AKA: Los Angeles Public Library, Central Branch #4, Los Angeles, CA; Los Angeles Public Library, Riordan, Richard J., Library, Los Angeles, CA

Structure Type: built works - public buildings; built works - social and civic buildings - libraries

Designers: Goodhue and Winslow, Architects (firm); Hardy, Holzman, Pfeiffer, Architects (HHPA) (firm); Luckman Partnership, Incorporated (firm); Dean Cornwell (painter); Julian Ellsworth Garnsey (painter); Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue (architect); Hugh Gelston Hardy (architect); Albert Herter (painter); Malcolm Holzman (architect); Charles Irving Luckman Sr. (architect); A. W. Parsons (painter); Norman Henry Pfeiffer (architect); Carleton Monroe Winslow Sr. (architect)

Dates: constructed 1922-1926

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630 West 5th Street
Downtown, Los Angeles, CA 90071-2002

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Southeast corner of South Flower and West 5th Streets;


The Los Angeles Public Library Main Library #4, also known as the Richard J. Riordan Library, was one of the last works by the talented New York architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue before his death. While the city wanted a distinguished Spanish Colonial Revival building, what it got instead was an eclectic and modern synthesis of the architect's varied career and experiences. While it contained elements of Egyptian Revival, Spanish Revival and other styles, the building also displayed a formal minimalism that presaged design trends of the late 1930s and 1940s. Completed in 1926, the building experienced significant overcrowding by the 1960s, triggering talk of its replacement by a new building. Opponents of demolition fought for a decade to preserve the original building, and succeeded in convincing city authorities to devise an innovative land-air rights swap that enabled a new wing to be added next door in the 1980s.

Building History

The Los Angeles Public Library Main Library #4 replaced the Los Angeles Normal School #1 (1882) on this site, at the southwest corner of 5th Street and Grand Avenue. The architect was the prominent New Yorker, Betram Grosvenor Goodhue (1869-1924), who came to CA in the mid-1900s to design a residence for James Waldron Gillespie (1865-1954) in Montecito. Goodhue developed a fascination with the state, and became a favorite designer of wealthy clients in the Santa Barbara area, Pasadena, and San Diego. Goodhue, along with Frank P. Allen, Jr., and Carleton M. Winslow, Sr., collaborated on the planning of the Panama-California Exposition in San Diego, CA, in 1915, for which Goodhue and his associates designed at least nine pavilions, including the Administration, Indian Arts, Kansas, Science and Education, Home Economy, Botanical, Varied Industries and Food Products, San Joaquin Valley, and Southern California Counties Buildings, as well as entry gates and at least two buildings credited in contemporary publications to the New York firm of Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson, the Fine Arts and California State Buildings. (Goodhue, Winslow, and another man, C.L. Wilson, of the California Counties Commission have been credited with the design of the latter. ) Goodhue's sophisticated reinterpretation of Spanish Colonial precedents, seen most dramatically in the California State Building, strongly influenced the course of institutional architecture in the state for the next two decades.

By the mid-1970s, the adminsitration began considering alternatives to the 1926 main library building and produced the Los Angeles Central Library Feasibility Study: Central Library Blue Ribbon Committee Report II. (See Carryl Carter, Los Angeles Central Library Feasibility Study: Central Library Blue Ribbon Committee Report II, [Los Angeles: Los Angeles Public Library, 1976].) Fiscal conditions for state and local governments were diminished by the passage of Howard Jarvis's Proposition 13 on 06/06/1978, so little money was to be had for either renovation or new construction. Discussion of demolishing the building occurred throughout period between 1976 and 1986. In the latter year, two fires, one on 04/29/1986 and another on 09/03/1986 caused about $14 million worth of damage, but changed public attitudes toward the building. Air rights to build a tower above the library were sold to Robert F. Maguire III (born 1935), who erected the Library Tower across West 5th Street completed in 1990. Additional funds were raised by grass-roots contributions and the efforts of lMayor Tom Bradley and leading businessmen in the city.

Building Notes

Carleton Monroe Wislow, Sr., (1876-1946) was credited as the "Associate Architect" of the library; Julian Ellsworth Garnsey (1887-1969) painted geometric patterns on the dome of the interior rotunda in the Central Library, second floor. A. W. Parsons also worked on the murals in the Reference Room with Garnsey. Garnsey wrote "Decoration of the Los Angeles Public Library," for the book, Concrete in Architecture, (Chicago: Portland Cement Association, 1927), p. 44-47. Dean Cornwell painted the Four Eras of California History (1927-1932) on this rotunda ceiling, as well; this branch opened its doors in 1925, on the site of the original California State Normal School #1.


Architect Charles Luckman (1909-1999) was involved in a renovation of the Main Branch of the LAPL in the late 1970s.

Extensive restoration and renovations to the building were required after the 1986 fire incinerated approximately 400,000 books and part of the local history collections.

A battle over demolition of the Main Library #4 was settled in the mid-1980s, when the library sold air-rights to Maguire Properties to finance a 330,000-square-foot addition styled to harmonize with the Goodhue original facility. The Los Angeles Public Library web site stated of the addition: "The city chose Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates to carry out the project. After proposing several concepts, the firm gained approval for a compromise that would locate a partially underground addition on the site occupied by the East Wing and its surrounding gardens. Plans were complicated by two arson fires in 1986 that forced the building’s closure, and in 1987 an earthquake produced more damage. Finally in 1993 the library reopened with the Goodhue Building restored, a new 330,000 sq ft wing named for Mayor Tom Bradley in place, and the West Garden reborn. The new Tom Bradley Wing is an elongated rectangle that fills the entire eastern portion of the library site. Its exterior in particular has been calculated to harmonize with the Goodhue Building. Blocky, massed shapes echo the original and windows are framed and proportioned to resemble Goodhue’s design. The materials--smooth buff colored wall surfaces, green terra cotta tile and decorative copper detailing--balance against the older wing’s sheer surfaces of concrete and limestone.." (See Los Angeles PublicLibrary.org, "Art and Architecture of the Central Library," accessed 07/20/2017.)

PCAD id: 1261