Architectural historian Stephen Gee‘s previous book was about how a working class Brit, John Parkinson, ended up building some of the most impressive landmarks in the city.

Now, Gee has turned his pen to the city’s Central Library. His new book is called Los Angeles Central Library: A History of its Art and Architecture. Gee worked with graphic designer and Academy Award-winner Arnold Schwartzman on the book, which tells the surprisingly fraught tale of how Los Angeles got, and kept, its Central Library. In the book’s forward by LA City Librarian John F. Szabo, there is a quote by Toni Morrison that echoes what the library’s founders and protectors saw within its walls. 

Access to knowledge is the superb, the supreme act of truly great civilizations. Of all the institutions that purport to do this, free libraries stand virtually alone in accomplishing this mission. No committee decides who may enter, no crisis of body or spirit must accompany the entrant. No tuition is charged, no oath sworn, no visa demanded.

An early concept for the rotunda murals at LA's Central Library.

An early concept for the rotunda murals.

LA's Central Library west entrance

The west entrance of Central Library.

Cornwall making murals

Cornwell created the rotunda of murals in London and completed them in Los Angeles.

the LA Central Library rotunda ceiling

The ceiling of the rotunda at Central Library.

Parsons Murals

The murals in the Children’s Room (now the International Language Department) were executed by A. W. Parsons.

elevator sketch

The plan to expand the Central Library included two new modernist wings, and brought patrons to the rotunda via escalators.

architectural historian Stephen Gee

author Stephen Gee (photo by Susie Goodman)

designer and photographer Arnold Schwartzman

designer and photographer Arnold Schwartzman


Unless otherwise noted, photos are from Los Angeles Central Library: A History of its Art and Architecture by Arnold Schwartzman and Stephen Gee, published by Angel City Press

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