In fairness, like most large cities, Los Angeles has a lot of cool buildings. However, at the advice of my friend Sandy, we took a tour of the central branch of the Los Angeles Public Library in downtown LA. The building is pretty incredible.

Built in 1926, this iconic structure is the largest branch of the Los Angeles Public Library system. In total, there are 73 branches, but none of the others come close to the beauty of this one. Getting there is actually fairly easy, as there is an underground parking structure or, like me, you can take the Metro to Pershing Square and walk two short blocks. (This also allows you to walk past the Millennium Biltmore, one of the grand old hotels in Southern California.)Docent tours of the Building are offered daily, with weekends holding an additional outdoor tour of the gardens and grounds. I highly recommend doing both, as they complement each other well. These tours point out interesting features I otherwise would not have noticed.

My favorite example of the thought that went into the newer redesign of the exterior of the building is in the stairs leading from the gardens up to the western entrance of the library. The steps reveal the history of language, from pictographs through computer languages used now. It is fascinating, and truly beautiful.


This section is some of the development of romance languages.

Carvings all over the exterior of the building portray knowledge in its forms, mainly using classical philosophers as iconography.

A tile fountain, off in the drought, with Egyptian and Greek icons over the doorway behind.

The gardens, formerly a staff parking lot, hold one of only two Peace Bells in the United States. Built by a former Japanese soldier in World War Two, the sole survivor of his unit, these bells are given as gifts through his foundation in the hope of an era of peace. (The other in the US is at the United Nations, and is rung to begin each session.)

The Peace Bell

Having explored the outside, I was expecting big things from the interior of the building. I was not disappointed. Public art works are prevalent throughout the building; some are more my taste than others but all are interesting.

A classical sculpture paying homage to knowledge and California.

Buildings in downtown Los Angeles are capped at 40 stories. To go over that, a building can purchase the “air rights” of a neighboring construction. Having sold their top 33 floors of space to a neighboring building, the library, when expanding, was forced to go underground. A huge central atrium provides sunlight all the way down, making the lower floors not feel as though they are beneath the surface.

The central atrium with some odd sculptures hanging down. I am standing at street level.

Perhaps my favorite art installation at the library was this one, a collaboration with Oaxaca. Look carefully at the murals, as there are some interesting features (such as the priest with a police baton instead of a cross).

These are powerful works, and I hope they are up permanently.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I toured the Los Angeles Central Library, but I am very glad I did. The building has a lot of really fascinating artwork and quirky characteristics!

What is your favorite building?

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