), and the 'Turn of the century Los Angeles' collection (150,000).

Collection sources also include the portfolios by noted local and regional photographers,[24] such as: the Ralph Morris Archives (25,000) of the Los Angeles area from 1939 to the late 1970s; a collection of 1940s L.A. images taken and donated by Ansel Adams,[25] and the William Reagh Collection (40,000—800 online) of post-war Los Angeles to 1991.[26]

Shades of L.A.[edit]

The "Shades of L.A. Collection" is an archive of more than 10,000 images donated/duplicated from family photo albums (collected by former Photo Collection director Carolyn Kozo Cole) that expanded the archives to include the many diverse ethnic histories of people in the city, beyond the already well represented 'Anglo' population.

The project's success expanded to the California State Library creating the "Shades of California" collection to represent the state's diverse communities, using the LAPL methods and model.[23] The book "Shades of California: The Hidden Beauty of Ordinary Life" resulted from the successful statewide project.[27] Over a dozen California city and county library districts also created local Shades of California collections, such as Monterey, Riverside, and Humboldt County.[28]

Science, Technology & Patents Department[edit]

Located on Lower Level 2 of Central Library's Tom Bradley Wing, the Science, Technology & Patents Department's diverse collection covers agriculture, automobile repair, computers & computer science, cooking, construction (including building codes), consumer information, cosmetology, engineering, mathematics, medicine, nutrition, pets, psychiatry, UFOs, zoology, and more.[29]

In partnership with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the Science, Technology & Patents Department is a United States Patent & Trademark Resource Center,[30] offering resources to assist with patent and trademark research. The department holds a complete collection of all Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) publications including the complete Patent Gazette and Trademark Gazette issues from the opening of the PTO, and a complete set of registration books published by the United States Copyright Office starting from Volume 1. The patent collection also includes United Kingdom Old Law Patents 1617–1981 and United Kingdom New Law Applications 1979–1994.

Feathers map collection[edit]

In 2012 Glen Creason, the map librarian for the central library, was invited to the Mount Washington home of John Feathers, who had died at age 56 with no known relatives. According to Creason, the cottage contained approximately 100,000 maps and the library was delighted to accept their donation. "This dwarfs our collection," he said, "and we've been collecting for 100 years." The maps were stored on shelves, in boxes, in file cabinets, and even in the cabinet of an old stereo system with its electronics removed.[31]

Creason said it could take a year to catalog and organize the maps and 600 feet (180 m) of shelving would be needed, but the library would then have the fifth-largest map collection in the country.[31] The collection has been sorted and organized by volunteers C.J. Moon and Audrey Dalton.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. November 2, 2013.
  2. ^ "History of the Cultural Heritage Commission". Archived from the original on September 16, 2010. Retrieved June 8, 2010.
  3. ^ "ART AND ARCHITECTURE OF THE CENTRAL LIBRARY". Los Angeles Public Library. Retrieved 2020-10-20.
  4. ^ "Los Angeles Central Library". National Park Service. Retrieved 2020-10-20.
  5. ^ "EARLY HISTORY, DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION OF THE GOODHUE BUILDING | Los Angeles Public Library". Retrieved March 7, 2016.
  6. ^ Orlean, Susan (2018). The Library Book. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 3. ISBN 978-1-4767-4018-8.
  7. ^ "TOM BRADLEY WING: HISTORY AND DESIGN | Los Angeles Public Library". Retrieved March 7, 2016.
  8. ^ Pitt, Leonard; Pitt, Dale (1997). Los Angeles A to Z: An Encyclopedia of the City and County. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-20274-0.
  9. ^ Starr, Kevin (1993-10-01). "L.A.'S NEW LIBRARY : How Books Helped Build Los Angeles : Thriving Despite Two 1986 Fires and Many Earlier Travails, The Central Library Offers a Hopeful Vision of Los Angeles". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2020-10-20.
  10. ^ a b Knight, Christopher (1993-10-06). "ART REVIEW : The Library's Most Valuable Additions : Some artworks commissioned for the new Bradley Wing help to mitigate the building's architecturally disappointing design". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2020-10-20.
  11. ^ Wallace, Amy (1993-10-01). "Downtown L.A. Library Opening a New Chapter : Learning: Expanded, renovated building's details blend with the past". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2020-10-20.
  12. ^ Finnegan, Michael (2001-06-19). "A Library Named 'Riordan'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2020-10-21.
  13. ^ "Los Angeles Public Library wins top award for cultural institutions". Retrieved March 7, 2016.
  14. ^ "National Medal for Museum and Library Service | Los Angeles Public Library". Retrieved October 26, 2015.
  15. ^ Fuentes, Ed. "Central Library Murals Are Also 80 Years Old". KCET. Archived from the original on May 21, 2013. Retrieved May 10, 2013.
  16. ^ "About the Central Library". Los Angeles Public Library. Los Angeles Public Library. Retrieved May 25, 2015.
  17. ^ a b Kellogg, Carolyn (October 11, 2018). "Must Reads: Who started the 1986 fire at the Los Angeles Library? Susan Orlean investigates in her new book". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 16, 2020.
  18. ^ Orlean, Susan (2018). The Library Book. New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 31, 34. ISBN 978-1-4767-4018-8.
  19. ^ Orlean, Susan (2018). The Library Book. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 34. ISBN 978-1-4767-4018-8.
  20. ^ Orlean, Susan (2018). The Library Book. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 113. ISBN 978-1-4767-4018-8.
  21. ^ Myers, David W. (June 21, 1987). "L.A. Tower to Be Tallest on Coast : Ground Breaking Due Tuesday for 73-Story Downtown Building". Los Angeles Times.
  22. ^ "'Photograph Collection Overview' (online photos)". Los Angeles Public Library. 2011. Retrieved May 27, 2011.
  23. ^ a b Bancroft Library — Shades of California Archived August 8, 2011, at the Wayback Machine . accessed March 30, 2012.
  24. ^ "LAPL Photo Collection Sources". Retrieved November 12, 2019.
  25. ^ LAPL newsroom release: "Images of 1940s Los Angeles Donated by Adams to the Library Include Many Lost Icons" (Images Available) Archived May 17, 2012, at the Wayback Machine . Retrieved December 2, 2012.
  26. ^ Community Arts Partnership—William Reagh Los Angeles Photography Center.
  27. ^ Hill, Kimi Kodani. Shades of California: The Hidden Beauty of Ordinary Life. ISBN 978-1-890771-44-7. Retrieved July 29, 2022.
  28. ^ Bancroft Library — Shades of California city and county collections links Archived August 8, 2011, at the Wayback Machine (bottom of webpage) . accessed March 30, 2012.
  29. ^ "The Science, Technology, & Patents Department | Los Angeles Public Library". Retrieved May 3, 2016.
  30. ^ Group, Public Information Services. "Los Angeles, California". Retrieved May 3, 2016.
  31. ^ a b Pool, Bob (October 19, 2012). "Saved from Dumpster: Amazing map collection makes librarians tingle". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 7, 2016.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]