A Tale of Two Libraries: One Weeps, One Rejoices : Hollywood Branch Rises From Ashes

Times Staff Writer

They had waited four years for this moment, and when it came--as actor Kirk Douglas snipped the blue ribbon that opened the Hollywood Library--exhausted staffers shed the last of their tears.

“To see it all complete, I just can’t believe it,” said library director Georgette Todd, wiping tears from a happy face. Todd is the person many staffers credit with keeping up their morale during the long, arduous process of rebuilding the library after it was torched by an arsonist in 1982.

Through a grant of $3.4 million from the Samuel Goldwyn Foundation, the library’s new home is an unusual stack of flesh-colored boxes designed by Venice architect Frank Gehry. The 100,000-volume collection of the Frances Howard Goldwyn Hollywood Regional Library is said to be even better than the one that burned.

But it was the day-in-day-out efforts of Todd and her 14-member staff that made Thursday afternoon’s opening possible. Up until the last minute, staffers were unpacking boxes that had been stored in an East Los Angeles warehouse.


Sipping lemonade during the reception, Laurie Perlowim, a messenger clerk at the library since 1970, appeared exhausted, but satisfied.

“I’m breathless,” Perlowim said. “It came on so fast. First we didn’t know when it would be and then here we are.”

One reason the staff pushed to have the library ready for Thursday afternoon’s opening ceremony was the need to vacate the East Los Angeles warehouse. Books from the fire-damaged Central Library will be stored there, Todd said.

Like the Central Library staff, Hollywood Library employees once faced the tedious task of cataloguing undamaged books and rebuilding the collection. Although the Central Library is larger and may take twice as long to rebuild, both staffs have had to deal with the uncertainty and discomfort that follows a major fire.


Understands Their Plight

Perlowim understands the Central Library employees’ plight because the warehouse where Hollywood staffers spent the last four years is a far cry from the sleek new building.

“We didn’t mind the sparrows coming through the windows vandals broke every night, but the pigeons were a bit much,” said Sally Dumaux, special collections librarian. “It was cold in the winter, hot in the summer and dirty all the time.”

Dumaux said the uncertainty was the hardest part. “We just weren’t sure what was going to happen, and then the mountain of work was very depressing,” she said. “But now the nightmare is over!”


Dumaux said the turnaround in morale came when the staff began accepting donations to the collection, such as 100 years of the British magazine Punch that belonged to Alfred Hitchcock.

Like most of the guests at the opening, the staff was dressed for the occasion in summer suits and dresses. But for the employees, shedding jeans and sneakers symbolized the end of their four-year ordeal.

“We grew very close over the last four years, and job titles came to mean very little,” clerk-typist Heidi Adagio said.

Todd said that as the end of job drew near, 10 of the 14 employees took a seminar in how to choose wardrobe colors. “We wanted to treat ourselves after the years of wearing jeans,” she said.


Walls in Pastel Shades

The library walls themselves are bathed in soothing pastel shades, punctuated by large, bold movie posters. A central stairway winds its way up to the second floor, which contains comfortable tile benches.

The benches and some of the outer walls are made of tile so graffiti can be easily removed. Before the noon reception, a security guard hurried to wipe off traces of the previous night’s spree.

Retired librarian Eleanora Crowder said she was concerned about the reflective pools that were designed to lend tranquility to the library.


“That water isn’t pretty,” she said, looking out of a second-story window. Speaking from the benefit of more than 40 years’ experience as a librarian, she said: “People are just going to throw things in; kids will try to swim in it, and drunks will wash their faces in it.”

All Kinds of Reactions Expected

In an interview before the opening, Samuel Goldwyn said he anticipated all kinds of reactions to the new structure.

“The more controversy the better,” Goldwyn said, “because more people will come and look. Maybe they’ll pick up a book in the meantime.”


At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Councilman Michael Woo announced the formation of a task force to study the possibility of converting a burlesque theater adjacent to the library into a children’s theater.

“It’s the sign of Hollywood’s comeback,” Woo said, as the crowd cheered.

With the end of the ceremonies, staffers prepared to return to a what was once--four long years ago--normal routine.

“I’m nervous; it’s been so long,” Adagio said. “I just hope the public understands and is patient with us.”