Art and Culture LA County Board of Supervisors

In an Era of Library Cutbacks, LA County Opens a New Library—in Topanga

The prevailing mood was utter giddiness when the brand new 11,293 square foot LA County library
opened on Saturday morning in Topanga Canyon with Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and actress (and longtime Topangan) Wendie Malick the duel masters of ceremonies for the speechifying part of the festivities that also featured Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, Al Martinez, and others. Then, just before the ribbon cutting, Henry Smith, a Native American canyon resident of more than 50-years duration, (and a man with a character-sculpted visage well-suited to Mt. Rushmore) gave the building its requisite blessing.

In the past, Topanga residents—in general a community of maniacal readers— had depended on a weekly bookmobile for their library urges. Either that or they found a city library, since the closest county library was in Malibu, too far away for homework forays, especially after school during rush hour.

Nevertheless, after several years of draconian cutbacks in the city’s library system (with disaster averted only when the voters passed Measure L last March), it seemed impossible that the county would actually manage to add a library, what with librarians’ hours getting whacked every time one turned around.

In truth, this new addition to the LA County system had been in the works for over a decade, and broke ground in 2008—right about the time the nation’s economy was collapsing. But once having cleared the land and dug the foundation, it seemed like a good idea to somehow struggle forward.

Still, the place was to have opened in the summer of 2009, but got bogged down with seemingly a zillion set backs. There were the expected money problems, plus the discovery of Native American artifacts on the site, and some issues with the design and….well, nothing seems to be simple in the world of public works.

Plus there’s the fact that Topangans tend to be a meddling group so they wanted to weigh in on everything. (I live in Topanga, so I can say this with affection.)

Despite the hurdles, Yaroslavsky’s office championed the project, and managed to shove it back on track during the instances it fell off. It helped that two of Zev’s field deputies, Susan Nissman and Cynthia Scott, both happen to live in the canyon and were ferociously determined to see the damned thing get built.

As the $19.6 million building neared completion—with its silver LEED certified green construction strategies and its whimsical public art pieces made by canyon artists—locals who had been grousing noisily for months about the library construction crews blocking part of the road, screwing up their work commute, now suddenly were wonderstruck that this sprawling new thing had finally managed to bloom at the canyon’s center, and that it was actually going to belong to everyone.

On Saturday morning, after the speeches had been given, the ribbon was finally cut, and the packed-to-the-rafters crowd and their kids gushed at a near run into the library building itself for the first time, all at once several hundred people became simultaneously goofy with delight, myself included.

In our digital-centric age to see so much obvious happiness over a structure devoted mostly to books, literature and reading—well, it was a very nice thing to behold.

“It’s as if the community finally has a physical heart,” one neighbor said to me, “And it’s a library, of all things! How cool is that?!””

Very cool indeed.

Okay, now back to our regularly scheduled programming.


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