In 1901, a library delivery station was established and maintained by neighborhood residents in a rented facility on Vernon Avenue near Central Avenue. By 1906, with two paid attendants, the circulation had reached 20,222. In 1915, the Vernon Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library was built at a cost of $35,000 with monies donated by the Carnegie Foundation of New York City. At the time it began operating, the only commercial establishment in the area was a bakery. The Vernon Branch was the third of six Carnegie buildings to be built out of a $210,000 grant received by the City of Los Angeles in 1911.
Exterior view of the Vernon Branch Library, 4504 South Central Avenue which was built in 1915.
Designed by architects Charles H. Kysor & Charles H. Biggar, it is an example of the Classical Revival (Type A) style. Its special feature was an open air reading room that could be converted into a closed room by means of a sliding sash. The Vernon Branch opened to the public in its newly built Carnegie library on September 30, 1915. At one time there were so many Jewish immigrants using the library that directional and informational signs in the building were written in Yiddish. By 1933, the branch circulation had soared to 124,878 with a meeting room use averaging 363 times a year. This building at 4504 S. Central Avenue was to serve the public for 56 years, surviving the 1933 Long Beach earthquake that devastated many buildings in Los Angeles.
One of the unique features of the Vernon Branch was the establishment of the Black History Collection under the tenure of Miriam Matthews, branch librarian from 1934-1944. Recognized as an important asset to the community, this outstanding collection of black history and literature has grown through the years with each succeeding branch administration. In 1971 it was named for Dorothy Vena Johnson, a native Angeleno who taught in the Los Angeles City Schools over 40 years and was Principal of the Garden Gate High School when she retired in 1963.
Vernon Branch Library temporary location of 4515 South Central Avenue.
On February 9, 1971, the Carnegie building was closed due to severe earthquake damage. Bookmobile service was provided twice a week from April 9, 1971 to September 18, 1972 until the Vernon Branch acquired a spacious rented building at 4515 South Central Avenue. The damage to the Carnegie building was extensive enough that it had to be demolished in 1974. The Los Angeles Public Library received federal disaster funds to rebuild an attractive, modern branch at its original location, which was opened on September 2, 1975. The branch reopened under the name Vernon - Leon H. Washington Jr. Memorial Branch, was named after the Los Angeles Sentinel founder and civil rights activist Leon Washington, who died on June 17, 1974.
Although the demographics of the neighborhood have changed over the years from Caucasian, to African-American, to Hispanic, the Vernon Branch continues to fulfill its mission to enrich, empower and inform all its patrons. The commitment to continue to serve the community to the fullest was reaffirmed most recently when the branch was remodeled in 2005 with thirty computers and with the addition of wireless computer service in 2007.