Thursday, April 9, 2009

Central Public Library

The 1925 Central Library in Los Angeles, designed by architect Bertram Goodhue (1869-1924), is a beautiful example of early Art Deco architecture. Goodhue had a successful career building neo-gothic churches at the turn of the century and he transitioned to an Art Deco style in the 1920s at the end of his career. In the Central Library, he used modern building techniques in combination with motifs inspired by ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, and Byzantium.

The library is constructed with reinforced concrete and has a central pyramid that is decorated with mosaics. Here is a view of the West side of the library from Flower Street with the Maguire Gardens and Fountain in the foreground:
Architectural sculptor Lee Lawrie (1877-1963), who is probably most famous for his giant bronze sculpture of Atlas on 5th Avenue at Rockefeller Center in NYC, decorated the exterior of the Central Library. Here is a closer look at his work on the West entrance:

The frieze over the door depicts a symbolic race with two horsemen passing the flame of knowledge:

The South side of the building includes several Lee Lawrie busts representing History (the Greek historian Herodotus), Letters (the classical Roman poet Virgil), Philosophy (Socrates), Statescraft (the Byzantian Emperor Justinian), Art (Leonardo Da Vinci), and Science (Nicolaus Copernicus). Here is Virgil on the left and a very grumpy looking Socrates on the right:

The South entrance on Hope Street is flanked by Lee Lawrie's "The Thinker" (a Greek artist embodying Reflection) and "The Writer" (an Egyptian scribe embodying Expression):

The interior rotunda is decorated with a chandelier and murals painted in 1932 by the artist Dean Cornwell who was a successful American poster and magazine illustrator. The murals depict the "Four Great Eras of California History" (from the conqueror's perspective): Discovery, Mission Building, Americanization, and the Founding of Los Angeles.

The "Mission Building" mural:

Details from the "Discovery" mural:

The chandelier in the rotunda is made of cast bronze and is part of a model solar system which includes the blue and green glass globe of the earth, planet and moon ornaments on the chains, and a sunburst pattern on the dome's ceiling:

A view of the children's section which has a beautiful painted ceiling and a series of large 1928 murals by Albert Herter also depicting the history of California:

The quote above the North entrance on 5th Street is from a 1345 treatise on books and libraries called the "Philobiblion" by English bishop and bibliophile Richard de Bury: "Books alone are liberal and free; they give to all who ask; they emancipate all who serve them faithfully."

The Central Library contains many more sculptures, fountains, murals, and mosaics. The following links have more photos and information about the Central Library's art and architecture:
Los Angeles Public Library
Public Art in LA
Big Orange Landmarks

If you are walking around downtown L.A., the library is a great place to stop for a rest. There is a nice shop with books and gifts related to L.A. and libraries, an inexpensive cafeteria, outdoor gardens, galleries with pretty good exhibits, and a nice children's section. Here is the location of the library:

View Central Library in a larger map


  1. Lovely looking building and great pictures

  2. Thanks for your comment. Downtown LA has many beautiful art deco buildings. I am planning to go on the LA Conservancy's Art Deco walking tour sometime this month.

  3. My grandfather told me that my great grandfather Henry G. Richer assisted with the actual painting of the murals. My grandfather remembers mixing the paint colors.

    -David Richer

  4. We just did the LA Conservancy Art Deco walking tour. It is a really good tour everyone should go on -- local or tourist. Going on another tour and will definitely spend time in the LAPL downtown.