civic center, downtown los angeles

LA Law Library in Downtown LA, Largest Outside D.C., Receives Major Facelift

The new facade and exterior improvements to the LA Law Library have dramatically improved the pedestrian realm on this section of 1st Street in Downtown LA

Did you know that the second largest public law library outside of Washington, D.C. (second only to the Library of Congress) is right here in Downtown LA? Yes, the Los Angeles Law Library, located at 1st and Broadway in the Civic Center, has an impressive collection of nearly 1 million books and documents pertaining to everything you could possibly want to know about the legal universe (yes, there are even volumes on “United States Space Law”). Although the library may still only be relevant to a certain niche (i.e., government officials, those studying law or preparing for a trial case for instance), I find it wonderful that this tremendous resource is here in Downtown LA, contributing to the prestige and significance of our urban center.

Earlier this year, the LA Law Library began construction on a much needed restoration project that simultaneously gave the aging structure a nice facelift. After decades of wear and tear, the 1952 structure was vulnerable to water leaks, which is definitely not good for a library filled with valuable books. Allana Buick & Bers were chosen to waterproof the structure and Troller Mayer Associates are the architects who redesigned the new face of the library.

According to Douglas Myers, the Communications Director for the library, in order to resolve water damage to the building, a “wedge cut” into the building facing 1st Street was necessary “to get into the structure.”

“We successfully repaired the building, put on a new roof, installed new drainage and irrigation systems and put an elastomeric coating on the building, which is a thicker water proof paint that will help protect the building for years to come,” Douglas explains.

“As the ‘wedge cut’ required that we dig around the outside of the building, we took the opportunity to make our front entry more accessible and safe, and also added a garden space with drought tolerant and low-maintenance vegetation.”

Construction wrapped up last week auspiciously around the same time as the much anticipated grand opening of the adjacent Grand Park. (I’m all about urban synergy.) Another exciting aspect to the library’s restoration includes a new cafe and outdoor patio that will be opening this fall 2012. According to Myers, a couple of proprietors are vying to operate the cafe. The outdoor patio seating area will definitely help activate the library’s front entrance, contributing to the urban energy that makes Downtown LA both interesting and exciting.

In addition to the exterior improvements, over the last couple of years, the library also upgraded the main public reading room. New signs in the mid-century modern style appropriate for the era of the building’s architecture were installed. Improvements and upgrades to the furniture, shelves, lighting, and carpeting were completed as well as rearranging the space to be more intuitive and borrower-friendly.

“We are excited to be part of the revitalized downtown, only steps away from the new Grand Park, Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Civic Center metro stop,” Myers said.

“The LA Law Library has public resources on everything from family law and real estate to naturalization and intellectual property,” added Myers. “We encourage the public to visit the Law Library and see what we have to offer.”

The original 1891 historic county courthouse (once stood at Temple and Broadway until 1936) that housed the law library inspired the use of terra cotta color paint for the library restoration project

This piece of clay brick is believed to be from the original historic structure, which also inspired the new terra cotta color paint used for the current library restoration

The eight gold emblems along the facade have also been restored

New wider sidewalks and landscaping have transformed this portion of 1st Street into a much more pedestrian-friendly experience

The new curved pathway encourages and helps direct pedestrians to the library’s front entrance

This is where the new cafe and seating will be located, helping to activate the front of the library with pedestrian energy

A rendering of the new cafe and seating area (Photo: LA Law Library)

A new staircase leads up to the library’s front entrance at 1st and Broadway

New drought tolerant landscaping along Broadway

New bike racks cater to a growing bicycle movement in Los Angeles

A peek inside the LA Law Library’s extensive collection (not open to public)

A look down a long corridor lined with shelves (there are 7 floors total) containing the library’s extensive legal collection of nearly 1 million

United States Space Law

Los Angeles News Archives

California Code of Civil Procedure

Public Papers of the President

Clerk & Lindsell on Torts

The Complete Statutes of England

Birth Control in Jewish Law

Islamic Law in Africa

US Court of Appeals 9th Circuit

Even rare one-of-a-kind books like this one from Napoli, Italy from 1895

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  1. John G. says

    I have passed this area several times taking the Metro 78 bus to the Metro Blue Line Station on 1st/Hill. Glad to know we hold the second largest public law library outside of D.C. Book selections inside seem to have a very wide variety of interesting subjects, which is great!

    As Myers suggests, people are invited to visit. The only issue I have is that this library seems very uninviting from the streets. It has a large setback from the streets, landscaping tells people to stay off the periphery of the building (and inhibit curiosity) unless you specifically know and want to enter, and even the fourth pic (from the top) shows the black wall that acts like a BARRICADE. I don’t mean to exaggerate, but these are the little things that really make a big difference for passerbys and regualar pedestrians to take notice and be willing to come in, especially when it comes to the subject of law. The rendering of the new cafe seems more promising, but even in that picture that black wall really should be eliminated.

  2. Chuck Norris says

    This is great! And great to know we have the second largest law collection. The black wall is fine. A high traffic community building such as city hall or a school needs to be well accessed with no walls in the way, but this is not a high traffic building. It is not even the main library. Libraries have a sanctity about them – and the wall which John G. refers to merely keeps that sanctity. It also puts the title of the building right in walking and driving sight lines, which will do more to invite and make people aware of library’s existence than more stairs and/or lower planters (where their eyes have to voluntarily move up to look at the title on the bldg facade). Both of the new accesses are unavoidably visible (no one comes from the sky directly in front of the building – everyone (except jaywalkers) will come from one side or the other). In conclusion, kudos on making a boring building come to life – especially like the addition of the cafe – I think this is the best part, really. :)

    • John G. says

      True, libraries do have a sense of sanctity about them. But that sanctity is more on the INSIDE (where peace and quiet is necessary), and does not have to be embellished on the outside; especially if it has a public-use function in which everyone is welcome (as Myers attest). The black wall does put the property within sight of drivers and walkers, but in my opinion, a poor surrogate for the building frontage that is set back. I will agree the aesthetics is nice, but this reminds me of a suburban model design placed smack-dab in the middle of a growing urban downtown core.

  3. I haven’t been by to take a real look… but those bike racks don’t look very useful for bikers with an average U-lock. They seem low and skinny, with an open top on the bar. I see the little loop, which is great if you have a metal cord to feed through it, but won’t a U-lock just lift over the top?

  4. I agree about the bike racks I feel that they are more useless than anything. I haven’t noticed anything else about the building. The cafe is still not operable but that will add to the foot traffic within the library.

  5. I love how they’re displaying that piece of brick from 1900 like its some ancient artifact. I’ve lived in houses built before that.

    LA, you’re adorable.

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