A Brief Wilshire Branch Library History
The Wilshire Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library opened December 6, 1920, in a tiny storefront building on Second and Hobart Streets, across from the Cahuenga School. It was the smallest building ever occupied by any of the city’s branch libraries -- a 12-by-24 foot space, length unbroken by doors or windows, with shelf space for only 1000 books. A scant 900 books started the branch’s collection, with loans from the Central Library “saving” Wilshire from collapse when a demanding, book-loving public checked out all the branch's volumes within the first week of opening.
The area’s growth made it clear that a permanent site for the Wilshire Branch needed to be acquired quickly. In 1922, the Board of Library Commissioners approved a motion to purchase a lot on the southwest corner of St. Andrews Place and Council Street at a cost of $7,350 to ensure there would be a place for a new facility when funds became available to build one.
Passage of the 1925 Library Bond measure provided $500,000 to build facilities for fourteen new libraries, including the highly popular Wilshire Branch. Architect Allen Ruoff was chosen to design the new facility, which was scheduled for completion in 1927. But even with the prospect of a new building, it became necessary in 1926 for the Wilshire Branch to move to larger quarters. Two stores were rented on Western and Council to house the library until the new building could be built.
On August 1, 1927, the new Wilshire Branch Library was opened at a cost of $56,000. Italian Renaissance in style, the building was constructed of stone tile with tufa stone trimming. The carved doorway featured an elaborate pattern of mythological animals, which was fashioned after the Portal of Costanzo, the famous Cathedral of Perugia, in Italy. With a large club room, the library now provided a place for community meetings. During World War II, the Wilshire Branch Library took an active part in community war interests, offering a hospitable meeting place for the Red Cross Unit, nutrition classes, a children’s Victory Club, and many other groups.
Through changing neighborhood demographics, the Wilshire Branch continued to serve the community at its St. Andrews Place location until October 1, 1987, when it was closed as a result of the Whittier Narrows earthquake. For the first time in fifty years, library service was interrupted. On July 28, 1988, the branch moved to temporary quarters at 316 N. Western Avenue, when the opening of the area's new post office made it possible for the Library to move into the post office's former quarters. Service to the community was restored, and efforts to rebuild the now-historic St. Andrews facility were begun.
Proposition 1, the 1989 bond issue, and grants from the Community Development Department have provided for renovation of the building. The renovations, designed by Barton Choy Associates, bring the building up to code, and ensure that the facility has the capabilities to meet the demands of a new century. The renovated historic structure reopened on August 8, 1996.
Photographs from the Los Angeles Public Library Security Pacific National Bank Historic Photograph Collection.