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Restoration, Seismic Retrofitting Begin at Landmark Library

May 29, 1996|MAKI BECKER

After nearly a decade of preparation, restoration of the Felipe de Neve Public Library on the north side of Lafayette Park has begun.

The library, built in 1929, has been closed since 1990 after building officials declared it unsafe. It has been replaced by a temporary storefront site at 610 S. Rampart Blvd.

The $2.3-million library renovation was designed by Altoon and Porter Architects. The work will include seismic reinforcement and the addition of two pavilions.

The building was named after the first Latino governor of California.

"The challenge was to do two things: seismically strengthen the building, which was too weak to continue standing, and add additional space that would satisfy an involving library program," said architect Ronald Altoon.

In designing the additional space, the architects were faced with the difficult task of expanding a historic building. "How do you add to a perfectly symmetrical, formal northern Italian renaissance building without violating the building?" Altoon asked.

He found the answer from the south of the structure where a landscapist created a reflecting lily pond.

The problem, he said, was that the public was not able to appreciate the area because there was no direct access from the library to the pond.

"This was like [Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers] Pyramus and Thisbee, one wanting to be with the other and loving the other, but not being able to get to each other," Altoon said.

Altoon brought the two together by building pavilions on either side of the lily pond. The library and pond "will now frame the upper terrace and form a kind of outdoor reading room . . . where young people can be read to in a semi-protected area," he said.

One of the two pavilions that will be built south of the library will function as a meeting place and classroom, Altoon said. The other will be used for administrative purposes so that more of the main building can be used for library patrons.

The project is funded with federal grants and money from a city library bond measure passed by voters in 1989. The work is expected to be completed in October 1997, Altoon said.

The improved structure also will be more accessible to the disabled and have increased electrical capacity, library officials said.

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