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Legislators Seek Funds to Restore Eagle Rock Library

June 11, 1987|DENISE HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

Dust clings to empty card catalogues and a crudely drawn swastika defaces the large oak desk where patrons once checked out books from the former Eagle Rock Library.

The dust has been accumulating since 1981, when the library moved to new quarters and left the landmark Spanish mission-style building vacant. Two attempts since then to get state restoration money failed to make it out of legislative committee.

This year, however, a similar measure is having better success.

The state Senate's recently approved 1988 budget earmarks $238,000 for restoration of the 62-year-old building. A six-member conference committee, appointed by the Senate and Assembly to fashion a compromise budget to send to Gov. George Deukmejian, is expected to approve the funding item this week, according to Sen. Art Torres, a Democrat who represents Eagle Rock.

"It's very good news so far, but we're anxious to hear what happens," said Walter Dickey, president of the Eagle Rock Historical Society. Dickey said he has asked parishioners at the church he attends to bombard Deukmejian's office with letters urging the renovation.

Michael Gonzalez, an aide to Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alatorre, said the governor must see "a groundswell of community support" if he is to back the library's restoration. Alatorre's office has been working with Torres on the funding project.

Deukmejian, who has veto over individual spending items, must give final approval by June 30. A spokesman for his office said it was too early to tell if the governor would support funds for the restoration.

Torres, a member of the Senate's influential budget and fiscal review committee, introduced the library funding measure as part of a nearly $1 million package that would also pay for restoration of the Los Angeles City Hall council chambers and the old Union Church near Little Tokyo. The money would come out of the state's capital outlay fund.

The $238,000 grant would enable Los Angeles to bring the former library up to earthquake standards and install access for handicapped persons. If the grant is approved, the city's general services department would provide $26,500 in funding, Gonzalez said.

Elected officials said they also may set up an advisory board of local residents to help determine the best use for the two-story, 6,500-square-foot facility.

Suggestions include converting it to a senior citizens' center, a day-care center or a community art gallery. Gonzalez said the city may finance such proposals by entering into a partnership with a private firm.

One problem city officials already foresee, however, is parking. There is no parking lot and street parking is limited, Gonzalez said.

Of course, few people had cars back in 1915 when, with $7,500 donated by industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, Eagle Rock built a library on the 2200 block of Colorado Boulevard. Eagle Rock was an incorporated city from 1911 to 1923, when it was annexed by Los Angeles.

Ecclesiastical Design

The library was designed by a Los Angeles firm that specialized in ecclesiastical architecture and features a cruciform plan, large clerestory windows, a fireplace and a high ceiling with wood trusses. Upstairs, a small reading room opened onto an outdoor patio. The library's basement was frequently used for music and dance recitals. There was also a garden.

For many years, the library was the hub of community life in Eagle Rock, recalled historian Dickey. During the two World Wars, men registered for the draft there. In 1923, the building was enlarged and a Spanish motif was added.

But Eagle Rock's growth soon outpaced that of the library. The inside reading room wasn't big enough. There wasn't enough shelf space for books. Patrons clamored for better parking.

When the library suffered structural damage during the 1971 earthquake, officials decided that bringing it up to health and safety codes would prove too expensive. Instead, they built a new library a few blocks away that was twice as large and boasted air conditioning as well as a computerized library system.

Transient Prose

The old library closed for good in 1981, and since then has been home only to occasional transients, like the one who penned this mournful ode on a wooden plank found by a security guard:

"There was a sad outcast who lived in this place. Now he is dead and his ghost is all that remains. He haunts this place with his loneliness. . . ."

Through the intercession of former councilman Arthur K. Snyder, the library was declared a city cultural monument in 1983. The landmark designation made it eligible for state and federal money available to preserve historic sites, but attempts to get money through the state bond act that financed historic preservation failed, Gonzalez said.

About two months ago, Alatorre's office asked Torres to find a new way to help finance the restoration, Gonzalez said. Torres decided to apply for the money through the state's capital outlay fund, which the Senate approved last week. Spokespeople for both Alatorre and Torres said they hopef that Deukmejian will leave the library's funding intact when he goes over the budget later this month.

"We're keeping our fingers crossed," Gonzalez said.

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