New Chapter : 3 Branch Libraries Shut by Quake to Reopen

Times Staff Writer

At three Los Angeles Library branches, tremors from last fall’s Whittier earthquake have been reverberating for months.

The branch libraries, all built of unreinforced masonry in the 1920s, were declared unsafe by the city’s Department of Building and Safety after the Oct. 1 quake and closed to the public.

Librarians at the Wilshire, Robert Louis Stevenson and the Junipero Serra branches found temporary facilities a few blocks from the original structures and began the arduous process of moving their libraries.

After months of repairing, reshelving and cataloguing tens of thousands of volumes, the librarians expect to open their doors to the public again today.


Library officials predict that the relocated branches will remain in operation for several years while the Robert Louis Stevenson and Wilshire facilities are repaired. Plans call for the Junipero Serra branch to move into a new building.

“They train us for a lot of things in library school, but earthquakes are not one of them,” said Pearl Yonezawa, senior librarian at the Robert Louis Stevenson branch.

Yonezawa said her branch has moved two-thirds of its collection--or about 10,000 volumes--into its new building at the corner of Whittier Boulevard and Spence Street in East Los Angeles. Although the new building is just down the street from the old site at 803 Spence, moving that many books is no small undertaking.

After sorting and reshelving everything, “we will know the collection probably better than we ever had before,” Yonezawa said.

“I’ve never been involved in anything like this on such a firsthand basis before,” said Camille Carter, senior librarian at the Junipero Serra branch in South-Central Los Angeles.

Carter and her staff of four moved about 21,500 volumes to their new location at 4301 S. Figueroa St., about two blocks from the old building on South Olive Street.

Carter said the new location, in a mini-mall at the corner of Figueroa and Vernon Avenue, is just beginning to establish a presence in the community.

“We spent a few weeks here, and people just passed by. Now they’re starting to look in,” she said. “They’re starting to get interested now.”


Library officials plan to relocate the Serra branch in a new building in the area. But Carter said she expects the temporary branch to remain in operation about 10 years because the city has “low or no” funds for new library buildings.

Lina Daukas, senior librarian at the Wilshire branch, said, “I think anything’s easy if you have the time for it.”

But she added, “We didn’t really have the time.”

The Wilshire branch staff moved more than 27,000 of its roughly 46,000 volumes from the old building at 149 N. St. Andrews Place to a former post office building at 316 N. Western Ave. As they selected books to be moved, library workers also took inventory of the entire collection.


The Postal Service left the building in early May, and library workers have been occupying it since mid-June, Daukas said, but local residents with letters to mail “still almost take the door off the hinges.”

“People are not willing to give up on this being a post office,” she added.

Opening ceremonies are scheduled for 10 a.m. today at the Wilshire branch, noon at the Stevenson branch and 3 p.m. at the Serra branch.

Nine of the 62 library branches experienced “some delay in service because of the quake,” said library spokesman Robert G. Reagan. By the end of October, five of the branches had reopened, he said.


More work was required on the three branches scheduled to open today, as well as on the Malabar branch building at 2801 Wabash Street. The library was unable to find a suitable temporary home for the Malabar branch and has been providing bookmobile service in the area, Reagan said.