Built in 1926, the Richard J. Riordan Central Library offers one of the most interesting plotlines in Los Angeles, starting in 1872 with the launch of the library system, and featuring chapters where the library is the focus of a nationally important preservation battle during the 1960s and ‘70s that led to the founding of the Los Angeles Conservancy, and a showplace for significant works of art.
The story is one worth telling in large part because of characters like librarian Mary Jones, who, when the library outgrew its space in the 1889 city hall, drew up enthusiastically received plans for a new one.
But City Librarian was a patronage not a Civil Service job, so Ms. Jones, though incredibly competent, could be fired, and was.
She was replaced by the politically well-connected literary figure Charles Fletcher Lummis. Outraged, local feminists and influential women’s groups withdrew their support and the project stalled.
Still bound and determined to get their books, folks found variations of the library in various downtown commercial buildings downtown, “including at one point on two floors in Hamburger’s, the city’s first department store,” says Los Angeles Public Library docent Kenon Breazeale.
In 1911, the city received a $210,000 Carnegie gift [and] began building branch libraries, but complicated political wrangling delayed the creation of a Central Library until the early 1920s.
Architect Bertram Goodhue devised the new master plan, departing from traditional styles of the time to work with more modern—early Art Deco—ideas.
“The library’s combination of modern design and a very traditional art form—architectural sculpture—makes it unique,” says Beazeale.
“Goodhue was one of the last American architects to believe that important public buildings need important sculpture to articulate their function for the larger world. . . architectural modernism was eliminating decoration from the exterior of buildings in favor of industrial materials and purely functional design.
Little remains of Goodhue’s original grounds; much of it was eliminated to accommodate the new Tom Bradley Wing.
Maguire Gardens is best considered a reproduction of Goodhue’s original landscape/hardscape, reworked by Lawrence Halprin and Douglas and Regula Campbell, with several important public artworks.
Art and letters, art and architecture—these convergences continue to make Central Library a cultural touchstone in L.A. and a tribute to one of the most monumental institutions in America, the library itself.
The Central Library is one of the final major public buildings constructed in the U.S. to utilize full-scale sculptural decoration.
Free walk-in library tours offered Monday through Friday at 12:30 PM, Saturday at 11AM-2PM, Sunday at 2 PM. No reservations needed. Meet at the lower-level bookstore. lapl.org
Photographs: courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library (current) and Security Pacific Bank Collection/Los Angeles Public Library (historic)
If you had been a local sailor in 1895, at some point you probably would have come across Pier Number One in Redondo Beach. There you would have found a small reading room filled with donated books, allowing an escape from the hardships of sailing life. Although Pier Number One was swept out to sea during a major storm (occurring in either 1907 or 1915, depending on whom you talk to), this modest reading room was the humble beginning of the future Redondo Beach Library.
Redondo Beach’s first free public library opened in 1909 in a room in the City Hall on Emerald Street, and over the next twenty years, the growing library struggled with space problems for its 450 volumes. The library soon became so popular that by 1917 the collection filled the entire west wing of the City Hall. By 1928 there was an unquestionable need for more space, and a new site along the Esplanade was suggested by the Chamber of Commerce.
Designed by architect Lovell Pemberton and built at a cost of $45,000, the new main library in Veterans Park was opened in July of 1930. A three-story building, the library combined both Spanish and Dutch colonial styles with arched windows and gables on its north and south wings. Art Deco moldings decorated the front façade, and windows were set in almost every wall to allow unrestrained views of the bay.
Built just to the right of a Moreton Bay Fig tree which still stands today (and is itself a registered landmark), the library boasted 20,000 volumes and served an appreciative population of 10,000 residents.
During the Depression, the library briefly became part of the Los Angeles County Library System. Staff took voluntary pay cuts, performed janitorial work, and paid the light bill out of their own salaries. In 1937, with better financial times, the library withdrew from the County System, and by 1943 there were more than 32,000 books on the shelves.
Many local residents recall frequenting the Veterans Park Library and borrowing more than just books.
“In the late 1940s, there was an area inside the library that allowed children to check out toys,” recalls Patsy Murray, former Redondo Beach resident and now living in Hermosa Beach. “I remember as a young girl walking from Pacific Coast Highway over to the library to borrow toys.”
In later years the library struggled to keep up with population growth and redevelopment.
Although the library’s architecture and beautiful location secured it a place on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981, there were concerns about the building’s age and ability to withstand earthquakes.
After serving as Redondo’s main library for sixty years, the historic library closed in July of 1991. In July of 1993, ground was broken for construction of a permanent library adjacent to City Hall, and two years later the new Redondo Beach Main Library opened at 303 N. Pacific Coast Highway.
The Veterans Park Library Building was internally remodeled and opened in 1996 for special events. Now known as the Veterans Park Community Center, the 13,333 square foot historic building contains a grand ballroom, banquet room, mezzanine, meeting rooms, catering kitchen, office, bridal room, restrooms, elevator and storage area. The building is leased exclusively to Spectrum Catering for special events.
As you wander through Veterans Park and admire the library, be sure to stop next to the Moreton Bay Fig tree and gaze toward the pier. It’s easy to imagine those long ago days when sailors pulled up to Pier Number One, eager to sit in the reading room and escape.
Written by: Denise Kano
Photography: courtesy of the Redondo Beach Historical Museum
The Hill House: The Early History of Hermosa Beach
Although given the name of “Hermosa” by early developers (“beautiful” in Spanish), the earliest years of Hermosa Beach were described as far from beautiful. Once referred to as a collection of bare sand dunes, the area was subject to unrelenting wind that whipped across the dunes and made life miserable for even the most resilient pioneer. Early settlers traveled west with hopes of dreamy vistas only to find bleak sand dunes and hills covered with barley. Some enterprising folks, however, saw great possibilities and started making plans.
Ben Hiss, a local entrepreneur and budding real estate developer, provided crucial services for the slowly growing town, and used horses and wagons to deliver provisions over the dunes to townspeople. Hiss often received payment in the form of parcels of raw land, and many of the early subdivision maps of Hermosa Beach show numerous tracts identified with the name Hiss.
By 1903, Hermosa consisted of five homes, the first one built known as Hill House and owned by the Hiss family. Hill House was located at Pier Avenue and Monterey Avenue (then known as Summit Avenue), and was similar to most homes built during this time period in that they were wood-frame structures built solely for the practical purposes of eating, sleeping, and staying warm during the cold, wet winters by the sea. John Hiss, the first baby born in Hermosa Beach, was born in Hill House on November 9, 1905, followed by other Hiss family members. Ben Hiss continued his efforts to build the city and was responsible for organizing a petition for the incorporation of Hermosa Beach. In 1907, Hermosa Beach became the nineteenth incorporated city in Los Angeles County.
The first Hermosa Beach downtown area was considerably quieter than the downtown of present day, and consisted simply of a post office, grocery store, and the Kerwin Bakery and Lunch Room, all located near the corner of Pier Avenue and Hermosa Avenues. The first Hermosa Pier was built in 1904, made entirely of wood, and extended five hundred feet out into the ocean. The Pier was partly washed away during a storm in 1913, and then later town down completely. Eventually, a new concrete pier was constructed and paved with asphalt.
The only transportation system through Hermosa Beach was the Santa Fe Railway. Although there was no actual railway station, a platform was built seven blocks from the beach on Pier Avenue (then called Santa Fe Avenue).
The Boardwalk was the first version of the modern-day Strand, and was built in 1908. However, it lacked a sea wall protecting it from the many winter storms, and was rebuilt many times until the first concrete Strand was constructed.
Soon, Hermosa Beach started gaining a reputation as a blossoming “resort town,” and in 1910, ocean view lots went for $105 to $350, with just $5 down and $5 per month. Residents numbered almost 3,000, and Hermosa claimed to be the safest city on the West Coast, advertising, “30 miles of paved streets.”
With the opening of the First Bank of Hermosa, and the Hermosa Grammar School accepting enrollment, Hermosa Beach’s future looked promising and truly beautiful.
Written By Denise Kano
Photography: Courtesy of the estate of Roger Creighton
The intersection of Manhattan Avenue and Manhattan Beach Boulevard has been the focal point of activity in Manhattan Beach since the city’s inception. In the 1930’s, the area became more developed and provided ample parking on both sides of the street, allowing people easy access to the many new shops. Since that time, there have obviously been many changes in the area over the years. Almost all of charming “mom and pop” shops that used to dot these streets are long gone, but memories of those times remain for many long-time residents.
For a long time, the cornerstone of this area was the La Mar Theater, which opened in 1938 and was located in the 200 block on the south side of Manhattan Beach Boulevard. The large construction reportedly represented one of the more outstanding art deco structures in all of California. At a cost of $65,000, the interior of the theater featured modernistic sea motifs, blue ceilings, and mirrored walls.
The theater boasted a state-of-the-art design for that time period and was part of the popular Pacific Theater chain. From the first day of operation, it was considered a place one could go to escape from the harsh realities of the Great Depression. From the onset of World War II, the theater was a place of inspiration, showing war movies with praise for the American soldier to appreciative audiences. Theater patrons could also buy U.S. War Bonds at the theater, and afternoons could be spent meeting friends to watch cowboy movies and cartoons.
Former La Mar employees have fond memories of the long ago. “I used to work there from 1977 to 1978,” said Devon McPherson Ferry. “We used to take turns going in to watch the movies. And I went to that theater my entire childhood and teenage years – I used to walk there from my house in the summers to see the kiddie movies they showed in the mornings.”
In 1977, the La Mar underwent a revamping and became partitioned so it could be a multi-screen theater and offered three movies instead of just one in order to compete with the newer, popular multi-screen theaters in the area. Times changed, however, and even bigger theaters were built with the latest in sound technology, a lot more seating, and, eventually, more amenities to be included in the audience’s theater experience.
The competition from these theaters, along with rising film costs, forced the La Mar to close its doors permanently. Demolition of the landmark building took place in July of 1981 to make room for an office building and several retail stores. (Ironically, the new office complex sat dormant for 10 years reportedly due to a building glitch.)
Today, as you drive west on Manhattan Beach Boulevard down toward the Manhattan Pier, there are numerous downtown shops and eateries to choose from. This bustling area is still the focal point of activity for Manhattan Beach. The only thing missing is the charm of the old La Mar Theater.
Written by Denise Kano
Photograph courtesy of the Jan Dennis Collection.
For over 80 years, a picturesque landmark has welcomed visitors as their ship slowly pulls into Avalon Harbor. The first casino, Sugarloaf Casino, was built by William Wrigley, Jr., to serve both as a ballroom and as Avalon’s first high school. This casino was demolished, however, in 1928 in order to make room for a larger venue due to Catalina’s growing population. Sugarloaf Rock was subsequently blasted away so that the ocean view could be enhanced for this new project.
On May 29, 1929, the current casino was completed at a cost of 2 million dollars. This decorated, 12-story building was known at the time as the tallest structure in Los Angeles County, and featured spectacular ocean views from three sides. With a design that’s considered Art Deco and Mediterranean Revival, the casino includes a movie theatre and museum on the first level, and a circular dance hall on the top level. Famous musicians from the Big Band era played at the Casino Ballroom, occasionally for four to six week engagements. During the summer season, the ballroom was reportedly full every night.
The Avalon Theatre was the first to be designed specifically for movies with sound, and continues to show first-run movies nightly. Walnut wood paneling adorns the lobby and French doors decorate the room. The theatre is reportedly so well-insulated that attendees are unable to hear any sounds coming from the upstairs ballroom. The original pipe organ, built by Page Pipe Organ Company of Lima, Ohio, is still played live on Friday and Saturday nights before performances. Organs were typically used as accompaniment to silent films until motion picture sound became more common, and also used for concerts given prior to film screenings. Today, the Avalon Theatre organ is one of only four working Page Organs in the world.
Although the ballroom was completely restored a few years ago, there are plenty of details reminding visitors of its romantic heritage and history. With a fifty-foot ceiling featuring elaborate Tiffany chandeliers and an elevated stage with raised seating areas, it’s easy to imagine the big band orchestras that once graced this stage. Constructed of maple, white oak, and rosewood, the elaborately-designed dance floor reportedly sits “on a layer of felt and acoustical paper which were installed over a sub floor of pine that floats above support beams on strips of cork.” These numerous layers ensure a smooth dancing experience for the ballroom’s many visitors.
“Hollywood stars, movie premieres, big bands, dancing and much more – the world famous casino building has been host to them all,” said John Boraggina, curator for the Catalina Museum. “The Casino has been Catalina’s most preeminent landmark and has served as the island’s center of entertainment for visitors and residents alike.”
The Catalina Casino remains a stunning reminder of Catalina’s glorious past and continues as an example of the romance of the island.
Written by: Denise Kano
Photographs: Courtesy of the Catalina Island Museum
Before lighthouses were installed along the Pacific Coast, shipmasters took their chances near the coastline, particularly loathing the dangerous stretch of coastal waters along the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
On May 1, 1926, the U.S. Lighthouse Service began operating what was considered “the brightest beacon” in Southern California: the Point Vicente Lighthouse, a cylindrical-style lighthouse. Still in operation as a navigational aid, the 67-foot tall lighthouse marks the northern end of the Catalina Channel on the Pacific Coast, and helps warn mariners of the rocky coast.
The lighthouse was built on plastered, reinforced concrete, and is similar to the one on Anacapa Island in the Channel Islands. Using a 1,000-watt bulb which is focused through a five-foot lens, the lighthouse’s beam is visible over twenty miles. This particular lens was hand ground by Paris craftsmen in 1886, and was in service in Alaska for forty years prior to installation in the Point Vicente Lighthouse. In the early days, the Keeper, Assistant Keeper, and their families lived in nearby cottages, which are still standing nearby.
In 1934, the radio station and the radio navigation beacon were added. For many years, Coast Guard radiomen at Point Vicente monitored the international distress frequencies, ready to help vessels in need. However, the last radioman locked the doors in 1980 when this responsibility was transferred to another station. The radio station buildings of that station are still here although the old equipment is long outdated.
During World War Two, the 1000-watt bulb was replaced by a tiny 25-watt bulb, significantly dimming the light source so as not to aid in enemy navigation. After the war, the bright rotating beam became a glaring disturbance to local residents and a hazard to nearby motorists. Lighthouse keepers coated the inside of the inland-facing windows with a coat of white paint to end the flash of the beacon on nearby residents’ homes.
Today, the lighthouse keeper has been replaced by electronic sensors and automated controls. The nearby housing facility is home to Coast Guard personnel assigned to nearby ships, stations and offices. The former radio center is now manned by volunteer civilian members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary who track distress calls from boaters in the Catalina Channel.
Through the decades, there have been reports of ghost sightings at the lighthouse. Legend has it that a tall, forlorn-looking woman in a flowing gown slowly paces the tower’s walkway. Some believe the “Lady of the Light” is the ghost of the first lighthouse keeper’s wife who fell from the edge of a cliff one foggy night. Others believe she waits for the return of a lover lost at sea. Yet another story is that she is the shadow of a heartbroken woman who threw herself from the cliffs when she found herself abandoned by her intended. Explanations that this “phantom” is caused by reflections from the huge lighthouse lens haven’t discouraged those who believe the Lady walks here on a nightly basis.
The Lighthouse is located at 31550 Palos Verdes Drive West in Rancho Palos Verdes. The grounds and lighthouse are normally closed to the public. However, the tower and a small museum are open to the public from 10:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. the second Saturday of every month. Admission is free. In March, the tower and museum are open the first Saturday of the month from 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. to coincide with the City’s popular “Whale of a Day” event. Children under 7 are not allowed in the tower and pets are not allowed on the Coast Guard grounds. For recorded information, please call (310) 541-0334.
Written by: Denise Kano
Photography: Kieron McKay
In 1923, on what were then vast, desolate hills and barely covered with sage and cactus, construction began on the future Palos Verdes Golf and Country Club. This ambitious undertaking was the original vision of Frank Vanderlip, the owner of most of the Palos Verdes Peninsula at that time. His idea was to build the “biggest and handsomest of all country clubs,” as quoted in the July 18, 1914 issue of the Boston Herald. Vanderlip’s dream became a reality in 1924, and the much-anticipated course and clubhouse offered unobstructed and unparalleled views of the Santa Monica Bay.
Located in the middle of an 800-acre parkland preserve, the challenging course was designed and built by George C. Thomas, Jr., and William P. “Billy” Bell, during an era which is now referred to as the “Golden Age of Golf Course Architecture.” Golf courses built during this time period were done without benefit of heavy earth-moving equipment, so the natural shapes of the land had to be used to create natural hazards. While the Palos Verdes course is not long in length by modern standards, the combination of creeks, ravines, and numerous well-placed bunkers requires strategically-placed shots to small, well-manicured greens. Other examples of Thomas and Bell’s course work include the Riviera Country Club, Bel Air Country Club, and the Ojai Valley Inn Golf Course, all built between 1923 and 1927.
During the original construction, many varieties of trees were planted with landscaping provided by the Olmstead Brothers Company, an influential landscape design firm that was also responsible for helping to create the National Park Service. Those original trees are now very mature and line the fairways.
The clubhouse, built at a cost of $170,000, was the second oldest building in Palos Verdes Estates, after the La Venta Inn. The course was instantly popular, so much so that on the third day after the grand opening a plan was made to extend the clubhouse eastward sixty feet to hold a new golf shop, caddy house, and ladies grill and sun porch.
In 1933, membership was impacted by the Depression and club dues were reduced to seven dollars per month. The property was eventually deeded to the City of Palos Verdes Estates with the restriction that the land could only be used for recreational purposes for the benefit of all city property owners and residents – a restriction that was crucial to the future of the golf course.
During World War II, labor shortages made it almost impossible to maintain the course. Knee-high weeds and cracks in the earth covered the fairways and terrain. Subsequent to this, the number of people playing on the course decreased during the first few years of the 1940s. After reviewing its options, the city decided to attract more players from other areas by keeping green fees to a minimum. As wartime ended later in the decade, however, the influx of residents to the area generated the opposite problem. Green fees were so low that people came from areas throughout Southern California to play golf in Palos Verdes with its beautiful surroundings. Overcrowding became such a problem that the club membership and the Palos Verdes Estates City Council took action to make improvements.
From 2005 to 2007, the clubhouse underwent an $11,000,000 renovation with the goal of providing increased capacity and the ability to accommodate club members as well as outside patrons wanting to host social functions. The dining room capacity was doubled and an expansive veranda was added to allow for outside dining.
Whether you’re there to hit the historic links or attend a social event, the Palos Verdes Golf Club has the winning combination of impressive history with serene surroundings.
We take our limitless entertainment choices for granted, ranging from countless movie theatres with 3-D special effects, to DVDs delivered to our door so we can watch movies in the comfort of our own home. But in 1923, it was big news when the local paper announced that a $200,000 theatre would be built at the southwest corner of 13th street and Hermosa Avenue – the only one of its kind for miles around. Fifteen years after Hermosa became the nineteenth incorporated city in Los Angeles County, a local banker, Ralph Matteson, had the ambitious idea to build a movie theatre in Hermosa. Detailed plans were drawn up for a 1,200-seat structure housing a $20,000 pipe organ, and a contest was held to name the new theatre.
For the Metropolitan’s grand opening, the ornamental, Neo-Classical style theatre premiered Circus Days, starring Jackie Coogan, who later became a resident of Hermosa Beach. Several novelty acts performed, and it’s said that the enthusiastic crowds finally emptied out of the theatre well after 2:00 in the morning.
Other classic films screened in the Metropolitan’s early years included She Done Them Wrong, featuring Mae West, and The Little Giant, starring Edward G. Robinson. Vaudeville shows and stage acts, popular for that time period, were frequently held at the theatre.
The Hermosa Beach Review described the Metropolitan’s ornate design as “jazzed plaster decorated in various colors … a beautiful entrance under a marquee of rare artistic design.” Theatre patrons were surrounded by expensive wall hangings and pricey paintings, and sat on sofas and leather opera chairs while enjoying listening to the Robert Morgan pipe organ.
Brenda Bibee, former Hermosa Beach resident, recalled going to the theatre in the late 1940s with her older siblings. “For 20 cents, we could see a newsreel, a cartoon, and two shows,” she said. Later, in the mid-50s, Ms. Bibee worked at the theatre’s box office and helped people to their seats. “It was a beautiful theatre with red velvet curtains,” she said. “There was nothing else like it. And on Saturdays, there were special shows for the kids with prizes. The kids had so much fun on the weekends.”
From 1979 to approximately 1981, the theatre was known as The Cove, and showed popular surf movies as well as numerous screenings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. There were also the occasional punk rock band performances, a huge hit with the emerging local punk rock crowd.
The name changed again to the Bijou, and it became known for eclectic film screenings consisting of foreign films, art pictures, and other lesser known releases – movies that were otherwise impossible to see in the South Bay. The Bijou may also be remembered for how easy it was to smuggle in a taco-burrito from Diana’s Taco Burritos at the end of Pier Avenue, also now gone. Rumor has it that some former Bijou patrons regularly smuggled in alcohol to enjoy during their movie viewing, although this cannot be confirmed.
The elegant Art Deco building was almost demolished due to the need for retrofitting to meet the state’s earthquake requirements. Discussions were held to level the building and replace it with a parking structure. The Hermosa Beach Historical Society swung into action, and the building was eventually designated a historical landmark in 1999. Retrofitting was completed, and refurbishing began on the exterior. The detailed façade has been preserved, and the interior space is now used for commercial/retail purposes.
Two red, worn, leather seats remain on display at the Hermosa Beach Historical Museum, along with other theatre memorabilia such as posters and handbills of the various shows from years gone by. Old theatre photos from a bygone era are displayed, and if you close your eyes, you can almost hear the melodies of the pipe organ and the applause of an appreciative audience.
Written By: Denise Kano
Photography: Courtesy of the Hermosa Beach Historical Society