(Contributed by Joan Del Monte)
In the 1970’s, the early days of the Friends of the Venice Library, Pat Johnson and I met with other West Side friends groups. We met, for example, the representatives of the Friends of the Brentwood Library, a group 300 strong. They would introduce their officers, so we would stand and I would introduce Pat as our President and she would introduce me as our secretary. And we were welcomed as representatives of the Friends of the Venice Library.
Except we weren’t. We weren’t representing The Friends of the Venice Library. We WERE the Friends of the Venice Library. It was a two-man group. Within a year Maxine Leral and Charlie Johnson joined us. The joke was we didn’t need the Club Room for our meetings; we could hold them in the library phone booth. Venice those days was a storied and colorful place, still famous for the beat movement, but it was not strong on civic volunteerism.
The old Spanish style library at 610 California Avenue was astonishing. It had a big window at the east end with panes of mottled glass held in place by thick bands of lead and the light through the window was golden. It had the dark oak paneling of a less ecologically aware period and heavy oak tables and chairs and a square oak librarian’s counter in the middle and arches. (See photo.) The club room had oak wainscoting and French doors to the side yard and looked like the library in a fine old house. The library had a high beamed ceiling and a fireplace.
That’s what I said, a fireplace. The fireplace covered most of the West wall and the legend was carved in the plaster: “There is no frigate like a book.” Think of the Los Angeles Library Commissioners being greeted with the word “frigate” carved into the plaster of a library today. Immediately before they went into cardiac arrest.
Pat Johnson was 14 years old when she came to Venice in 1941 and she used to roller skate to the library, take off her skates, and on blustery days the librarian sat in front of the fireplace and read to the children. Pat worked at the library during her last year of high school, and her children and her grandchildren came there.
The people of Venice loved the building. Petitions with 1700 signatures urged the Library commission to keep the library at the 610 California Avenue location. It was located there in 1930 because the land was a gift to the city. The commissioners pointed out the building did not meet the current city earthquake code. This although the building came through the 1933 Long Beach earthquake without so much as a crack.
The Library Commission said if the library was relocated “it would be used more.” In 1963 an unsigned report noted “the community consists largely of people with low incomes living in small rather run down single family dwellings. The area is populated by Negros and Caucasians and a few Indians and Orientals.” And they needed more room for books.
The 610 California Avenue Library was closed, but those of us who knew it still have a pang in passing for the pleasure we had there.