Los Angeles Public Library

Los Angeles Public Library

 

I am currently at work on a history of the Los Angeles  Public Library, the centerpiece of which will be a chapter on Bertam Grosvenor Goodhue’s Central Building, which opened in 1926. "In part and in detail the building recalls numerous ancient styles," observed Goodhue's associate architect, Carleton Monroe Winslow, "for no building, particularly a Library, can disregard the accumulation of architectural experience of the past."  As conceived by the architect, working in collaboration with the poet and philosopher Hartley Burr Alexander and sculptor Lee Lawrie, this "accumulation of architectural experience" can be perceived in manifold and ambiguous ways.  Goodhue’s "modified" Spanish Colonial forms, for example, suggest a plethora of ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern traditions.  Articulated with classical pilasters and pylons that metamorphose into busts of ancient artists and philosophers, Goodhue's library sits like a great ziggurat in a lush garden.  The central tower, its crowning pyramid sheathed in colorful mosaic tiles, recalls at once Iberian, Byzantine and Egyptian sources, as well as the form of a modern American skyscraper. Alexander’s inscriptions, as well as Lawrie's sculptural figures, likewise, borrow from Greece and Rome, the ancient Near East, Egypt, China and India, to create a veritable cathedral of knowledge, intended to be experienced as a literary and philosophical journey through history.

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