Design Center May Be Temporary Library

Times Staff Writer

A lengthy search to find a temporary library to house materials removed from the Los Angeles Central Library following two 1986 fires may end today with the selection of the Design Center in downtown Los Angeles, officials said Tuesday.

At a meeting today, the Board of Library Commissioners will be presented with a staff proposal to open the temporary library in the Art Deco building on Spring Street. Library officials indicated that they expect the five-member commission to approve the plans.

More than 1.7 million books have been stored in warehouses since two deliberately set fires in April and September of 1986 swept through closed sections of the library. The fires and smoke and water damage destroyed about 400,000 books and caused an estimated $24 million damage.


Under a plan outlined in a report by Librarian Wyman Jones, nine of the Design Center’s 10 floors would be opened to the public as a library until the Central Library’s restoration is completed in about 4 1/2 years.

An additional 48,000 square feet may also be leased to thaw the approximately 700,000 water-damaged volumes that were frozen in an effort to preserve them. They would be heat- and vacuum-dried in the center’s north wing.

Bob Regan, spokesman for the Library Commission, said most staff reports are approved, although he noted that the board reserves the right to alter or delay the plans.

Betty Gay, Central Library director, said that if the Library Commission approves the plan, the Design Center facility could be opened as early as October but only after a lot of work.

“It’s a enormous undertaking,” Gay said. “The public has been very anxious about when the library would reopen.”

Although only a section of the Central Library was actually touched by fire, the millions of gallons of water used to combat the blaze raised the humidity level so drastically that all the books had to be moved out to prevent damage, Gay said.

Those books will have to be moved to the Design Center, catalogued, indexed and placed on specially designed, earthquake-resistant shelves, which have just been ordered, she said.

Furniture for public seating areas will have to be purchased, and new instruction materials prepared so the public can locate books. Also, employees will have to be hired and trained since more than half of the Central Library staff was laid off following the fires.

Gay said more than 800,000 people a year used the Central Library and joked that “every one of them must have called me.”

One wing of the building already is vacant, and building manager Jim Carleton said the furniture retailers who operate out of the building’s 300,000-square-foot south wing are relocating. Carleton said he approached library officials in late December about leasing the space.

The building, built in 1926 for the Title Insurance Co., is owned by Qvale & Qvale.

Officials originally hoped to make a temporary library out of the original Bullock’s department store at 7th and Hill streets in downtown Los Angeles, now the site of the St. Vincent’s Jewelry Mart. Building improvements made the venture too costly and the site was rejected in October, 1987, Gay said. Alternate sites, such as the old Broadway department store at 4th and Hill streets, were also considered.