Frances Goldwyn Library to Premiere in Hollywood : The Light, Open $3.24-Million Building Is Part of a New Chapter in Institutional Design

Times Staff Writer

Didn’t you always think that a library was supposed to be a dreary, musty place with poor light to read by and a couple of stone lions guarding the door?

Well, in the case of the new Hollywood library, you thought wrong.

By design, the new regional library in Hollywood is anything but dark or dreary. And there isn’t a stone lion in sight.


“What we had to decide is what a library should be like at the end of the century, like a movie theater or a museum, not something with musty old walls,” said Samuel Goldwyn Jr., president of the Samuel Goldwyn Foundation, which built the new structure. “As a kid, my impression of libraries was that they were so dark you couldn’t see. I hope we’ve solved that problem with this library. The design you look for is one that will stimulate people to go read a book. The building has to make that sort of a statement. There’s a lot of light here. The one thing I want is to excite people to come in and read.”

Out of the Ashes

Soon after the old Hollywood library was destroyed in an unsolved arson fire on April 13, 1982, Goldwyn and the five other foundation board members decided to take on building a new one as a special project and hired Venice architect Frank Gehry to design it.

To date, the Samuel Goldwyn Foundation has given $3.24 million to pay for the entire cost of the new building and furnishings, the largest cash contribution ever donated to a public library in California.

And on Thursday, Goldwyn officially will give the new Hollywood library to the city to become part of the Los Angeles Public Library system. It will be named the Frances Howard Goldwyn Hollywood Regional Branch in honor of his late mother.

“When this library burned down, I was looking for something to personify my mother and I felt the library would be the right thing,” Goldwyn said. “We built the Samuel Goldwyn Theater at the Academy of Motion Pictures in 1974 and that seemed to personify what my father was about. I think it’s very dangerous to build memorials to people just to serve yourself. They should serve the community.

“I came from a family who had a tremendous reverence for books. My mother’s formal education ended when she was 14 and she became a model, then an actress. She educated herself in libraries and became a scholar of English and French history. When she was traveling she would go to libraries in different cities.”

Previous Libraries

On a recent tour of the new library, Goldwyn talked about how his mother took him on regular visits to the old Hollywood library on Hollywood Boulevard between Ivar Avenue and Cahuenga Boulevard.

The original Hollywood library, a project of the Women’s Club of Hollywood, opened on Feb. 3, 1906, in two rented rooms in the Van Scycle Building on Prospect Avenue (now Hollywood Boulevard).

The library’s first permanent home was a structure built in 1907 by Andrew Carnegie at Ivar and Prospect avenues. When Hollywood was annexed to Los Angeles on Feb. 10, 1910, it became a branch of the Los Angeles Public Library.

By 1923, Hollywood’s library had outgrown its Carnegie quarters and a new building was constructed at 6357 Hollywood Blvd. Seventeen years later, the Hollywood library moved to its present location at 1623 Ivar Ave.

“My mother felt that there was an answer in books to everything,” Goldwyn said. “My father’s education was to age 13 and then night school. But my father had a tremendous respect for people who read books and enormous respect for those who write them. He never forgot that the architect of a good movie is the writer.

“My father had a reading problem. He read very slowly, but he had the ability to read very comprehensively. And he pushed me in that direction. He said he wanted me to have the advantage he didn’t have. I think he never totally mastered English. He was so busy surviving and he never had a chance to.”

Goldwyn said that after completing negotiations with the city to rebuild Hollywood’s library, he had envisioned opening the new branch in the summer of 1984, before the Olympics. “But we just didn’t make it. We changed designs because we originally started with a library that would accommodate 60,000 books. Now we needed room to house 100,000 books,” he said.

Many Volumes Donated

From the burned library, only 20,000 of the 90,000 volumes of books and publications were salvaged. The new collection was, for the most part, donated by the public, corporations, library associations and clubs and organizations.

“The community really came forth,” Goldwyn said. “And now, with the Central Library fire--like the Hollywood one, set by an arsonist--the community will have to help us do a lot more.” Goldwyn is an executive board member of the Save the Books drive for the downtown library, and has enlisted help from others at the Samuel Goldwyn Foundation.

“It is enormously important to make everyone aware of the importance of books in our lives,” Goldwyn said. “There are a great many hidden emotions that come out with libraries. Libraries have come to us at critical times of our lives, as a child, or as a person who came to Hollywood as a screenwriter, or often in times of extreme loneliness, people go to the library to read.

“I never had thought that way until the ground breaking. And then people showed up and handed me a book. It was an emotional thing to them. So many people owe their roots to this place.”

Among the large personal donations of magazines and books, Goldwyn said, were those from the Alfred Hitchcock family and Mrs. William Wyler, widow of the director. The Hitchcock family donated 100 years of Punch, the British humor magazine; Mrs. Wyler gave the library her husband’s collection of 200 books on films and the movie industry.

“Johnny Carson is a big pusher of books,” Goldwyn said. “He gave us $10,000.”

In 1983, when the original model for the library was unveiled, Goldwyn said that he and Gehry were criticized for its design.

“People said that it didn’t look like what a library was supposed to look like,” he said. “Have four rather solid walls, be dark and have Shakespeare and Plato on the walls. That’s good, too, but this is different. It will be a little bit controversial, but anytime you make a statement you get controversy. I hope people will come and look at it, and maybe want to come in and read a book.”

Design Enlarged

Gehry said that he originally had designed a 15,000-square-foot library with two floors, but had to change it to 20,000 square feet with two floors to accommodate the 100,000 volumes.

“The idea was to get daylight in there with direct sun that wouldn’t bother the readers, but would give an open feeling,” said Gehry, an award-winning architect who, among his design credits in the Los Angeles area, lists the Gehry House in Santa Monica, the Santa Monica Place mall, the downtown Children’s Museum, the Cabrillo Marine Museum in San Pedro, and the Aerospace Museum at the California Museum of Science and Industry.

“This is our first library from scratch,” Gehry said, explaining that his company designed the remodeling of the Loyola Law Library. “To get the nice light, we studied it with models.” The building is done in stucco and glass.

With a five-story glass window towering over the front of the two-story structure, the building gives a visitor the feeling of being outside when inside. It also has two reflecting pools on either side of the reading rooms on the second level, creating a tranquil effect.

“We wanted the reflecting pools to serve as a garden for the reading rooms,” Gehry said.

Marble benches and tables and chairs are available for adult patrons who wish to sit in the library and read, and there is a special section for children.

“What we want to emphasize is that this is a library for everybody,” Goldwyn said. “I don’t want to confuse that point. We have a special movie emphasis, but you can find anything else you want. Kant’s ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ aside Modern Bride magazine.”

For film scholars and researchers, there is a special collection room that will house more than 20,000 volumes pertaining to the early history of the motion picture industry and the history of Hollywood. Hollywood library director Georgette Todd plans to have rotating exhibits of film and Hollywood memorabilia in a section on the first floor.

“The special collection room will be by appointment only,” Todd said. “It is a reference research collection and a room for serious use.”

Security Measures

Both Gehry and Goldwyn said that they believed one of the biggest problems in designing the library was that of security.

“I think the level of paranoia from the library people was high, and that’s understandable because of the arsonist,” Gehry said. “They asked me to put 20-foot walls around the building and moats with piranha. They were joking, but they did insist on the high walls. And we agonized about those walls.”

The front walls facing the street are about 15 feet high, and there is a sliding, white wrought-iron gate that will be closed at night.

In front of the two high walls that face the street, Gehry added two blue-tiled structures, to “scale down the big walls to people. We used tiles because graffiti would be easy to get off.

“Security was always an issue, but at the same time you want to create a library that is accessible to the people. You can look into most of the building and it will feel welcome,” Gehry said.

“There are also sophisticated burglar and fire alarm systems, surveillance cameras, a 24-hour guard service,” Goldwyn said. “And the books that aren’t to be taken out have sensors that beep when you walk through the machine at the front door. All the libraries have those now. And special temperature and humidity controls for the books.”

When it came time to decide what to use in decorating the interior walls, Goldwyn said that they were in a quandary at first. “People might expect busts of Homer, Plato and Bacon, but we didn’t want that,” he said.

Goldwyn and the others on the library committee decided on murals of some of Hollywood’s most famous films. They were created by production designer George Jenkins and several other Hollywood production designers and executed by Ron and Ed Strang, specialists in photographic backings.

There are 11 giant murals, ranging from 4 by 6 feet to a 20-by-13-foot mural of “The Covered Wagon,” filmed in 1923. Eleven smaller murals are each 2 by 3 feet.

Dedication of the Frances Howard Goldwyn library is scheduled at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, with tours to follow at 2 p.m. The library will not be open for business until Friday. Its hours will be 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. It is closed on Sundays.

“This whole thing will be worth the cost,” Goldwyn said, “if people will come here and read and be inspired. If you can inspire one person to do something really worthwhile, then it’s all worth it. I think that will happen.”