Glendale center is getting a Brand-new look

Entrepreneur Leslie C. Brand's dedication to literacy and the arts — and Glendale's support of his vision — is evident in the ongoing evolution of the Brand Library and Arts Center, created at the unique mansion he willed to the city he helped build. That legacy now includes a renovation project set to begin in April, with a revitalized facility projected to open in July 2013.

There are but a few registered historical houses that serve as public libraries, mostly because of scale and fragility. Old houses are not particularly conducive to a volume of public traffic or for use to manage the organization of tons of information. In spite of 21st century technology, much of this information is still in bound book form, which requires voluminous space.

In 1956, the mansion was converted into a public library, and the grounds opened to the public. In 1969, a 21,000-square-foot wood, glass and concrete structure was added to serve as a community art center. The design by architect Raymond Jones is an early postmodern style. The architect organized the addition around an enclosed patio, currently the sculpture garden, after the same fashion as the mansion's solarium.

Jones took a risk with a design out of step with the formal modernism of his time and complemented and supported the design of the pre-existing structure, careful not to overwhelm it. The white house still dominates the hill, though the addition is four times its size.

The 2012 renovation plan and $7.8-million budget — approved by the Glendale City Council in December — will be allocated first to make the structure current with California building standards and update technology. The balance of the budget goes to improving function and the quality of visitors' experience by restoring much of the original mansion to the 1904 condition, offering an aesthetic journey back to the turn of the 20th century.

According to Gruen Associates partner Debra Gerod, executive architect on the renovation, three big ideas should stand out. First, a new entry will more effectively integrate where the 1969 construction and original mansion meet. It will also improve access according to the Americans with Disabilities Act and relieve the historic front door from traffic pressure.

The new entry plaza that will accommodate events and provide visitors an expansive view of the front grounds, the 1969 sculpture garden and an inviting entry hall and reception area housing the circulation desk, which will flow into the solarium of the original structure. The integration of the two structures will synthesize the function of the library, recital hall, art galleries and studio.

“The heart of the mansion was the solarium, which will now become the heart of the library,” Gerod said. It is the largest room in the original mansion and will become the contact point where visitors will be greeted at the reference desk by library staff.

The renovation will also rearrange the stacks (i.e., walls of shelving) by using the larger rooms from the 1969 addition for purposes that require larger spaces. The smaller spaces in the original mansion will be reserved for reading and study at a residential scale, allowing visitors to experience the Brand lifestyle — they will feel at home.

Fran Offenhauser with Offenhauser/Mekeel Architects is collaborating on the project with Gruen Associates to implement a historic preservation treatment plan for the mansion. The exterior will be rehabilitated to historic standards, and the landscape will be modified to showcase the stunning architectural features. According to Offenhauser, original ornate ceiling stencils will be used to restore the coved ceilings, stonework on the reception hall fireplace will be replaced, and missing windows will be fabricated and installed.

Offenhauser added: “The most striking visual change will be the restoration of 1904 interior colors; the original reception hall was crimson, with citric green and soft feminine colors for the parlor, because it also served as a drawing room where ladies withdrew after dinner from smoking and drinking habits of men. The details are rendered from Brand-era photography and historic research. No construction documents for the original mansion were available to us.”

It looks as though the Glendale community is perpetuating Brand's promise to promote American exceptionalism through the arts and literacy, by making it available to anyone interested in the pursuit.

TERRI MARTIN is an art historian and critic.

The Brand Library's pre-renovation sale of books, art and furniture continues on April 7, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; 1601 W. Mountain St., Glendale; (818) 548-2051 and www.library.ci.glendale.ca.us/booksale.asp.

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