Newport Beach Central Library turns the page on its first 25 years

The entrance to the Newport Beach Central Library at 1000 Avocado Ave. is pictured in 2012, the year before an expansion was completed adding 17,000 square feet to the building.
(File Photo)

The pages in the books of the Newport Beach Central Library capture time from prehistory to the future.

The building that houses the tomes has been here 25 years, and its silver anniversary Wednesday is being celebrated with a party that kicks off this weekend inside and outside the 71,000-square-foot civic hub at 1000 Avocado Ave.

In the summer 1994 edition of the library’s “Check It Out” newsletter, then-Mayor Clarence “Bus” Turner praised the new $8.2-million Central Library and its champions after two years of construction.

“Just months ago, there was nothing but raw dirt on the east side of Avocado Avenue, where now stands the nearly complete new Central Library for Newport Beach. What a marvel! Such a focal point of pride for our community — a facility that will serve as a resource for this generation and generations to come,” Turner wrote. “Within the walls of this edifice, fountains of data lie waiting to be discovered by citizens representing all strata of life. Given that knowledge is the cornerstone for all societies, ours is now assured of at least four solid cornerstones on which it can continue to build.”

An interactive directory at the Newport Beach Central Library announces the building’s 25th anniversary.
(Hillary Davis)

City Library Services Director Tim Hetherton has worked for Newport Beach for 21 years, most of them at the Central Library. He started as a reference librarian.

He was there for the 2013 expansion that added 17,000 square feet to the building, connecting the library with the then-new City Hall and giving it a new children’s room, a multimedia and recording lab, a cafe and abundant open space for study and gathering. He’ll be there as the library begins its next addition, a lecture hall to enhance the visitor experience at performances and events that have outgrown the Friends Room.

Aside from the circa-1929 Balboa branch on the peninsula, the Central Library is the oldest in the Newport system. The Mariners branch on Irvine Avenue was rebuilt in 2006, and the reconstructed Corona del Mar location will open July 20.

A short-lived branch in Newport Center was approved in 1976 with hopes of being a large central space, but funding constraints kept it to 14,000 square feet, which was too small. The Irvine Co. traded the four acres where the current Central Library sits for the two acres of the former Newport Center library site.

Then-City Manager Dave Kiff takes time off from his regular duties to read at a story time at the Newport Beach Central Library in 2010.
(File Photo)

Children’s and adult programming, from craft and story hours to author talks, have grown increasingly popular in the past 25 years, Hetherton said. To keep up with the digital era, the library adopted an e-commerce feature by enabling users to create online accounts to hold books, search databases and pay fines.

In addition to the Central Library’s three companion branches, the city library system offers “concierge” services at community centers around town for people to drop off books and pick up holds. Hetherton likens the customer service to Neiman Marcus.

Even with all the modern conveniences and attractions of affluent coastal communities, people like public libraries, Hetherton said.

“People will always want the intellectual freedom to go to the library to pursue a topic that interests them,” he said.

The 1992 groundbreaking of the Newport Beach Central Library, which opened two years later on Avocado Avenue.
(Courtesy of city of Newport Beach)

Those looking for books on local history will find a collection available only at the Central Library.

An upstairs nook has the feel of a private study, with armchairs, gooseneck lamps and glass-enclosed oak shelves. The books are marked on their spines by an icon of the Balboa Pavilion and cover topics such as the butterflies of Orange County and the cookbooks of the Balboa Yacht Club and the Corona del Mar High School PTA. A five-volume history of California is there, as are crisply rebound editions of the Newport-Costa Mesa Criss-Cross Directory — telephone book — from the 1950s through ’70s.

In a cozy room just inside the library’s main entrance is the Friends of the Library bookstore, where donated books and retired library volumes are sold for a song — Shakespeare, Dostoevsky and modern mysteries can be had for 50 cents each. The volunteer-run bookstore sees sales of about $3,000 to $4,000 a week, with the money reinvested in children’s and cultural arts programming, furnishings and equipment.

The Friends had worried that the rise of the Kindle and other mobile e-readers would eat away at interest in their shop, said the organization’s president, Amy Hunt.

They need not have. On Friday, a clerk praised a boy of about 12 for his choice of a book about military planes. An older man wheeled out a box of purchases on a hand truck, and a regular donor came by with a tote full of eclectic titles, from Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” to the autobiography of Malcolm X.

People go to the library to indulge their curiosity about the world, Hunt said. “We still have so many people that come in who love books.”

Central Library’s 25th-anniversary celebration

Here are upcoming 25th-anniversary events at the Newport Beach Central Library, 1000 Avocado Ave. All are free.

Sunday: Concert by Smith, a six-piece country-pop band, 6 to 7:30 p.m. on the Civic Green

Tuesday and Thursday: Magician David Skale and his “Show Me the Bunny” show, 11 a.m. Tuesday and 2 p.m. Thursday in the Friends Room

Thursday: Newport Beach resident, author and former Angels pitcher Jim Abbott will talk about perseverance and adaptability, 7 p.m. in the Friends Room. Cake will follow in the courtyard.

July 13: Books & Bunnies annual children’s festival with story times, crafts and outdoor activities, 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Children’s Room

Also, the Central Library is issuing limited-edition silver-toned library cards and selling commemorative canvas totes for $6.

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