The Los Angeles Central Library, courtesy of the library.
Los Angeles is celebrating one of its great treasures – the Central Library – this weekend on the 25th anniversary of its reopening in October 1993, seven years after a devastating fire. Among the events is an appearance by author Susan Orlean, whose “The Library Book” treats the fire as another of the city’s irresistible unsolved mysteries. (Note: A man identified as a “prime suspect” was never charged). In another author appearance, Stephen Gee will sign his book “Los Angeles City Hall: An American Icon.”
The blaze began about 11 a.m., April 29, 1986, in the periodicals stacks on the second floor and spread because of the large amount of paper and the library’s structure, which served as “four chimneys,” according to a story in the Los Angeles Times by the late Eric Malnic and Bob Baker. Firefighters first tried to access the heart of the blaze, knowing that a large amount of water would damage the collection, but as the flames spread, crews broke out upper windows and began pouring in water with fire derricks.
At 8 p.m., three hours after the fire was under control, library employees and other city workers began an all-night effort to salvage books.
The Times said:
Firefighters escorted the volunteers into the darkened, water-soaked library, breaking them into groups of five and handing each individual plastic sheeting to cover exposed books and other documents. Volunteers sloshed through wet, sawdust-filled floors lined with fire hoses and whirring machinery used in pumping water out of the building.
The toll was devastating. The Times said in 1993:
More than 400,000 books were lost. Thousands more were saved–thanks to a round-the-clock campaign by 1,700 volunteers and staff members who evacuated water-damaged books from the sooty building and placed them in freezers to prevent the growth of mold. The 1987 Whittier earthquake shook the library again, popping some of the colorful tiles off its crowning pyramid. Oil contamination was discovered on the site, as was methane gas. Asbestos had to be removed.
Taking a look at the renovated and expanded library in 1993, then-Times writer Amy Wallace called it “an expanded, ornamented, computerized treasury that is a remarkable blending of old and new.”
The appearance by Susan Orlean, with David Ulin, at 2 p.m. is sold out.
Other events include a lecture hosted by the Culinary Historians of Southern California, Firefighter Storytime, a Break-In Box and tours of Special Collections.