After its original home was badly damaged in the 1971 earthquake, the Echo Park Branch Library relocated to what was intended to be a temporary home.
Fifteen years later, the library is still in the former office building at 515 N. Laveta Terrace, tucked out of sight on a cul-de-sac between the Hollywood Freeway and Temple Street.
Recurring vandalism and arson attempts in August and November have rekindled an effort to find the graffiti-scarred library a safer and more accessible home in a nearby firehouse soon to be abandoned by the Fire Department. The campaign has the support of the Echo Park library staff, local homeowner associations, 4th District Councilman John Ferraro and Los Angeles school board member Jackie Goldberg, a neighbor who uses the branch.
"One of these days they're going to get lucky with their matches and it will be our loss," said Karen Jaeger, coordinator of a newly formed group called Friends of the Echo Park Library. The group on Tuesday took its cause to a meeting of the Los Angeles Public Library Board of Commissioners.
The first attempted arson occurred in August when a large manila envelope was crammed under a door to the secluded Laveta Terrace building and set afire. The second, a small trash fire set near a compressor outside the one-story stucco-and-wood building, followed in early November. The fires spent themselves before they could damage the building, and only the paint on a metal door was blistered in the first fire. There have been no arrests.
The push is on to relocate the library a few blocks away to the building Fire Engine Co. 6 is expected to vacate when it moves into new headquarters in about a year.
The old firehouse, built in 1929, is a two-story brick building at the corner of East Edgeware Road and Bellevue Avenue. The city has identified the firehouse as historically significant and put it in the Echo Park-Silver Lake Community Plan for preservation and public use once the Fire Department leaves.
The fire company, which will be moving to a station to be built two miles away at Virgil and Oakwood avenues, must vacate the old building because it does not meet earthquake standards for housing emergency apparatus, Fire Captain Roy Prince said.
Standards for fire and police stations are more stringent than for other structures, requiring engineering to exceed guidelines in the building code by 50%. "With proper repairs made to the building, it could be occupied by something other than emergency services," Prince said in an interview.
On Tuesday, library commissioners expressed sympathy for the branch's plight and said they would discuss it further. But they said they are concerned about moving the library into a building with unreinforced masonry. It was also noted that the cost of bringing the firehouse up to earthquake code standards could be prohibitive.
"The bottom line is, we need money," said Commissioner Sanford Paris.
Bill Garcia, an aide to Ferraro, has said he has heard estimates of $1.5 million to renovate the fire station. But the library system's business manager, Don Buck, declined in an interview to estimate how much renovation would cost.
Ideally, Buck said, planners would prefer to build a new structure in Echo Park's business district on Sunset Boulevard, but he said "there's no money for it."
The existing branch home has plenty of space and is earthquake safe, said senior librarian Renee Ardon, but it is in the wrong place.
Besides graffiti, thefts of library equipment and damage to cars parked in the library's lot have escalated in the last three years to a point where many patrons no longer feel safe there, Ardon said.
Particularly bothersome, Ardon said, is the unsavory activity that takes place in a nearby pedestrian tunnel that runs under the Hollywood Freeway from Laveta Terrace north to Bellevue Avenue. The tunnel provides the quickest access for library patrons who live north of the freeway, but it draws street gang members, drug dealers, derelicts and vagrants.
"I call it the urinal," Ardon said. "Pardon my eloquence, but that's what it is. You can't expect little kids to want to use it . . . or adults."
There is also a spillover problem from the small park behind the library where its former home once stood, she said. Some people who loiter and drink in the park throw trash and bottles in the library parking lot and troop inside to use the library's restrooms and water fountain.
No library users or staff members have been mugged or attacked to her knowledge, Ardon said. But, she added, "at the same time, when you get that kind of graffiti and see the names of the gangs, and you know they are drug-related gangs, you realize you're dealing with something that could be very dangerous."