The Library’s Haunted History: I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts

Tina Lerno, Librarian, Digital Content Team,
ghost lady walking through the library
Periodical Department, Los Angeles Public Library. Security Pacific National Bank Collection

When you work at Central Library, at some point in your career, you will be taken on a stairwell safety tour which guides you through a maze of long lonely corridors snaking under and around the staff side of our beloved building. When it was my turn, I had to ask, is this place haunted? And while there is no actual proof of any paranormal activity, I did find several uncorroborated tales of ghostly sightings. Read on...if you dare!

corridor under the library

Lower level corridor in the Central Library

Central Library was once the location of a women's teaching college called the California Branch State Normal School or just the Normal School. It was in operation at that location from 1882, training future teachers inside the imposing five-story building, which sat atop Normal Hill, at the intersection of Grand and Fifth Street. The teaching college moved to Vermont Avenue in 1914, and the building functioned as Central Junior High until the structure was demolished in 1924 to make way for the library. Normal Hill, which blocked both Hope and Fifth streets, and created traffic congestion, was mowed down to extend Fifth through the site. Central Library eventually rose up on the now much shorter hill, but not however without a few ghosts. Sightings have included apparitions of women dressed in turn of the century garb, much like in the picture below, hurriedly floating down our long corridors in parts of the original 1926 structure. Whispers, knock and bangs, and moving shadows were also mentioned to me.

students from the Normal School 1884

30 State Normal School, teachers, [1884]. Photo credit: Charles C. Pierce, Los Angeles Photographers Collection
State Normal school with students and teachers
State Normal School, teachers and student body, [1904]. Photo credit: Studio C.C. Pierce & Co., Security Pacific National Bank Collection

Several of our branches reported ghostly sightings including our former Cypress Park Branch building. A few ghost hunter websites listed it among LA's most haunted places: “Over the years several ghost sightings have been witnessed by numerous people. An ex-worker there once spotted a translucent male floating near the old fireplace. Ghostly whispers can sometimes be heard in the men’s room. Cold spots can be felt near the occult section and fireplace." I spoke with a staff member who worked at the old building in the mid-1980s. They never saw anything themselves but told me patrons often spoke of seeing shapes moving about in the windows at night and lights turning on and off when the library was closed. The one spooky spot was the basement. In all their time at the branch, they never went down into it. "It was for storage, so I never really had a reason to go down there, and the stairs were on the wall so you had to climb down like a fire escape. It was dank and small and gave me the creeps." The library eventually moved out of that old building to a location down the road, and thankfully the ghosts did not follow the books and the staff.

Exterior view, Cypress Park Branch Library

Exterior view of Cypress Park Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. The branch was formerly known as the Richard Henry Dana Branch, [ca 1927]. Photo credit: Fred R. Dapprich, Security Pacific National Bank Collection

View of the Adult Reading Room and fireplace in the Cypress Branch Library.

View of the Adult Reading Room and fireplace in the Cypress Branch Library, [cs 1927]. Photo credit: Fred R. Dapprich, Security Pacific National Bank Collection

Valley Plaza's old building formerly known as Vanowen Park, was said to have a former librarian haunting the building. She was observed typing away at an old IBM Selectric and pushing book carts down the aisles. Brentwood purportedly has an old librarian ghost as well. During some construction years ago, numerous staff members and patrons observed her furiously trying to tidy up, and replace fallen books.

Vanowen Park Branch Library

Exterior view entrance to the Vanowen Park Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, which opened in 1962. Architects were Stoshitch & Russell. It was later replaced by Valley Plaza Branch Library at the same location, [1962]. Photo credit: Marv Newton, Security Pacific National Bank Collection

Really, the only proven ghosts that have been seen at Central Library are the movie magic ones created by the Ghostbusters film crew. The movie famously used parts of our building to film several scenes in the movie.

shooting call sheet for ghost busters film

Scan of the original call sheet for scenes to be filmed at Central Library. Los Angeles Public Library Special Collections

Movie still from Ghostbusters 1983

The Ghostbusters meet the librarian ghost in the stacks of the New York Public Library, which was really the basement of Los Angeles Central Library. Picture Courtesy of Sony Pictures/Columbia Pictures
Lower levels of the central libraryThe basement as it appears today

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