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Salvage Completed, Now Library Seeks a Temporary Home

Times Staff Writer

As the last of an estimated 600,000 water-damaged books were hauled from the soot-blackened Los Angeles Central Library and dispatched to deep-freeze warehouses, library officials met Sunday to begin tackling what may prove to be the most difficult part of the clean-up.

Most pressing, officials said, is the task of finding a temporary home for the library’s 200-member staff and at least part of its undamaged collection. More than 220,000 undamaged or lightly damaged books remain on library shelves, while hundreds of thousands more have been moved to the Los Angeles Convention Center.

“The issue that faces us right now is how to get back into library service. We want to do that as soon as possible,” Robert G. Reagan, the library’s director of public relations, said after library officials met in their temporary headquarters on the 35th floor of the Arco Tower.

The fire that last Tuesday gutted sections of the 60-year-old downtown landmark, and destroyed as many as 20% of its more than 2 million volumes, displaced not only the library employees, but those who administer the city’s 62-branch library system.

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Even though building inspectors have concluded that only 5% of the library suffered structural damage, officials said they have decided not to reopen the building to the public until after the completion of a planned $110-million renovation project, originally scheduled to begin next April.

“We’re looking to see if there is any way to accelerate the rehab,” said Donald Spivak of the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency, which is financing the project. The rehabilitation of the library, at 5th and Flower streets, will include construction of a new wing.

Among the temporary sites to be considered, Reagan said, are several that were identified during a search for quarters to be occupied during the planned renovation. However, Reagan said it is not known if any of those buildings would be available immediately.

Library officials, who, along with hundreds of volunteers, were granted temporary access to the damaged building to remove threatened and damaged books, do not know when--or if--employees will be able to resume work in the structure.

City building inspectors are to complete a detailed examination of the library today, said Reagan, the library’s chief spokesman.

More Details Due on Fire

The Los Angeles Fire Department has not disclosed the cause of the blaze, which raged out of control for six hours. However, sources close to the investigation have told The Times that they have all but ruled out an accident.

A Fire Department spokesman said Sunday that officials expect to make further comment about the cause of the fire sometime today.

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Another issue facing the Board of Library Commissioners, which is scheduled to meet Tuesday, is how to proceed with restoration of books that were hauled from the library last week by an army of volunteers.

On Sunday, Eric Lundquist, whose firm, San Francisco-based Document Reprocessors, was given a $50,000 emergency contract to plan the evacuation, said that 600,000 water-damaged books have been shipped to three cold-storage warehouses in the Los Angeles area for freezing. Freezing prevents the growth of mold or mildew, which can destroy books.

Contract Bids

The city plans to put out to bid a contract for the restoration of the frozen books, perhaps by the end of the week. The task involves drying out the books over a long period, as many as seven to 17 days, in machines that extract moisture during the process. The cost is expected to be between $1 million and $2 million, said Lundquist, whose firm plans to bid on the contract.

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Library officials must also decide whether to award a second contract for cleaning smoke-damaged books, including some of those still on library shelves, or to assign that work to the library staff.

The cleaning could cost another $1.5 million to $2 million, Lundquist said.

Earlier Sunday, Mayor Tom Bradley toured the library. His office has estimated that it will cost $20 million to replace destroyed books and periodicals and restore damaged books.


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