Saturday, April 14, 2012

Mar Vista Library
Front of the Mar Vista Library. Photo by Devin Kelly / Venice-Mar Vista Patch

It was a sunny Saturday morning when I visited my neighborhood library, the Mar Vista branch of the Los Angeles Public Library system. Sitting on the corner of Venice and Inglewood Blvd. across the street from Fire Station 62, the library is a bright and welcoming building surrounded by greenery with the humming front door shaded by a pale turquoise rounded overhang. Making it especially welcoming for this bibliophile were the large white banners announcing a Friends of the Library book sale. Swept up by a desire for book bargains, I cut my outdoor observations short, and headed inside.

"...a pale turquoise rounded overhang"
It is easy to see that the Mar Vista Library is well used. The automatic glass doors showing the remnants of graffiti removal, the entryway wall speckled with evidence of old flyers and, perhaps, relocated bulletin boards. But the wear to the facility is one thing, it is a whole different proof of the branch's vitality to walk in and see a building teeming with people of all ages.

The history of a library is typically tied tightly to the development of a region, and the branch in Mar Vista is no different. Library service in the area was probably first established around 1912 by the County of Los Angeles in a storefront at 12117 Venice Blvd.
Mar Vista Library ca 1954
The new Mar Vista Library ca. 1954 where patrons could grab a book, and then a burger at the joint next door (image from the LAPL Photo Collection).
In March 1927, when Mar Vista was annexed by Los Angeles, the City took the storefront over, renaming it the Mar Vista Station.

It remained in that location until 1950 when the City merged two branches into the Mar Vista branch at 12310 Venice Blvd. Quickly, however, the community expanded and the City responded in 1962 by moving the library from its storefront home to a beautiful new mid-century building designed by Stoshitch and Russell at 12006 Venice Blvd.

Mar Vista Library ca 1962
An artist's rendering of the 5,450-square-foot Mar Vista Library (image from the LAPL Photo Collection).

41 years later, on March 6, 2003, a new library, more than double the size of the old one opened in the same location. That building, designed by Mahmoud Gharachedahi and Neil Hagigat, is the one I visited today.

If the purpose of a library is to bring people together, this one does. Strolling through the main reading room (the building is one large hall separated into sections primarily by shelving), I saw a couple of teens with their heads together over a paperback, several tables of people studying together or being tutored, and a few individuals on laptops. Though the building was busy, the noise level did not go beyond the low din of a public space (with an occasional exclamation from the book sale in the meeting room).
"Folio/Wave" by John O'Brien (hat-tip to for the image).
I suspect that the large metallic(?) sheets of public art backed by what appears to be noise-dampening material hung overhead all over the library contributes to the comfortable ambiance.

I normally pop into the Mar Vista Library just before they close on weekdays to pick up my holds so it was nice to be able to stop and browse a little. The collection of adult books isn't especially notable, and I didn't peruse the non-fiction. The audiobooks, which I'm a huge fan of generally, have the cassette tapes and CDs interfiled, which makes scanning less convenient. Still, I found The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury and that was good. The teens of Mar Vista have a sizable section all to themselves and while the floor, tables, and general layout of the section is unremarkable, I did enjoy the wall of collages made by teens, I assume.

Properly, in my view, the architects made the children's section just over a third of the library. While I didn't spend too much time there, my once-over did reveal a charming storytime tower at the north side of the building. With colorful rugs underfoot and a "Story Telling" sign topping an entranceway filled with books, I was taken, once inside, with the soft benches and sea-themed neon signs glowing overhead.

There's more where this guy came from...
The staff too added to my enjoyment of the place. Though I know nearly every library has its grumps, I didn't run into any today. Chatting with a librarian, I learned a little Mar Vista history, was given a handout from the library's grand opening (a wonderful keepsake with a history of the library, some of which is above, a plan of the building and the names of staff who graced the library on that happy day in 2003) and shown to a historical exhibit put together by another librarian who grew up in Mar Vista. One could see that area residents care about local history since the historical society has its meeting information and some historical photographs displayed in the case visible on the right as soon as visitors enter the inner door of the building.

I admit, the Mar Vista library does have the usual library clutter, inconsistently designed signage, typical wear-and-tear of a government building, and a cramped parking lot, but where it counts, staff seem to have their act together. Whatever a library's purpose may be, I can safely say that today, I learned about my community, checked out Ray Bradbury, and spent a nice mid-morning at my neighborhood library. Oh yeah, and at the book sale I scored E.B. White's One Man's Meat, a paperback of Hermann Hesse's Demian, and for my wife, a nice copy of The Little Prince in French, all for practically nothing.


Fran aka Redondowriter said...

Love this article about the Mar Vista Library.

Julie said...

Home is where the heart is, and my heart is wherever I am at the moment. Cheap flights to Los Angeles