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Atwater Village Branch Library: A Brief History

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The history of the Atwater Village Branch Library began five years before the branch opened in the community. In September of 1922, the Atwater Avenue School opened on the corner of Atwater Avenue and Gracia Street. At the request of the Atwater Avenue School’s Parent Teacher Association, the Los Angeles Public Library opened the Atwater Station in 1923. This book depository was housed on the Atwater Avenue School’s campus in a small wooden station house. The station’s collection quickly grew, so the Atwater school provided new shelving and a school bungalow to use. By 1925, the Atwater station had become a fixture in the Atwater community. The station circulated nearly a thousand books a month during just the two days a week it was open, and in February of 1925, a paid custodian was added to maintain the collection.

With the increased popularity of the library, in 1925 the Atwater Park Community Improvement Association petitioned the City Council to have the community be considered for a branch in a 1925 Library Bond measure. The bond issue passed, and the Board of Library Commissioners decided to establish a Los Angeles Public Library branch in Atwater. In 1926, the Atwater station was moved to the rear of a piano store located in the Stadler Building on Glendale Boulevard, as a temporary facility to house the library station until the new branch’s permanent location was obtained. At this site the books were kept in four locked bookcases, as there was no custodian to tend to them. The library paid ten dollars per month for rent of the space, and the station increased its service to four afternoons a week.

The Henry Adams Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library was opened to the public in the newly built two-story Citizen’s Trust and Savings Bank located on Glendale Boulevard on November 18, 1927. The library was located on the ground floor behind the bank, with its entrance on Larga Avenue. Located next door was the local post office. The library branch was named by the Board of Library Commissioners to honor the author, historian, and editor of the North American Review, Henry Adams.   

In its first days, the staff of the Henry Adams Branch consisted of a junior attendant in charge, a children’s librarian from the library’s Branch Department who visited once a week, and a part-time page, who was added to the staff in December. The bulk of the book collection, some 1,300 volumes, was transferred from the Harbor City collection when that branch reverted to station status. Similarly, the Henry Adams Branch received its furniture and shelving from the old Echo Park Branch, which had been rebuilt with the bond issue of 1925. New tables and chairs were purchased in 1929, and the Atwater Avenue School’s Parent Teacher Association donated some ferns and vases. The library was now open weekday afternoons, evenings three nights a week, and on Saturday mornings. The library quickly became a fixture in the Atwater community.

Between 1928 and 1929, the Henry Adams Branch had 2,200 patrons, and checked out 73,000 books. On October 29, 1929, just two years after the branch opened, the stock market crash occurred, plunging the United States into the Great Depression. The community turned to the library when they could afford little other entertainment. Between 1933 and 1934, the Henry Adams Branch served 4067 patrons and circulated nearly147,000 items annually. However, the 1940s marked an era of slowed library use. This drop in circulation was due, in part, to the effects of World War II, and the advent of television.

With this decline in patronage, in 1952 the branch was reduced to sub-branch status, and the hours of operation were reduced. In November of that year, the Henry Adam Branch was evicted from their rental property by owner H. W. Medin to make room for a meat market and delicatessen. The community feared that the branch might be closed, but the city librarian and Board of Library Commissioners promised the community that the branch would be relocated and reopened. The collection, which consisted of 111 boxes of books, and furniture, were moved to the Helen Hunt Jackson Branch for storage.

A new location in Atwater was difficult to find, as the specifications for the new library had to fall between 1,500 and 2,500 square feet, with a rent of no more than $150 a month. Assistance came from the community, who wrote in suggestions for the new site, from the newspapers that reported on site negotiations, and one Atwater resident who believed that he could help in reopening the library. F. W. Butler owned an empty lot at 3229 Glendale Boulevard, just across the street from the Citizen’s Trust and Savings Bank, and offered to build a storefront for the library. In 1953, Butler constructed a 1,820 square foot building, and the Library Board approved a five-year lease of the structure. On July 20, 1953, the community gathered in great numbers to celebrate the Henry Adams Branch reopening.

Hard times again befell the branch in 1964. Early that year, the Los Angeles Public Library proposed closing the Henry Adams and the Los Feliz branches, and merging the libraries into a larger, 7,000 square foot, centrally- located Griffith Park Branch. Both communities objected vehemently to the proposal. In the midst of merger negotiations, Dorothy Meyer, then owner of the Henry Adams Branch property, began eviction proceedings of the library so she could move her beauty salon into the building. By 1965, the Library was able to come to an agreement with the owner and signed a new five-year lease, and local action by the community brought about a change in the merger plans. To build on the strong local community identity, on November 3, 1969, the Los Angeles Public Library renamed the branch the Atwater Branch Library.

By the late 1970s, the Atwater community had outgrown the small storefront library. In 1979, the Board of Library Commissioners approved the construction of a new building. The Friends of the Atwater Branch Library formed in 1981, and began to hold book sales to provide extra funding for library programs and book purchases. In 1984, the location of the new Atwater Branch Library was announced as being at 3379 Glendale Boulevard. Just before the completion of the new building in 1988, the Atwater Branch Library was renamed The Atwater Village Branch Library to reflect the community’s name change. Closing only briefly to transfer the books to the new building, on May 6, 1989, The Atwater Village Branch Library was dedicated and opened to public.

Photographs from the Los Angeles Public Library Security Pacific National Bank Historic Photograph Collection.

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