Fullerton’s historic Hunt Library is back after being checked out for a decade

The Hunt Branch Library in Fullerton is reopening to the public on April 13 after being shuttered for 11 years.
(Gabriel San Román)

Days before its grand reopening, the Hunt Branch Library in Fullerton bustled with activity.

A crew from the Museum of Teaching and Learning set up an exhibit on the historic Mendez, et al. vs. Westminster School District, et al., school desegregation case.

Workers with power drills in hand put the final touches on the facility’s multimillion-dollar renovation.


After being shuttered as a library for 11 years, the Hunt, with its grand T-shaped columns and windowed façade, is making an unlikely comeback, especially when past city officials once considered selling the property.

“I’m really glad to see it intact, functional, lit up and ready for people to use,” said Councilman Bruce Whitaker from one of the library’s atriums shaded by a jacaranda tree. “It’s been more than a decade that we’ve been battling to get to this point.”

Last June, Fullerton City Council voted unanimously to reopen the Hunt.

Turning a page on its history, the Hunt’s automatic sliding doors will finally open to the public on April 13 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a celebration featuring music, live entertainment, vendors and food trucks from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The event hints at how the historic library is going to be reimagined for its second act.

“It’s a lot more than just a library,” said Daisy Perez, Fullerton’s deputy city manager. “Part of it is a library, part of it is going to function like a community center.”

To that end, the Hunt’s center row, where shelves full of books once stood, is now open space for arts and culture programming. The remaining library services are housed in a large conference room off to the side. An old computer lab has also been repurposed as a mini-museum of the Midcentury Modern library, complete with original furniture from its opening in 1962.

The Hunt will be open as a library Tuesdays through Thursdays every week between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Fullerton’s historic Hunt Library is undergoing a renovation as an art and cultural center. The city and two nonprofits, which will run programming at the library, are asking for the community’s input.

Jan. 28, 2021

Its improbable return stands as a victory for concerned residents who have fought for years to salvage it.

“We wanted the library to stay in public hands, and we wanted it to be used for public purposes,” said Matt Leslie, who co-founded Save the Hunt in 2018. “We didn’t want it to be sold off, and we didn’t want the city to lease it to somebody for some other use.”

Nestled by train tracks on the city’s southwest side, the Hunt first opened in 1962 as a gift from Norton Simon, an industrialist and art collector. Simon loaned works from Pablo Picasso, Paul Cézanne and Arshile Gorky he collected to exhibit at the Hunt during its more storied days.

Acclaimed architect William Pereira designed the building in Midcentury Modern fashion.

The library joined the Disneyland Hotel, Laguna Playhouse, UC Irvine campus buildings and the former Los Angeles Times newsroom in Costa Mesa among Pereira’s notable architectural accomplishments in Orange County.

But by 2013, the Hunt’s library hours had already been significantly cut due to lack of funding when an encampment of unhoused people in pitched tents swelled along the railroad tracks behind it.

“A library employee said that they had felt threatened by the actions of someone from the encampment,” Leslie recalled. “That was the rationale the city manager back then used to close the library.”

A book depository sits below a dedication plaque outside of the Hunt Branch Library in Fullerton.
(Gabriel San Román)

Following its closure, Fullerton leased the property to Grace Ministries International, a neighboring evangelical church with the stipulation that it couldn’t be used as a library.

“It was only supposed to be closed for 18 months,” Whitaker said. “And then 18 months stretched into years. The city manager and the administration at the time was doing it as a cost-saving measure.”

Concerned that the Hunt later appeared in the city’s listings of surplus properties up for sale, Jane Reifer, a preservationist activist, joined Leslie to found Save the Hunt alongside other Fullerton residents.

The listing eventually came down.

In 2018, council members designated the library as a local historical landmark. A year later, it was added to the National Registry of Historic Places.

“There was a struggle all the way through this entire project,” Reifer said. “We’re having to start with what is available now and grow it as we go.”

In another boost to the Hunt’s revival, Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva helped secure $2.5 million from a California State Library grant in 2019 to renovate the building.

Two years later, Quirk-Silva, a former Fullerton mayor, and state Sen. Josh Newman (D-29), pushed for an additional $2.75 million in state funding to further the library’s revitalization, with $250,000 earmarked for programming.

“A lot of the arts and culture programs will actually be taught in house,” Perez said. “The Fullerton School District is our biggest partner. We’re also partnering with a lot of local nonprofits that are based in the area.”

Upcoming cultural events at the Hunt include a Día del Niño festival on April 27, a “May the Fourth” Star Wars day and Cinco de Mayo celebration.

The Hunt, as Fullerton’s hidden historical gem, is ready to shine again.

“It’s been a long time,” Whitaker said. “This is needed, especially here on the southwest side of town.”