The people at the Sherman Library and Gardens in Corona del Mar have discovered a way to take a good amount of the drudgery out of in-depth historical research. If, say, you're trying to find out whether your great uncle George's neighbor's house fell down in the San Francisco earthquake, and rummaging through the library's 15,000 books and pamphlets, 200,000 papers and documents, 2,000 reels of microfilm and large collection of maps and photographs begins to wear on you, all you have to do is step outside for one of the more delightful study breaks in Orange County.
The facility is surely the most agreeable combination of scholarly resources and natural beauty in Orange County. The library and gardens, at the corner of Coast Highway and Dahlia Street, can be easy to miss along the busy commercial strip, but visitors with a bit of time to spare and an eye for compact beauty will be well rewarded.
The library is a center for historical research devoted to the study of the Pacific Southwest, with emphasis on the development of the region over the past century. It was originally financed by funds from the Sherman Foundation, an organization named for Moses H. Sherman, a California educator and builder of early electric street railways who died in 1932. The idea of the library was first proposed by Sherman's former office assistant and executor of his estate, Arnold Haskell, who bought the block of property on Dahlia Street and began construction in 1966.
Today, the library--which is now funded by contributions from individuals, businesses and philanthropic organizations--is not only a repository for stacks and stacks of historical records, but several museum-quality paintings of California by artists who worked in the period between the world wars and came to be known as the "California impressionists," said William Hendricks, the library's director.
Researchers using the library can arrange to view such items as city directories, 100-year-old telephone books, maps, old newspapers from throughout California (either the actual paper or on microfilm), decades-old city plans and other records that trace the growth of the state since the early Spanish land-grant days. Genealogists in particular find useful sources in the library, said Hendricks.
Anyone can use the library without charge, said Hendricks, but he added that if a visitor needs specific documents or information pulled by one of the library's 12 volunteers, it is wise to call in advance.
And later, when the research-burdened mind needs a rest, relief is just out the door. The adjacent botanical gardens are arranged, said Hendricks, to display a different family of plants at nearly each turn. The successor to a nursery that once stood on the land, the gardens are filled with more than 1,000 species of carefully arranged and cultivated plants, from desert succulents to a tropical greenhouse with a pond stocked with koi. Fountains, sculptures, hedges and lawns are arranged throughout the area.
The most recent addition to the gardens is a "discovery garden" designed for blind and handicapped visitors. Dozens of plants, selected for their appeal to the sense of smell and touch (such as herbs) are arranged on an island-like planter that can be circled easily in a wheelchair.
For the scholar, though, there is one problem with the garden. If you take your study break there, you may not be able to force yourself to go back inside.
SHERMAN LIBRARY AND GARDENS AT A GLANCE
Where: 2647 E. Coast Highway, Corona del Mar.
Hours: Library, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Gardens, 10:30 a.m.to 4 p.m. daily.
Admission: Library, free. Gardens, $2; free on Monday.
Food: Light lunches served Saturday through Tuesday in the Tea Garden area of the gardens.
Special events: Irregularly scheduled lectures and musical events throughout the year. Tours by prior reservation.