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Bookworms Abuzz Over City's New Library

Agoura Hills: Three years in the making, the high-tech but homey Craftsman-style facility thrills local bibliophiles.

November 04, 2001|PATRICIA WARD BIEDERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Eight-year-old Vivian Shen couldn't have been happier if it had been raining Barbies.

With a copy of Roald Dahl's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" under her arm, the grinning third-grader began to spin and hop. Why wouldn't she be ecstatic? She had just gotten her first library card, at the new library in Agoura Hills.

While nearby Calabasas dithers, Agoura Hills has completed its new $10-million civic center, which includes the library. The process took just three years, from obtaining the 3.25-acre site off Ladyface Circle to last month's grand opening.

Although the library is a scaled-down version of the regional facility that the Conejo Valley city once hoped for, it's a jewel in its own right, its fans say. And its fans appear to be many.

On opening day, residents of the community of 22,000 checked out 2,000 books. And 110 people requested library cards, as many as signed up at the old library in a typical month, according to director Raya Saji.

In the view of former library director Sy Rimer, who served on the design committee, "It's as near to perfection as I can conceive."

Even before Agoura Hills incorporated in 1982, local bibliophiles had begun campaigning for a new library to replace the leaky concrete-block building on Roadside Drive. When Rimer became librarian in 1972, the 7,500-square-foot facility "had a hitching post, and people still came to the library on horseback in some cases," he recalled.

But the now-30-year-old building held only 35,000 volumes, and prospective borrowers were discouraged by the lack of parking. Moreover, Rimer said, you took your life into your hands when pulling out onto Roadside Drive, which runs alongside the Ventura Freeway.

"You have to have seen the old one to appreciate this one," Saji said of the new library at 29901 Ladyface Court, which shares the civic center with City Hall. A new council chamber sits in the center of the complex under a cupola, and there is also a community meeting room.

Tucked amid the live oaks at the foot of Ladyface Mountain, the Craftsman-style library, at 17,000 square feet, is more than twice the size of the old and has three times the parking (92 spaces). It also has room for 100,000 volumes, three times the number the old facility could accommodate.

Owned by the city, the library operates as a branch of the Los Angeles County Public Library. And bucking the national trend, it is open every day but Sunday, with evening hours Monday through Wednesday.

Thoroughly wired, the library has 25 computers, several with Internet access, and other high-tech features. But its ambience is that of a Craftsman-style home, one with lots and lots of books, videotapes and periodicals. In the spirit of the Arts and Crafts movement, the center has a shingle roof, wooden eaves and stone posts--a dramatic departure from the stucco-and-terra-cotta Southwestern style so popular in Southern California.

"The design committee just sort of fell in love with the idea of Craftsman," said architect Charles Walton of Charles Walton and Associates in Glendale.

Committee member Diane Haupt, who with her husband, Eric, has led the Friends of the Library since the 1980s, agreed.

"We didn't want it to feel like an edifice," she said. "We wanted to really make it feel homey."

Its coziness is evident as soon as you enter the library. Behind a curved wall of stained glass is the Friends of the Library's reading room. It has a fireplace with gas jets, and Stickley chairs and tables--genuine, new L. & J.G. Stickley furniture.

The Friends raised more than $360,000 for the furnishings and other amenities, including an original mural of the Santa Monica Mountains and its animals in the extensive children's section.

"I wanted something residential," said Louise Rishoff, the Agoura Hills councilwoman who many say spearheaded the project. "We wanted it to be a place where people would stay, not just come and obtain materials," said Rishoff, a member of the design committee. "We wanted it to be a gathering place."

To ensure that the library would be welcoming, the committee put tables and chairs around the perimeter so visitors could gaze out the windows at the treetops. And tables are lighted by lamps, "not neon tubes," Rishoff said. Look into the library at night, she said, and it seems to glow.

Assistant City Manager Greg Ramirez, who was project director, said he thought the committee made good use of its money. For all the complex's high-end touches, "We didn't spend a lot of money on things like . . . marble," he said. The material in the plaza in front of the center looks like slate but is actually stamped concrete. And what appears to be wood flooring in the community room and parts of City Hall is a durable, easy-to-clean linoleum product made from recycled rubber and other materials.

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