The Triumph of Our Local Libraries
We are fortunate to have some of the best local libraries in the L.A. area, but our good fortune has been the result of hard work by our community to make it so. The history of CV’s libraries is nearly as convoluted as the history of our various water wars.
Our first libraries were so-called “social libraries” – membership organizations that provided books, culture and social contact for CV’s earliest American pioneers. The first of these were in the 1880s at the home of Professor White, the former head of Wabash College in Indiana. At the urging of his friend Dr. Benjamin Briggs, he had retired to the Crescenta Valley, building a mansion on the southeast corner of Rosemont and Foothill. It’s said he created a lending library, and his house was home base for two literary groups – the “Ladies Shakespearean Club” (from which the La Crescenta Woman’s Club can trace its roots) and the “Crescenta Literary Society,” a young people’s organization that produced its own local newspaper for a time.
Our first true public library was established in 1914. The L.A. County Library system opened a branch in a local church, which almost immediately was moved to the schoolhouse, then to the back room of a store, and again to another store’s storeroom, always the stepchild. Finally in 1932 the county built a wood frame building on the corner of La Crescenta and Piedmont, but even then library hours were a paltry two days a week. (That building is still there, now a house on La Crescenta Avenue.)
When Glendale annexed its portion of the valley in 1952, it inherited the small county library at La Crescenta and Piedmont, which Glendale Library expanded and used until 1960. The county shelved plans it had for a new library before the annexation. Instead they directed CV residents to its La Cañada branch, leaving the La Crescenta residents who weren’t in the Glendale portion without library service. This was at the peak of population growth in CV, and most of the new residents were families with kids. Local car dealer W.O. Williamson (Williamson Oldsmobile) forced the no-library issue with the county in 1961 by using his own money and land at La Crescenta and Sanborn to build a small library building. The county got the hint, purchased it, and in 1963 opened the tiny La Crescenta library.
Glendale upped the stakes in this ’60s-era “library war” by building the Montrose Library at Honolulu and Orangedale avenues. This library was (and still is) gorgeous – a wonder of modern architecture, which incorporated a new fire station into its design as well. (If you’ve never looked at the Montrose library as an architectural piece, please stop by sometime and take a look, both inside and out. Despite being over a half-century old, it still looks innovative and fresh. They have a great local history collection too!)
The county meanwhile crowded library patrons into the windowless one-room La Crescenta library, while La Cañada got a beautiful new library. In the late 1990s the CV Town Council began some hard lobbying to right this wrong. (One member even went to DC on her own dime to seek federal funds.) Their tenacity paid off, and in 2010 La Crescenta was rewarded with a new 15,000 square foot library at La Crescenta and Foothill. It was everything the old library wasn’t – spacious, filled with natural light, and with meeting rooms for community events. Local art is featured throughout – murals, stained glass and bronze relief images portraying local scenes and landmarks, while the exterior is clad with La Crescenta rocks. It’s a wonderful, vibrant community center. It should be noted too that (once again thanks to the CV Town Council) the La Crescenta library hours now include Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Despite the move to digital information, both the reading of books and the use of libraries have remained strong, and have even increased. And we’re fortunate to have two of the best and most beautiful of those libraries in L.A. – another treasure of our valley.