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  Central Library Architecture  
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brief history
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Main Hall
Pasadena Central Library Mainhall

Myron Hunt, along with all the other architects in the design competition, was required to take into consideration many components and specifications stipulated by the CivicCenter Plan and Jeanette Drake, City Librarian.

Myron Hunt intentionally designed the building to be basically a one-story structure, a unique concept for main libraries built in that time period. He did this based on successes with previous buildings he had designed but also primarily as a way to conserve space, eliminate grand staircases and elevators, and most importantly of all, to bring the design in on budget ($586,000). Consequently the Central Library design is quite distinct from other main libraries built around the same time, such as the Los Angeles Public Library’s Central Library.

The Main Hall is 33 feet wide, 45 feet high and 204 feet long. It was designed to connect to the other service rooms without any long hallways and with a minimum number of stairways. The Children’s Room, the Centennial Room, the Business Wing, Humanities Wing, and the Book Stacks all are connected to the Main Hall through open doorways. Also just off the Main Hall are additional service rooms: the Index and Newspaper Room, the Technology Learning Center, and the Photocopy Center. A long-forgotten doorway connecting the Main Hall and the Index and Newspaper Room was reopened during the 1989 restoration project and the beautiful skylights in this room were refurbished and backlit for increased lighting.

Myron Hunt was also responsible for all aspects of the interior design of Central Library and gave great care to every detail including the wall treatments and furniture.

Because of a limited budget, it was decided not to spend money on a lot of marble and bronze. Instead, the money went into the cork floor and the oak wainscoting. By using the wainscoting, Hunt was able to design the bookshelves to be an integral part of the overall design, thus preserving an elegant simplicity. The wainscoting is made of quarter-sawn oak, a common building material in 1925. This method of cutting the oak reveals the beautiful grain of the wood and adds a subtle beauty to the wainscoting.

This same wood was also used in the construction of the original Circulation and Information Center Desks. During the 1989 renovation, the Information Center Desk was redesigned and rebuilt by reference librarian and expert woodworker, William Lahay. He worked with the Information Center staff to design the modular interior of the desk, which in the tradition of Myron Hunt, can be adapted in the future, as needs change. The Circulation Desk was also restored and rebuilt with computers inset into the desk so as not to detract from the style of the building.

The Main Hall’s beautiful floor is made of cork, which came from Portugal. The cork, which was installed to help reduce noise, also was laid in a decorative pattern of alternating dark and light tiles.

Hunt even gave careful thought to the acoustic plaster, which is above the wainscoting in all the rooms. Hunt wanted to avoid the gray color that was so common in acoustic plaster at that time and simultaneously not ruin its acoustic properties by using just any paint. Careful experimentation with various pigments went on until Hunt was satisfied with the results.

Main Hall Lights
                        Main Hall Lights

One of the most beautiful features of the Main Hall is distinctive pendant lights. These are replicas of the original bronze and copper pendant lights Myron Hunt designed and were installed here, and in the Reference and Humanities Wings and the Centennial Room as well, during the restoration of the building in 1989. These new pendant lights replaced fixtures which were installed in the 1960's and obscured the beautiful ceilings. While the fate of our original lights is unknown, the Library was fortunate enough to be able to borrow an identical light to copy from the Huntington Library, a building Hunt also designed. These lights were updated with state of the art technology for energy    conservation and low maintenance.

The Main Hall has ten quarter-sawn oak tables and sixty chairs, some of which are original and some of which are reproductions. Note the lovely wrought iron medallions on the table legs.

Table lamps were added in 1989 to improve lighting. Although not original to the building, table lamps were common in buildings in the 1920’s. The installation of the lamps, which are cleverly wired through the table legs, also meant that electrical outlets are available at every table making use of portable computers easy.

Main Hall Tables and Lamps
Main Hall Tables and Lamps

Like the windows on the outside of the building, names of authors and literary quotations were also inscribed beneath the inside of the Main Hall windows.

These inscriptions can be seen below the windows on the south:

1. Scott - Dickens - Balzac - Hawthorne.

2. "Here I am in my kingdom."- Montaigne.

3. Marlowe - Moliere - Schiller - Browning.

4. "Infinite riches in a little room." - Marlowe, Jew of Malta.

5. Gibbon - Macaulay - Carlyle - Bancroft.

Under the windows on the north side are these inscriptions:

1. Chaucer - Shelley - Wordsworth - Poe.

2. "The truth shall make you free." - John 8:32.

3. "Dreams, books, are each a world." - Wordsworth

4. Montaigne - Swift - Johnson - Emerson.

This inscription is appropriately found under the window at the east end of the Main Hall over the Information Center:

"Truth may bear all lights." - Shaftesbury.


Model of 1890 Library
                                        Model of 1890 Library

A final interesting feature of the Main Hall is the model of the 1890 Library, a building which stood at the corner of Raymond Avenue and Walnut Street. This model was made by Pasadenan Rex Petty from salvaged original stone from this building.

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