Our free, daily, art and architecture tour of L.A.'s Central Library almost always begin by taking a look at the exterior of the historic 1926 Goodhue Building. Architect Bertram Goodhue and his colleague, Carlton Winslow, conceived the expansive Flower Street area as an outdoor reading room, filled with trees, plants, and sitting areas.
Pleas from librarians and clerks for a parking lot closer to the building resulted in the Flower Street garden being razed in 1968. When the Tom Bradley Wing addition was opened in 1993, the garden was restored and reborn as the Maguire Gardens. Landscape designers Douglas and Regula Campbell expanded the original garden design by incorporating an array of magnificent fountains.
On the south side of the garden are two fountains designed by landscape architect Lawrence Halprin: the Italianate fountain patterned after the Villa d’Este, and the Grotto. Both include steps, an echo of the original design steps now decorated as Spine, the art plan developed by artist Jud Fine and printmaker Harry Reese.
Fine provided the text for the Grotto Fountain that includes references to the 14th Amendment that freed the slaves, the irrevocable designation of citizenship, and the value and purpose of freedom of speech.
The upper well reads: All born or naturalized in the United States are citizens.
The lower well reads: No state shall abridge the privileges or immunities of cities nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law nor deny equal protection.
In its fascia (arch) are words from educator, orator and fervent abolitionist, Frederick Douglass: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” (1849)
Where else but in a library can people find the exact words to make demands, uphold their freedoms or learn more about their rights? While freedom from slavery is a Constitutional right, nothing spells freedom more than having free access to information provided to anyone who asks, and at no cost. The chains of illiteracy could be called the worse kind of enslavement, yet as Douglass also wrote, “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”
Facing the Fifth Street side, next to the Patina Restaurant, is the zen-like fountain of porcelain, cement, glass, and ceramic tile. Mineo Mizuno designed the porcelain sculptures which are the water source and artist Laddie John Dill chose the pigments of ground oxides and minerals on the fountain floor to reflect those that existed in the earth below the fountain site eons before the library was built. The tiled floor forms an aperture, not unlike that of a camera lens, which lets in light, another nod to the library’s motto. “The Light of Learning.”
The zen-like quiet of this fountain designed by Laddie John Dill and Mineo Mizuno wears the luster of more than 20 years of fountain water spilling onto the glass, porcelain, and concrete formations that reflect the colors of the fountain floor.
Hope Street Fountain
Before Goodhue took on the Library Commission, he visited the Middle East with a residential client to study water use in desert gardens. The tiered garden design and the Islamic tiled fountain on the Library’s Hope Street entrance reflect what he learned on his travels. Even though the fountain has not functioned for many years, its engraved motto, “Wisdom is the ripest fruit of much reflection.” reminds us once again of the richness on the library’s shelves.
The Islamic-style tiles decorate the non-functioning but nonetheless beautiful Hope Street fountain
flanked by two kumquat trees. The slogan reads
“Wisdom is the ripest fruit of much reflection.”
Although not on the library property itself, this dramatic fountain represents another elegant Lawrence Halprin design incorporating fountains cascading over rocks offset by stairs built over the Bunker Hill Steps. Located on Fifth Street, opposite the front entrance of the library, this was one of several proposed overpasses for Fifth and Grand Avenue and Fifth and Figueroa Street that never materialized because of budget cuts.
Want to learn more about the historic Central Library? Take a free art and architecture tour of the DTLA Library. Walk-in tours M-F 12:30 p.m., Sat 11 a.m., 2 p.m., Sun 2 p.m. Garden Tours Sat 12:30 p.m. Follow us on Twitter @DTLALibrary Book a tour: firstname.lastname@example.org