The Los Angeles Public Library


The Los Angeles Public Library


It’s THE largest library system, a historic landmark of architectural brilliancy, and most of all it’s a story of a community come together after a devastating tragedy that involved arson!


An architectural beauty designed by American Bertram Goodhue, The Central Library downtown hub of the Los Angeles Public Library system, opened in 1825.   The theme “Light of Learning” is marked by a hand with a torch emerging from an Egyptian-like pyramid atop the building. In 1986 a devastating fire was set and 400,000 documents were lost forever. A coming together of the community and business leaders led to the salvage of hundreds of thousands of damaged items. The community raised $10M and after 7 years of renovation, reopened in 1993.


630 W. 5th Street Los Angeles, CA 90071

Mon-Thurs: 10am-8pm, Fri/Sat: 9:30am-5:30pm, Sun: 1pm-5pm

Daily Walk-In Tours of the Central Library last approximately one hour. No reservations are necessary for groups of six or less. The tours leave from the front of the Library Store in the main lobby. Tour times are:

Monday – Friday 12:30pm
Saturday 11am & 2pm
Sunday 2pm

The Full Scoop

Big Sil likes big things and The Los Angeles Public Library system is BIG!



It’s the largest library system in the US based on its reach, serving over 3.8M people.


13.8 Million Visitors

It’s #2 in terms of number of annual visitors, second only to the New York Public Library at 18.3M.


6.3 Million Periodicals

It’s 4th in number of periodicals with 6.3M throughout the LA system. That’s a whole lot of learning that can be done!


89 Miles of Shelves

The Central Library boasts over 3 marathon lengths of shelving!  The system has 72 branches with The Los Angeles Central Library downtown as the hub. And this beautiful building has quite a story.



The story of The Central Library starts with its architecture, designed by Bertram Goodhue. Goodhue was born in Connecticut and then studied and apprenticed in Manhattan, becoming quite a famous architect operating out of Boston. He is credited with the Spanish Colonial Revival style. His firm was a leader in Neo-Gothic, which can be seen in his work in historic churches you have probably seen around the country. He freed up his architectural style toward the end of his career incorporating sculpture, mosaic work, and color in a more modern style. For the library he revived Mediterranean and Egyptian themes as can be seen in the top, a tiled mosaic pyramid with a sun on each side.

Atop the library, a hand is holding a torch representing the “Light of Learning” emerges. But what does it all mean? Just prior to the library, Goodhue worked with Hartley Burr Alexander, Philosophy Professor at the University of Nebraska on the Nebraska State Capitol. Alexander was responsible for devising a theme for the Nebraska Capitol and it was such a success, that he was asked by Goodhue to help with the library. His theme was: “Light of Learning”. The description from the 1927 guidebook read:

“Light and learning are associated together by an impulse so natural that it pervades the great literature of the world. Knowledge is imagined as a lamp, wisdom as a guiding star, and the conscious tradition of mankind as a torch passed from generation to generation.”

And how true is has been. The Los Angeles Public Library is truly a story of a community banding together to preserve and pass the “Light of Learning” down from generation to generation. Goodhue died suddenly at the age of 54 sadly before the library opened.   This is just a small taste of the history and meaningful iconography used throughout the building. More reading and a tour of the Los Angeles Public Library are well worth it.


The Fire April 29, 1986

Sometime after the library opened at 10am on a beautiful, sunny day, someone set a fire in an area normally closed to the public and accessed only the library staff. Fire fighters arrived within ten minutes, but it spread through the magazine pool, the map room, the Social Science stacks, the Science stacks and into the Patents Room.

60 fire companies and 350 firefighters and paramedics battled the fire for more than 7 hours. Over $22M of damage was recorded. Thankfully no one perished. A full document of the fire right can be found here.

A $5000 reward was put out and a sketch of a man seen around the stacks, but the crime is still unsolved today.  To top it all, a second fire was set on September 3rd!


The Community Comes Together

Two very influential men rallied the community with what they called the “Save The Books” campaign. Mayor Tom Bradley and Lodwrick Cook, at the time the CEO of Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO), an oil company. Cook went above and beyond, getting friends and other corporate leaders to give money, setting up a store to benefit the library, and gathering employees to aid in the effort.

They raised over $10 million. Cook’s name stands on the rotunda and his efforts led to the creation of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles, which now raises around $5 million each year.


The Unsung Heroes: The Library Staff

Books, magazines and newspapers that were centuries old, were lost. The library staff, devastated. Irreplaceable numbers of hard copy periodicals, patent drawings, historic maps, photography negatives and newspapers archives were gone. And it was the library staff that worked the recovery, hauling books, sorting, working away in warehouses and at other library branches for years. Many items were able to be salvaged though freeze-drying, done through companies like Document Reprocessors. They used a modified vacuum freeze-drying chamber to freeze and then remove moisture content.



The renovation began in 1988 and took until 1993. The renovation included much needed expansion wings.


October 1993

80,000 came to the new Library on re-opening day.



So much happens at the library today that gives back to the community, it’s no wonder the community was there to give back when the library needed them most. The library programs and benefits include:

Early and Adult Literacy Programs, Teen’Scape, Tutoring/SAT Training, KLOS Story Theater for children’s programs / puppet shows, The Getty Gallery, Taper Auditorium, free guided tours, a 1.5 acre public park, and more.