O.C. residents get a say in Fullerton’s Hunt Library arts programming

The Hunt Library in Fullerton.
The Hunt Library in Fullerton is set to undergo a $2.5 million renovation and two arts nonprofits, Arts Orange County and Heritage Future, were approved by the city to run the Hunt’s programming.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Over the next three to four months, the design for the restoration of Fullerton’s historic Hunt Library will take shape, and those involved are asking the community to participate in the planning.

The mid-century modern building designed by architect William Pereira has been at the center of discussion among the city, developers and preservationists over the last couple of years. The Norton Simon Foundation and Hunt Foods donated the building, located at 201 S Basque Ave., to Fullerton in 1962. Although Norton Simon had intended to use the building as an art museum, the city used it as a public library until its closure in 2013 due to lack of funding. For several years, Grace Ministries International Church leased the building.

In 2018, Fullerton City Council voted to designated the Hunt as a historical landmark, and a year later state Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva helped secure a $2.5 million California State Library grant to renovate it. In 2020, council members agreed to a proposal by two arts nonprofits, Arts Orange County and Heritage Future, to reuse the building as an art and cultural center.

Now, construction is set to start in the fall for the restoration to be completed by spring 2022, but city staff is also investigating alternative ways to accelerate the tentative schedule, according to City Manager Ken Domer.

Through email, Domer said the city anticipates bringing the Hunt up to building code will cost more than the amount of the grant.

The first effort to gather information is a 15-minute online survey that will be available for the next two to three weeks in English, Spanish and Korean.

Richard Stein, Arts O.C. president and CEO, said the organization has received 600 responses to the survey in the first 10 days.

The group is also conducting interviews with stakeholders including other arts organizations, businesses, public school and higher education staff, elected officials and groups who have been concerned over the future of the building like Save the Hunt and Fullerton Heritage.

Lastly, they are scheduling virtual brainstorming sessions that will likely be open to the public in mid-February.

“What we’re interested in getting to know is what kinds of activities the community would like to see there,” Stein said. “There are many people in the adjacent neighborhoods as well as the local schools who used to go to it when it was a library and loved the place.”

The Hunt Library in Fullerton
The Hunt Library in Fullerton is set to undergo a $2.5 million renovation and two arts nonprofits Arts Orange County and Heritage Future were approved by the city to run the Hunt’s programming.
(Kevin Chang/Times OC)

Although Fullerton consolidated its library services at 353 W Commonwealth Ave., Stein said there is a desire to have some library services offered at the Hunt.

The grant funding is exclusively meant for the renovation of the building and the programming will have to be self-sustaining financially. There is a proposal to install a café that could be a source of revenue. The property may be used as rental space for community meetings or special events such as weddings. Some activities like performances could also merit an admission fee while others could be offered at no cost.

Stein said there is interest in restoring after-school activities for students that used to take place when the Hunt was a functioning public library. However, staff would need to find grants or revenue to provide those activities for free.

Lectures by historian Charles Phoenix about 1950s and 1960s Southern California culture, exhibits of artwork by artist Shag, who lives in O.C., or fun events like tongue-in-cheek Tupperware parties are some of the ideas put forth for the arts program that would be in keeping with a mid-century modern theme.

“Whatever we do there, we hope will not only be attractive to local residents but will draw visitors as well to the community,” Stein said.

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