The idea and spirit behind an unusual piece of architecture so often remains hidden in some detail of ornament or esoteric symbolism that totally escapes the casual observer.
How many people, for instance, have observed the finial in the shape of a woman's hand reaching skyward with a blazing torch, atop Los Angeles Public Library's tiled pyramid tower? And how about that delicate "serpent of knowledge" encircling her wrist?
When architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue was chosen to design the last of his works--a building plainly devoted to the housing of books--he sought architectural simplicity, softened only by colored tiles and carved and sculptured stonework laden with inspiring symbolism and public motivation in the quest for truth and wisdom.
Goodhue sought to bring the past and present together in a single readable image. He borrowed liberally from Egypt, Rome, Byzantium and from various Islamic civilizations. He expressed the present in his utilitarian planning and use of modern materials such as steel and concrete.
The magnitude of the building may be judged by the estimated 260,000 square feet of floor space devoted to 15 public reading rooms with about 1,200 seats, and study, club and lecture rooms.
Designated in 1967 as a historic cultural monument, the Los Angeles Public Library building once rose from five acres of asymetrically landscaped grounds, integral to the design of the structure, shaded by laurel, acanthus, olive, palm and cypresses.
The main entrance of the 1926-vintage building on the Flower Street features a carved panel, and two figures--Phosphor and Hesper, the heralds of light--stand sentinel above it.
Operating within a Beaux Arts tradition, Goodhue introduced the splendor of murals and sculptures done by such artists as Lee Lawrie, Dean Cornwall, Julian Garnsey and A. W. Parsons.
Among the most striking interpretations are the eight great figures that represent areas of thought and crown the pyramidal tower.
Perhaps the next time we pass by our landmark library, we should stop and nod to these seers of light. Who knows what secrets a glance may impart?