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Art & Architecture in Central Library

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A quick look at some of the notable art and architecture to be found in the Central Library. Docent tours are also available. Click on any thumbnail image for a larger view.

Painted Ceiling in Main Lobby

Renee Petropoulos created the vividly painted ceiling for the Goodhue Building’s first floor lobby. Taking her cues from decorative motifs in the library, she used the concept of decoration as subject matter. Vividly colored rings, starbursts, checkerboards and names of Los Angeles novelists intertwine on the 36 foot by 36 foot ceiling. As a counterpoint to the building’s symmetry, she painted her design off center and created a sense of movement that provides an active viewing experience.

“It has been very important to me that this building is a library, said Petropoulos. I have often used text in my work, for the most part as a form-an indecipherable element. Because the ceiling was divided into quadrants it was possible to set up a mirror reverse situation using the names of living, contemporary fiction writers as the underlying structure for the painting. The first and last names of the writers are separated. I have always been a passionate reader and have been in awe of the process of writing. Being able to create a work for the Central Library in the city of my birth has been quite special.”

Atrium Chandeliers in Tom Bradley Wing

Created by Therman Statom the three chandeliers hanging in the Bradley Wing atrium echo the magnificent 2,000 pound cast-bronze chandelier in the historic Lodwrick M. Cook Rotunda. While Goodhue found decorative inspiration in elements of the solar system. Statom explores the concepts of man-made endeavors, natural phenomena and ethereal ideas. Each chandelier evokes one of these themes through a variety of sculptural appendages such as a heart and a carrot.

“I envisioned the chandeliers’ function in the Library as a heart to the overall visual, architectural, practical and spiritual functions of the building.” Statom commented.

Atrium Lanterns

The title of Anne Preston’s functional art, “Illumination,” refers to light, understanding and books. Preston designed the thirteen-and-one-half-foot-tall lanterns located at each escalator landing in the Bradley Wing atrium. The shape of an upside-down human profile is repeated in the form of 24 radiating vanes on the upper portion of each lantern. Fixtures at the base shine light up to a reflector located inside the lantern top, thereby illuminating the lantern and the surrounding space.

Preston prepared the following statement about her art:
“Accretion, which begets synthesis, begets illumination, which begets ecstasy” equally describes art and research. Such is our desire for, and pleasure in, coherence. (Preston, 1993, private communication)

Ivanhoe Frieze in International Languages Department
by Julian E. Garnsey and A.W. Parsons

These life-size figures illustrate Sir Walter Scott’s story of “Ivanhoe” and the days of romance and chivalry. Colors are coordinated with ceiling decorations painted on the concrete beams, suggestive of Old Normandy.

Ivanhoe Paintings (left to right):

Ivanhoe, in disguise at Cedric's Hall - Tournament - Archery Contest


Capture of Rowena - Richard the Lionhearted in Friar Tuck's cell - Storming the Castle


Rescue of Ivanhoe -  Dividing the spoil - Trial of Rebecca for witchcraft


Trial of Rebecca for witchcraft (cont.) - Wedding of Ivanhoe and Rowena


Fence, Grilles, & Gates, across International Languages Department in Gregory Peck Walkway
(Lobby of the Mark Taper Auditorium)

Ries Niemi designed the 90-foot-long fence along Fifth Street, as well as five metal gates and four window grilles in the Children’s Courtyard. Multilingual inscriptions are rendered in the ornamental metal of the fence and gates. The text of these inscriptions represents major cultures and reflects the fundamental purpose of a library: to promote reading and transmit knowledge. The grilles at the Children’s Courtyard add a decorative element to this charming area which features the planters, fountain, and bas reliefs from the original Children’s Courtyard.

Children's Court (often closed to viewing)

The Lotus Shaft Fountain

Features a sienna marble carving illustrating the delights of reading.



Panel Carvings

Robin Hood - Alice in Wonderland (2)

Mother Goose (2) - Ali Baba 


Arabian Nights  King Arthur




David Bunn envisioned two passenger elevators in the Tom Bradley Wing as more than a way to get from one floor to another. The artist transformed them into “observation pods” traveling between subject divisions by using some of the Library’s seven million catalog cards rendered obsolete by the new state-of-the-art automation system. With these cards Bunn papered the inside of the elevator cabs and lined the shafts which are visible through a viewing window in the cabs. The elevators also display a digital readout of the Dewey Decimal numbers for each floor the elevator passes. “The elevators and the card catalog together form a kind of ‘core sample’ of the library,” explained Bunn. “As the catalog dutifully classifies and finds a place for every book, so the elevators travel deep through the center of the building, encompassing and accessing all the building’s holdings.”

Lodwrick M. Cook Rotunda on the second floor
by Dean Cornwell

Depicting four great eras of California history, including discovery, mission building, Americanization and the founding of Los Angeles: the beginnings of arts and industry: and conquering of the elements in California. Completed in 1932, their color values were purposely restrained to harmonize with the many-colored mosaic-like dome decorations by Julian E. Garnsey.

Discovery (North wall) - Mission building (East wall)


Americanization (South wall) - The Founding of Los Angeles (West wall)


Dean Cornwell, born in 1892, was awarded the contract for the murals in 1927 and spent the next five years in research preparing the final canvases. Cornwell has distinguished himself with his murals and as a magazine illustrator, both here and abroad.

Globe Chandelier

The chandelier was designed by Goodhue Associates, modeled by Lee Lawrie and manufactured by the Thomas Day Company of Los Angeles. In the 1980s, Historical Arts and Casting of Salt Lake City restored the Globe Chandelier. Composed of cast bronze, it weights one ton and is 9 feet in diameter. Its' original cost was $40,000.

The Chandelier is part of a model of the solar system. A translucent blue-glass globe with hand-painted continents hangs in the middle. Planets and a crescent moon can be found in the chains that suspend the globe and the sunburst on the ceiling directly above the globe mirrors the sunburst on the pyramid top of the Library outside. Signs of the zodiac ring the globe along with 48 lights around the rim, which represent the 48 United States in 1926 when the building opened.

A Golden Hand

In 1987, when workmen began restoration of the tiled pyramid atop the Library, they discovered the original finial - a golden hand, entwined by the Serpent of Knowledge, holding the Torch of Learning - was weakened with age. So an exact copy is now on top of the building. Sculpted by Lee Lawrie of terra cotta. It is an illustration of Bertram Goodhue's theme of Central Library - “The Light of Learning.”



Statue of Civilization
by Lee Lawrie

In Italian marble with metal draperies and carved panel, this statue symbolizes all the Library represents.


Her left hand holds a torch tipped with a flame resting on a turtle, dominion over land and sea. On her crown is a miniature of the Library, two angels for the City of Los Angeles, and the bear and star for the State of California.

In her right hand is a book with quotations in five languages that reads:

"In the beginning was the word." (Greek)
"Knowledge extends horizons." (Latin)
"Nobility carries obligations." (French)
"Wisdom is in the truth." (German)
"Beauty is truth - truth beauty." (English)

In the panel are symbols of ancient and modern civilizations from bottom to top they represent:

Blank for unknown ages of man
Pyramids of Egypt
Ship for Phoenicia
Winged Bull for Babylonia & Tablets for Judea
Lion Gate of Palace of Ninos & Parthenon for Minoan and Grecian civilizations
Wolf with Romulus and Remus for Rome
Dragon for China
Siva for India
Notre Dame for Mediaeval Christian Europe
Plumed Serpent Head for Maya
Buffalo, Covered Wagon, and
Liberty Bell for United States of America


In black unveined Belgian marble with bronze headdresses, the sphinxes symbolize the hidden mysteries of knowledge and guard the approach to the Statue of Civilization.


On the open books is inscribed in Greek, from Plutarch's Morals ("On Isis and Osiris"):

Left Sphinx - "I am all that was and is and is to be and no man hath lifted up my veil."

Right Sphinx - "Therefore the desire of Truth, especially of that which concerns the gods, is itself a yearning after Divinity."


California History Murals in Children's Literature Department (left to right):
by Albert Herter

Originally hung in 1928 in the Hope Street tunnel entrance.

Jose Gaspar de Portola - The Building of a Mission - The Landing of Cabrillo at Catalina Island 


Reliefship at San Diego - Finding of Gold in '49 - Raising the flag at Monterey


Fiesta at a Mission - Juan Bautista de Anza


They succeed in imparting the gracious, colorful and romantic atmosphere of early California history.

Entryway, Steps, & Pools in Maguire Gardens

These elements comprise Jud Fine’s major art program. “Spine” and feature inscriptions and sculptures analogous to an open book. Flanking the Flower Street entrance to the gardens are two pieces not unlike the frontispiece or end sheets of a book. Looking ahead is a series of stairs past raised pools titled “Bright,” “Lucid,” and “Clear.” Risers on the steps on either side of the fountains encompass slightly patinated brass with letters from 19 languages etched in green; black copper plate with printed words in nine languages cut into the surface in white; and symbolic communications in higher math, art and poetry established during the electron age, etched on stainless steel plate in black.

Commenting on the title of his work, Fine Said 'Spine' is a title which brings several confluent ideas to mind. The spine is the fundamental unit of a body that gives it the strength and support to stand on its own. The spine begins where the brain leaves off. The electricity of the body flows through it. “Fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals are all classified together due to the commonality of the spine. Structurally, the spine also refers to the anatomy of the book. A book is identified by the name running down its spine. The spine separates the front from the back, and at the same time hinges them together. It is the central nervous system of the book.”


Laddie John Dill’s underwater, multi-colored surface elicits land formations beneath the Library. Mineo Mizuno’s porcelain objects are the water source. In the fountain’s ripples are a thousand colors, refractions from Dill’s underwater surfaces which line the base of the pool. The overall effect is of a pointillistic painting, precise yet fleeting, muted yet clear.

“In the sixteen-foot diagonal fountain I have employed materials that I felt are indigenous to the surrounding area," said Dill. "The obvious employment of cement, glass and ceramic is meshed with pigments of ground minerals and oxides that existed in the area before the architecture that surrounds it. The attempt is to combine the ephemeral qualities of these natural oxides in an expressionistic manner and have them interact with the architectural structure that defines them physically.”

Grotto Fountain

Its design by landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, and artworks by Jud Fine, pay tribute to the principle of civil liberties and each individual’s inalienable right to knowledge. Its theme is rooted in the principals of democracy, drawing upon two sources, the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution and the words of Frederick Douglass.

“The Public Library as a principle is our most important democratic institution," said Fine. "It answers the demand for education for one and all, providing an accessible knowledge base for social and cultural progression.”