Panel Decides to Move Irving Branch Library : Culture: Despite protest, facility will be moved from historic location to a site occupied by a carwash. Commissioners call action 'emotional and heartwrenching.'


The Los Angeles Public Library Commission, in an action that members described as "emotional and heartwrenching," has decided to move the Washington Irving branch from its historic mid-city home of 64 years to a new location now occupied by a carwash.

After a 4 1/2-hour meeting, the commission voted 4-1 in favor of the move, overriding calls by a majority of 62 speakers to save the old branch by renovating and expanding the 3,918-square-foot stucco-and-brick building named for the 19th-Century author of "Rip van Winkle."

Many in the crowd of about 120 book lovers at Holman United Methodist Church said they could not make sense of the decision to abandon the library on Arlington Avenue--declared a city historic monument in 1976--in favor of a new $3.3-million, 9,000-square-foot structure. The cost of the move to the new site 13 blocks west on Washington Boulevard was put at $2.4 million.

"We don't need bigger modern buildings," said Dr. Margo Griswell, a mid-city resident who opposes a new library.

But the five-member commission, faced with the prospect that the Irving branch would have to be closed by June, 1991, because it does not meet earthquake safety standards, decided to order the staff to begin negotiations to purchase a plot of land on Washington Boulevard. The site is now home to Freddy Dee's Carwash.

"I'm old and I appreciate old things," commission President Martha D. Katsufrankis said in explaining her vote for the new library. " . . . But we have to think about serving the whole community for the future."

To mollify those who wanted to preserve the old building, the commission took its action after area City Councilman Nate Holden guaranteed that another "viable funded" use, such as a community center, would be found.

There have been repeated assurances that the Irving building would be preserved by the city regardless of the commission's decision. But those promises did little to calm the fears of some preservationists that no city agencies would be interested in using the building.

"I don't believe that for one second," said one area resident. "What are they going to turn it into--a police station? A fire station? It's a library, damn it."

The debate over the fate of the Irving branch has dogged the commission for the last several months, resulting in several marathon meetings. A mediation panel offered by the Los Angeles County Bar Assn. held 18 hours of discussions with various factions within the mid-city area to reach a compromise. But those efforts were unsuccessful.

The passions evoked by the debate were readily evident Wednesday night. Speaker after speaker marched to a single microphone during a two-hour public hearing to argue the matter.

"We need a new library," area resident Bernie Gill said. "Everyone should look to the future."

"A new library on Washington Boulevard would be a good start to upgrade the area," added Neil Berry, a former president of the Mid-City Chamber of Commerce.

Suzette Clark, a 20-year-old college student who is a lifelong area resident, countered: "I go to Boston College, and the library there was built in 1863. They just built a new library there. But no one wants to study in (there)."

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