Weho Library: Who Forgot the Books?

My overview of the pricey, cold and lacking West Hollywood Public Library.

I love libraries. A fortunate child in many ways, libraries were one of the first public places I was taken to as a little girl. I was an early reader and blessed with literate family members.

My library experiences ventured far and wide—Boston Public, a Quonset hut at Ft. Richardson Army Post School in Anchorage, back to the East Coast where I was a member of Beverly, Danvers, and various Cape Cod libraries, Marshfield Library, Wilmington Library, Yale Library, and then in a leap of joy, the New York Public Library—lions and all. 

God knows I have misremembered some, but you get the picture. To say I have seen many styles of library is fair, but I am not an expert.

Last week I had the opportunity to utilize the new library in West Hollywood, returning first and then looking for some books. May I ask, when the more than $60 million was being flushed into this project, who forgot the books? There is plenty of space. The kid's area is quite adorable, but where are the damn books?

They have copy rooms, and "staff" rooms (Weho loves the word "staff"), restrooms, lifts, lounges, computers, but what I did not find in excess were books. Nor did I find handy or helpful directions, signs, arrows to the stacks. And the employees all seemed immersed in non-patron paperwork that was all absorbing.

Quiet, it was, as you entered. To the front, the DVD collection was robust (like Blockbuster), but I had to wander in my search to find new books up a lift and in the back to finally find them stuffed on a side. It was a puny selection.

But the chairs and lobbies were amazing. The welcome desk was quite stylish and, of course being au courant, one was directed to check out their own books at scanners near the library staff who sat at the desk very busy. I thought the hardwood floors noisy and slippery.

Los Angeles Public Libraries vary a great deal. Parking can be iffy, but the interior at Fairfax is Hacienda is quite welcoming. Fremont is restored to its original adobe look. I don't care for the Durant—it's ugly, but they have plenty of books and a great book sale. Downtown is heaven—a beautiful building with a vast collection of wonderful books and ephemera.

I love the new Beverly Hills Library. It is Ivy League-ish (of course), but large and dark and loaded with books and soft carpet, and their used book store is a delight. I do like the Santa Monica library, sort of—neither this or that design, but plenty of books and Fickett. A cozy, snuggly library, now firewood, replaced by the Weho Public.

The new library cannot be all things to all people, but as a repository of the written word, it could consider that this is what many folks come looking for. It could showcase the books as you walk in the door. The actual bookcases are sorta Staples (yeah they can do that), and there is a sense of afterthought throughout the upper level. Warm and welcoming it's not.

I probably will still stop by if I am in the area, but my loyalty is to the Los Angeles Public Library, who simply does it better, location by location. And when they get around to peddling the naming rights for WeHo - and they will, I would stay with Fickett. A little tradition is not out of place no matter what the pile looks like.

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joninla January 25, 2012 at 04:04 AM
I did google the name that seemed the larest on the list of lighted names and it turned out to be the head of (I think it was) ORACLE software/computer company and it mentioned both his weathe and taste for very modern architecture. Than kina explained my own curiosity why such a barron and bleak very modern style was chosen.
joninla January 25, 2012 at 04:50 AM
I appreciate first hand knowledg being given. Thanks. Who was the person who chose the style of what my opinion is a very bleak exterior. The interior looks attractive to me.
WeHoOne January 25, 2012 at 05:57 AM
I think it's called "dumbing down" on architecture, ostensibly because of it's juxtaposition to the PDC. Often simple is elegant, this is not. I agree that it is "bleak" and "barren"; I have also heard it called "cold and sterile." Personally I think it is ugly and uninviting, and mostly looks like it might be a large parking structure period, the overall edifice is 100% lacking in character, lacking in architectural excitement of any kind. But in any case, it will be around for a long time, so I think once we get used to it being there, instead of being noted as eye catching, beautiful & appreciated arcitecture, it will just blend in and be ignored like most similar parking structures are. Hopefully it will make up for in usefulness what it lacks in architectural design appeal although I think it was a lost opportunity to add a new building to the city landscape that might be a little breathtaking.... at least a little. The PDC definitely makes it's own statement, big time, so I don't think it was a good idea to use that as a measure of what the library should look like. BTW, there is no eclectic architecture "all around" as you said.
Chloe Ross January 25, 2012 at 06:59 AM
WeHoOne - I find that I quite agree with your comments. xlibris - you would be expected to say exactly what you have if you put in 12 years of your life to see this as the result. At $17M it is still cold, uninviting and quite poorly designed in many places. Whatever your apologia about the number of books is - I won't be here in 20 years to count, so I can't comment pro or con. And except for the PDC - where is all this eclectic architecture you see - I can't find it. No books, slippery floors, treacherous stairways and a council chamber of horrors. Hope you were well paid for oyur 12 years and enjoy your big white box. It leaves me rather cold.
joninla January 25, 2012 at 08:06 AM
Thank you for clarifying the lack or unidentifiable person who made the main decision to choose both the 'sleek modern styling' and the choice of Architect. The 12 year you spent on the project along with the summary of the process involved in planning, shows the results of "Planning by Committee". Weather it's too many cooks for the pot, or a building made entirely of compromises, the process has failed to provide West Hollywood at least a safe functioning end project. The staircase alone is so steep and tall that it is downright dangerous. I've heard of one incident already of a person who's dog fell down the steps due to the inability to process the steep angle with the steps, and ended up falling in a panic. Likewise, I can imagine how the flow of people during the Annual Gay Pride Festival will be radically impaired by the way the project has turned a street level park into an elevated park with stair access at the southern end. I would sue the Architect for the dangerous design and the reported lack of acoustic planning for the City Meeting Hall which is widely reported to be so bad that it is almost impossible to hear the meeting from the audience. I think an actual design that would be sustainably attractive for the inevitable future and the changes is taste and style the will come should have been the foundation of the design.
joninla January 25, 2012 at 08:18 AM
If you were including the context of the PDC as part of the decision process, you should have become aware how the original blue building built in the late 70's or early 80's through the additions, is one of the few designs that has truly aged with grace and beauty. Rare, if not unprecedented for any large monolithic functional building. To attempt to stand out from the PDC would be impossible. To blend in would require the talents of the PDC's architect. The result appears to be a series of decisions based on a original plan that was not properly conceived. To see the forest from the trees is very difficult if one has been deep inside for 12 years. However, as a general outside consideration of any public library and/or park ..... Street level access would seem almost a prerequisite common sense understanding that what we now have should never have been brought to fruition. Both a library and a park tend to cater to the very old and the very young. Both Children and Seniors have difficulty whenever there are steps. To have a staircase design and the second floor entry to the library is unsound as theory and as designed unsafe in results. Likewise, it appears to have been a back and for set of decisions about connecting the park to the library that resulted in the library determining the parks design up to an elevated bleak and barren design. In my opinion, at any price, not a success.
joninla January 25, 2012 at 08:30 AM
To WeHoOne - I think you put it perfectly by calling the investment (be it $17 Million or $1,700 dollars) "A Lost Opportunity" and we will have to learn to like it for whatever usefulness it provides. I think one extremely useful purpose of the New Library, Parking Garage & Park Re-Design has been ignored by everyone. Weather taken as a 'whole project' or each individual aspect as a separate project unto itself, its most useful and untapped resource is the knowledge and information that is very reliable about How Not To Build in West Hollywood. Rather than defend the mistakes made, it stands as an example of a process of planning that does not work. How much more of an example nor amount of money spent is necessary to make any responsible local government stop all current and pending construction projects and reevaluate how the Library/Park disaster came to be built, and change the process to avoid any future 'Lost Opportunities' the present Planning System will cause the City. If nothing else, the Architect should not be used for any further projects anywhere in West Hollywood. It was reported that not even the acoustic problems in the Meeting Room could be remedies quickly. (even I know you could install sound baffles and carpeting in a day or two as a temporary step so that people can hear the meeting taking place.).
joninla January 25, 2012 at 08:36 AM
I have some appreciation for the need to have space for future books (and can't comment on the actual sufficiency or lack of books currently in the Library) but do agree with your assessment of the project. I would add the 'big white box' will not always be as so described. Such style of modern architecture entirely white will become dirty, dingy, grey and if possible even more unattractive over time. Repainting regularly still will never bring the 'big white box' back to it's original clean appearance, so enjoy the white box now for what it is (clean & new), since it will only get dirty and uglier over time.
joninla January 25, 2012 at 08:38 AM
Good point I had not considered about empty shelves.
joninla January 25, 2012 at 08:45 AM
wow - that's a first for me. A major donor not having any input over the design. I suppose in theory it is possible, I've just never heard of it (as a former professional in the Charitable Giving/Fundraising). But without the disclosure of the funding and whatever else the City is withholding, we won't ever really know who or how much influence was involved.
joninla January 25, 2012 at 08:48 AM
Don't worry, people have to pay quite a lot of money to get their names on building .... Oh but the City Council Members don't have to pay for their names on buildings whereas the rest of 'us' would have to pay thousands and thousand of dollars in 'donations' for the same. Does that seem Koser to anyone? Doesn't to me.
WeHoOne January 25, 2012 at 09:50 PM
This brings to mind the statement by the city manager from his lofty perch, that the new bldg in Plummer Park would be "spectacular", a description meriting derisive laughter, prima facie. As if spectacular by any measure would be an appropriate fit for Plummer Park. Hopefully this "spectacular" plan (& the city manager) were caught in time to avoid another disaster such as the library. (Although he reminds me of a spoiled brat who would probably pout & stomp his foot till he gets it his way. His ego seems to take a front seat to common sense.) However I am told that since Councilmember John D'Amico is lending his architectural expertise to this project, it will likely be less "spectacular" and more environmentally appropriate for Plummer Park. Hope so.
joninla January 26, 2012 at 01:44 AM
what's up with all the comments from an actual apparent 'insider' being deleted?
Chloe Ross January 26, 2012 at 02:37 AM
Excellent question. Censorship? How and who decides on the deletions and may I as the author at least see them? I find this troubling - there are too many for it to be a casual Oops.
joninla January 26, 2012 at 05:01 AM
I am posting copies of the deleted comments which I replied to. I thought they were very relevant: 1of4 "I worked on this project for 12 years and the shelving was carefully calculated to accomodate many years of growth. (Typically 20) The libraries you note are older and were planned 20 years ago and are now full. If we plan for 20 years growth at 5% growth per year, then you can expect the shelving to be about half empty at opening day. We are also mvoing the content of a 5,000 square foot building into a 30,000 SF building. Also, FYI, the library did not cost $60million. The library cost approx. $17M. the total project includes a 5 story garage, and a long range project including multiple buildings in the park. BTW, 19 years ago, the "new " Beverly Hills Library was half empty when it opened as well. Since it is now full, there is a major weeding and renovation progress. Good Libraries are like good retail - they need to reinvent periodically."
joninla January 26, 2012 at 05:01 AM
2of4 "Donors did not influence the style of the building so whether someone worked for Oracle or not did not have any influence on a "barren" and "bleak" style."
joninla January 26, 2012 at 05:02 AM
3of4 "The entire building was directed by MDA Johnson Favaro from Culver City, but you need to know that we had almost 50 public meetings as well as City and planning meetings to get to the final design. Part of the consideration was, of course, the context, including the spectuclar PDC across the street and the eclectic We Ho architercture all around. It was a conscious decision not to compete or even complement the local architecure. There was simply too much to address in the "neighborhood." Everyone from the late John Chase to most of the citizens weighed in on the exterior. Cheers."
joninla January 26, 2012 at 05:04 AM
4of4 oops Only 3 comments. But I thought it was a refreshing interaction with someone who actually participated in the planning process and could provide both factual information and the perspective as a member of a large group of people that combined their opinions to reach the final design we now must live with.
meister4weho January 26, 2012 at 05:19 AM
Yes, plenty of meetings -- input received but not incorporated.
Chloe Ross January 26, 2012 at 08:10 AM
joninla January 26, 2012 at 09:50 PM
It would be nice if people didn't delete .... but along with freedom to make a public posting, come the right to retract it without seeking 'permission'. I am only disappointed that what I thought was a very helpful and insightful conversation about the Completed Library and the Process that arrived at the finished project from someone who was participating in what was at least a 12 year process, was informative, helpful and provided previously unknown information from someone with a perspective inside the circle of privacy regarding public building design and construction. I did not put the original posters identity, but the information as it was posted was, to me, very honest and insightful in understanding what happened and why the results are what I think are a permanent serious mistake from the fundamental concept of a 2nd floor library entrance, to an elevated park, dangerously step and narrow stairs, and with virtually no trees and questionable results of there ever being large mature tree growth from the existing saplings in during the next 20-40 years (since they are not planted on natural earth, and there may not be adequate stable earth below to support the root structure for large tree growth - I'm no expert). As the existing completed library, garage and park stands, we can use it as an example and template of what not to do in the future.
joninla January 26, 2012 at 10:01 PM
FUTURE IMPLICATIONS OF WHAT WE NOT HAVE AND MUST LIVE WITH: Parking Garages: From the actual problems with exiting the parking garage after a regular weekly City Council Meeting, due to mechanical/computer problems which were part of the design of a very traditional parking structure, to the many anecdotal stories I've been told about problems with the the easy use of the new Parking Garage, a totally robotic garage with full time trained engineering teem employed to time run the robotics of the proposed $13 Million debacle City Hall Project, to the $41 Million dollar insane (or inane? maybe both) Plummer Park underground parking garage should be tabled after the standing lesson of how the planning process, from concept to completion, that West Hollywood employs to build, is flawed and will cause the future indebtedness of the City for the bonds to repay on $41 million, a cost for an undesirable, non-optimal and destructive final result. PRESERVATION - The preservation of all existing mature trees in West Hollywood has been thrown wayside in favor of the plans for Plummer Park (the largest single collection of the oldest and most mature trees in WeHo and perhaps most of So. Cal. Just look at the spare and non-existent trees in the new WeHo park. There aren't even many saplings to believe someday they will be able to even provide shade, let alone grow large and tall. Lesson learned or not? I think not. YIKES!
Chloe Ross January 26, 2012 at 10:07 PM
joninla January 27, 2012 at 03:54 AM
I am not sure if you are directing your comment to anyone specifically. But I am sure you know (or maybe not) that if you click the 'keep me posted' option, you can get a copy of all posts in your email, which you can keep and access, even if the original poster deletes their post. That is where I was able to find the deleted posts which I thought were very good towards the discussion about how the end result came to be. I didn't include the original posters 'screen name' just out of consideration for the apparent desire not to be identified.
Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move January 27, 2012 at 04:08 AM
Hi Chloe, you know, I actually made my first long pit stop to the West Hollywood library a couple of weeks ago myself and have to sort of agree. While the staff was super helpful and friendly, (I love my new library card!) the space beautiful, oodles of children roaming free and plenty of snoring and 'making out' on the upstairs reading room couches, the furniture definitely outsized the reading material. But I am hopeful. I love the public library system and am definitely thankful for such beautiful, uplifting spaces that actually have the potential to inspire one to read, to investigate, to learn -- anything at all. My old neighborhood library actually had a mini waterfall in it (The North End of Boston - you might even remember in your travels.) That was fun. :)
joninla January 27, 2012 at 04:20 AM
With all my negativity, I would like to agree about the Library Staff being above any expectation for friendly, eager, polite and fast service. Great library staff!!
joninla January 29, 2012 at 02:33 AM
I have uploaded pictures of "my perspective" and basis for my harsh critiques of the completed project.
allegra January 29, 2012 at 05:43 PM
JoninLA’s pictures are worth.. well, sixty million words.
Shawn Thompson January 30, 2012 at 03:08 PM
I agree on the pictures. Starter plants ans cement seems to be the fancy of city hall.
joninla February 04, 2012 at 12:36 AM
I'm not a photographer nor do I have the appropriate equipment, but it takes more than one quick visit to West Hollywood Park to see how truly terrible a design it is. From the foundation being elevated to the selection of planting, it really an almost 'unpleasant' experience rather than a respite from the busy city as a public park (kind of by definition) should be. I suggest see for oneself. No need to hurry, it is only going downhill as time goes by.


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