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CALFORNIA : Library designed with community in mind : Sleek, eco-friendly structure fits right into the Silver Lake scene.

November 16, 2009|Carla Rivera

Nearly 10 years ago, a group of Silver Lake residents began a campaign for a public library branch in their quirky community, long noted for its modern architecture, indie rock scene and general air of hipness.

The long wait ends today with the grand opening of the Silver Lake branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, a $12-million facility that, with its sleek modern facade, eco-friendly design and cutting-edge technology, embodies the neighborhood zeitgeist.

The branch is the first to use an automated book check-in and sorting system with a computerized conveyor belt that will speed book returns. The 13,600-square-foot building also features low-flow plumbing and irrigation to reduce water use by 30%, a photovoltaic skylight system that will increase energy efficiency by 20%, renewable materials such as bamboo, and drought-tolerant landscaping.

"To compete in the 21st century, Angelenos must be able to read and write, and we must provide opportunities for learning and growing," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in a statement prior to the opening. "The new Silver Lake Library will be a place where children and adults alike can broaden their horizons, have easy access to information and ideas and share in the joys of reading."

The Silver Lake branch is the latest of 73 public libraries in the city and the final project of a $335-million bond construction program begun in 1989.

In all, 64 libraries have been either newly built in communities that lacked a branch, such as Silver Lake, renovated, expanded or demolished and rebuilt, said Peter V. Persic, a spokesman for the library system.

Other branches built with the bond money include Edendale, Lake View Terrace, Pico-Union, Playa Vista, Porter Ranch, Westwood, Woodland Hills and the Mid-Valley Regional facility in North Hills.

"It's the largest library infrastructure-building program in the nation in terms of numbers of facilities," said Persic. "Each new branch was designed specifically for its community, with the design and siting created by architects with input from the community. The neighbors are very proud of the libraries and have a real sense of ownership."

Designs for the Pico-Union building, for instance, originally featured Asian-inspired elements, but in the end community members opted for a classic 1920s and '30s look. "When you pass by the building you would never guess it is new construction," said Persic.

Silver Lake residents wanted to build a grand structure at the busy corner of Glendale and Silver Lake boulevards to provide a gathering spot for the diverse community, said Michael Saint-Onge, president of Friends of Silver Lake Library, a nonprofit formed in 2004 to lobby for the branch and raise money for materials, equipment and books.

The split-level design by the local firm M2A Milofsky Michali & Cox Architects incorporates a 32-car subterranean garage, a glass-enclosed public plaza, a masonry veneer and a continuous clerestory window around the building that brings in natural light and offers a view of nearby hills.

Residents wanted to ensure that the library's collections would include works representative of the neighborhood's history as a home to the modern architecture of Richard Neutra and Rudolph M. Schindler, a center of Bohemian life in Los Angeles and a haven for gays and lesbians in the 1920s and '30s, said Saint-Onge.

So, Friends of Silver Lake Library will present a $20,000 check intended to enhance the book collection at the grand opening ceremony today, which is scheduled to include Villaraigosa, City Council President Eric Garcetti, who represents the neighborhood, and other city officials.

Other library features include a multipurpose meeting room, a storytelling area, multimedia materials, 26 public computers and free wireless Internet access.

"This is such a great addition," said Saint-Onge, who is a law librarian for Lexis-Nexis. "Libraries are equal-opportunity institutions welcoming all -- young and old, and wealthy and poor."

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carla.rivera@latimes.com

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