A blue-ribbon committee of Eagle Rock residents appointed to decide how the community can use the abandoned library building on Colorado Boulevard took a walk through the structure Tuesday afternoon to stir their imaginations.
The visit to the 1914 Mission-style building stirred an equal measure of nostalgia, not without twinges of pain.
Some of those on the committee had first walked through the library doors 20 years ago, or more. None had been inside for at least seven years, the library having been moved in 1981 to a newer building a couple of blocks away.
Since then, the building has remained unused. It stands importantly, in spite of evident and advancing decay, on a knoll that lifts its Spanish Mediterranean detail well above the visual mediocrity of a stucco market on one side and a cinder-block bank building on the other.
Its row of clerestory windows running parallel to the street is capped by a gable of red tiles and crossed at one end by a transverse gable in a clear rendition of the cruciform plan of the European cathedral.
Along with the slightly less distinctive Eagle Rock Municipal Building two blocks to the east and the abandoned Northeast police station on York Boulevard, it gives the neighborhood a sense of historical continuity that is more commonly found in L.A's older neighborhoods.
The city has acquired $238,000 of the estimated $900,000 needed for rehabilitation and is applying to the state Office of Historical Preservation for another $535,000.
The blue-ribbon committee, appointed by Councilman Richard Alatorre, takes matters of community history seriously.
Almost immediately, when a uniformed policeman opened the doors to let her in Tuesday, committee member Shirley Minser, a deputy for Alatorre, raised a pained protest.
She had hoped to organize the tour group around her own favorite artifact in the old library, the original reference desk, situated right at the spot where the altar would be in a church.
It was gone. All that remained was an outline on the brown linoleum floor and a few ancient library cards that had apparently slipped under it.
Neither the policeman nor a man from the city's General Services Department knew what had happened to the desk.
Minser fretted for several minutes.
"We've got to get it back," she said.
Jerry Miller, the slight, quiet president of the Eagle Rock Historical Society, recalled coming to the library as a kid.
Katie Smith, past president of the Eagle Rock Board of Realtors, remembered a son's venality.
"My kid used to come here all the time--the son who was killed in Vietnam," she said. "We couldn't figure it out. His grades weren't that good."
She said they lived exactly seven miles from the library. One day, her husband checked the odometer and found that the trip had consumed 200 miles on the family car.
Once everyone arrived, Minser began the tour. She pointed out the clean, octagonal columns supporting Islamic arches under the clerestory windows. She thought they were Doric.
She pointed out the fireplace, around which young people used to snuggle up in chairs.
Soon, people began making discoveries. Downstairs in the basement, as many had recalled, there was the outline of a stage, though it was abused almost beyond recognition. In another room were boxes containing, by someone's count, 25,000 toilet seat covers.
Upstairs, Miller found old papers left behind when the books were moved. One was the front page of the Los Angeles Times of Nov. 23, 1963, the morning after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Another was the April 19, 1968, Life magazine with a two-page color photograph of the Martin Luther King funeral procession, with a boyish Jesse Jackson and Andrew Young beside the casket.
Miller tucked the finds under his arm for the historical society's museum. The members of the committee had no problem imagining uses. The nave, where the bookcases had been, could be an Eagle Rock museum. The transept--once the reading room--could be a meeting room for the elderly.
Reluctantly, the committee retired after about an hour.
That evening, it reconvened in the Municipal Building to get down to the real work.
First, members entertained some good news from Mark De La Torre, legislative deputy for Councilman Alatorre. He had found the reference desk. It had been moved to the Wilshire Branch Library by someone who thought that it wasn't wanted.
Then De La Torre learned what makes a blue-ribbon committee blue. He said someone in the councilman's office proposed turning the knoll in front of the library into 10 parking spaces.
Smith spoke above the low rumble that idea produced.
"You're too young to die," she said. "Don't bring that up again."