• displays of a proposed design

      Rendering of the Library proposed designs on display at the Pasadena Black History Festival (Photo – ColoradoBlvd.net)

      Our Main Library, built in 1927, has been closed for three years, and people are asking “Why so long?” The short answer is that engineers have found structural problems that could lead to a catastrophic collapse of the building in a moderate earthquake. The long answer is that deciding what to do about it and how to pay for repairs lingers in disagreement.

      By Sharon Hawley

      Engineers have determined that the building can be effectively strengthened with concrete shear walls to resist horizontal shaking in earthquakes, which is the usual cause of collapse. The interior sides of the exterior walls would be removed and replaced with concrete and steel. Some of the interior walls and ceilings would also be repaired or replaced.

      After the seismic retrofit is complete, the inside of the library will look like a vacant warehouse. Decisions are needed on how to reconstruct the interior. Some of it cannot be restored to its original condition because it does not meet building codes. Access for people with mobility issues is just one example. Also, the ways we like to use libraries have changed since 1927, and many think that changing the interior, while leaving the exterior mostly intact, is the best plan. Others wish to see the library look as nearly the same as we remember it as possible, inside and out.

      Since the interior must be mostly replaced anyway, some have suggested that a new and modern interior like Brand Library in Glendale, built in 1904 and given a seismic retrofit in 2014, is a wiser solution. Its main door, for example, is now a sheet of swinging glass, and much of the interior space is devoted to art and meeting rooms. And to accommodate these, the new stacks have narrow aisles and high shelves.

      Another example of modernization is the Altadena Main Library, built in 1967 and renovated in 2022 for seismic and other safety issues. While maintaining its semi-historic architecture on the exterior, the interior is different. It devotes some space to art, but the aisles through the stacks are wide, and other space is devoted to displays of new books, books on special subjects, and a rack of things for sale.  The check-outs are modernized, and there are plenty of computers for public use. Yes, the main doors are made of glass, but they have always been glass.

      The cost of the Pasadena Main Library Retrofit is estimated between $100 million and $200 million. Funding for the expensive repair is proposed to be a Bond Measure, which is hoped to be passed by the voters in November 2024. But if we don’t agree on the facilities and styles to replace the current interior, the Bond Measure could fail. Voters like to know what they are paying for. Pasadena has accomplished difficult improvements before, and it’s time to do it again.

      In 1923, the people of Pasadena approved a bond measure for $3.5 million, and in 1927 construction of Pasadena City Hall was complete. Our Main Library and Civic Auditorium soon followed. In 1931, Pasadena had swollen to seventy-six thousand people, and their automobiles had displaced all the horses. A new City Hall stood two hundred feet high, with a large central dome and a huge open gallery. It didn’t take long for people to understand.

      Pasadena has accomplished difficult improvements before, and it’s time to do it again.

      Sharon Howley is a Pasadena resident. She’s am adventurer to places where most folks don’t go.

      Community Meeting
      See the Progress
      Wednesday, March 13
      6:00 pm
      La Pintoresca Branch Library
      1355 N. Raymond Ave.
      Street parking.
      interiors and exteriors of Brand Library in Glendale

      Brand Library (Photos – Sharon Hawley)


      Interiors and exterior of Altadena Library

      Altadena Library (Photos – Sharon Hawley)

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