Sharing a bit of library love

Definitely one of Riverside’s best mid-century buildings — and certainly its most under-appreciated — the downtown Main Library (a.k.a. Central Library) has spent most of its time suffering from harsh criticism.

Did You Know?

In the past few years, however, there has been growing support for the library’s mid-century designs.

Most of this support has tended to come from those that know only the “modern” library and never had a chance to visit the classic Carnegie. And now, nearly 50 years after having opened, to these eyes, the “modern” library is indeed a bit historic (just like the 1903 Carnegie was to many in the early 1960s at approximately the same age).

But appreciation has also been growing from all generations once folks become more aware of and better understand the context about some of the library’s modernist designs, namely its iconic “dove” screens. To wit, we have the “Did You Know?” informational sheet.

Likewise, we thought we’d take this opportunity to spread a little library love by sharing the following letters of support, the first one of which, we can’t say enough about how detailed, passionate and eloquent it is. Read it and the others and then give us your thoughts in the comments section below. And, if you too want to support the mid-century library, be sure to share this (and your thoughts) with others!

June 2012 Addition – Here’s a link to the Austin Public Library blog that was recently brought to our attention. The writer apparently lived in Riverside at one time and now works for the Austin Public Library. He shares a few thoughts on the downtown Riverside Library following a vacation visit in February 2011: The Traveling Librarian Goes Home.

March 29, 2012 – Public Meeting on Downtown Library

To The Riverside Library Stakeholder Committee:
Re: The Proposed Rehabilitation of the Downtown Library

Dear Committee Members:

I am glad that the City has decided against the demolition of the downtown library in favor of a rehabilitation, and I’m encouraged that the City and the Committee is soliciting public input. I believe, however, that tonight’s committee meeting has the wrong focus. The three questions are concerned only with the exterior of the library, when it is the interior that needs the most work. People spend the bulk of their time inside the library, after all. I believe the majority of the money, time, and energy should be spent in the rehabilitation of the inside, rather than continue to find ways to hide a dramatic New Formalism building because it doesn’t fit some people’s notion of beautiful architecture. In the spirit of the proceedings, however, I will answer the questions as presented.

1. What do you like about the architecture of the exterior?
There is much that I like about the architecture of this building – the roman brick, the concrete cornices and details. It tells a story. It floats above the ground as a temple to learning. The strength of it’s broad-shouldered profile says that knowledge is power. At the same time the interlaced doves in the concrete tapestries adorning the walls tell us that through knowledge we can find peace with one another. What a fitting modern-day response to the Peace Tower on Mount Rubidoux.

The mayor recently talked about the beautiful architecture that lines Mission Inn Boulevard. I believe the downtown library and fire station complete the pantheon. Riverside is lucky to have such a variety of buildings in close proximity. The library and fire station provide perfect counterpoints to the stately architecture of the older buildings. They do not compete, and they provide the opportunity to compare and contrast various styles.

2. What architectural changes would you like to have for the exterior?

The only exterior changes I would recommend concern items that are not part of the original design. The tacky “LIBRARY” sign on the front must go. What an insult that is. I think the railings should be replaced as well. They are not original, clash with the concrete tapestries, and do not complement the architectural style of the building. They weigh down the front and clutter the clean lines of the entry.

In addition I would recommend a good cleaning and new California native (not “California friendly”) landscaping around the building. If money were not an issue, I would recommend restoring the plaza to have an outdoor reading area and fountains. You would have to incorporate the Chinese Pavilion into this somehow.

3. Is there any one feature of the exterior that you would preserve?

I disagree with the intent of this question. It sounds as if the committee has already decided to dramatically change the exterior of the building but is willing to preserve a portion of it if there is enough popular sentiment to do so. The library building is designed as a unified construction. You can’t pick and choose features to keep and discard any more than you can keep and remove certain notes in a symphony. They are all necessary to complete the presentation. The one feature I would preserve, therefore, is the design intent and style of the original.


In closing, the downtown library did not turn into an embarrassment because of its architecture. It became an embarrassment due to neglect. The public doesn’t avoid using the library because of the design, but they stay away because of the smell. In a time when we are trying to get the maximum value for this rehabilitation, I believe the focus should be on making the interior more efficient and inviting, and on providing a wider range of services such as LinkPlus. I understand there is a tremendous collection of local history documents and artifacts in our library. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have some of them displayed so people can learn about Riverside and fall in love with its rich history.

The downtown library is part of our history. It had a beginning mired in tragedy with the destruction of the Carnegie Library. It was wrong to destroy that building, but it is equally wrong to destroy this one by covering it up. The downtown library was built in a time of optimism about the future. It’s the environment that I grew up in, and I have very fond memories of that era. The buildings of that time may not be to everyone’s taste, but they are part of a history that I cherish very deeply.

I realize that I am probably in a very small minority regarding the downtown library. I don’t expect everyone to see it the way that I do. Given the limited funds available, however, shouldn’t we invest our money to make it a great cultural resource rather than waste it on a few exterior frills?

If the committee decides to go forward with a remodel of the exterior, I ask that the rehabilitation be done in ways that enhance or complement the style of the original. The downtown library should be celebrated for what it is. Don’t continue to condemn it for what it isn’t.

Michael J. Gentile

April 23, 2012 – The Press-Enterprise

Celebrate architect’s work

I agree with Venita Jorgensen’s praise of architect Bolton C. Moise Jr., who designed Riverside’s main library among many other city projects (“City undervalues architect,” Your Views, April 16).

My wife and I have been privileged to reside in and enjoy the architectural uniqueness of Moise’s design of our 1954 Riverside home.

Moise was a graduate of Harvard University School of Architecture, and went on to study in Paris. He also helped design the New York Museum of Modern Art. Riverside is fortunate to have his designs for many of its public and educational buildings.

Ron E. Cardiel

April 16, 2012 – The Press-Enterprise

City undervalues architect

The smug, casual dismissal of the work of Riverside architect Bolton C. Moise Jr., designer of Ramona High, Poly High and several elementary schools, as well as the downtown central fire station and the main library, is becoming increasingly wearing (“New formalism vs. same old song,” March 31).

It reflects a determined ignorance of the vernacular of midcentury American architecture. It reminds me of another American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, whose straight-line, streamlined mass, flat-roof overhang and perforated trellis designs were disparaged by Philistine critics of his day. To educate the eye, one may visit his works in Pasadena (Charles Ennis House, Alice Millard House), Los Angeles (Aline Barnsdall’s Hollyhock House), and San Rafael (Marin County Civic Center).

One day the Riverside main library may be regarded as a gem in the same way that any Wright building is now valued. Mission Revival is not the only style of 20th century architecture that our community should value.

Venita Jorgensen

April 8, 2012 – The Press-Enterprise

Library interior is priority

I agree with those who feel that the exterior of the Riverside main library is a noteworthy architectural treasure and should stay as it is (“Residents don’t want cheap library face-lift,” March 29). Any money available should be used for an interior face-lift.

The main library holds some of my dearest childhood memories. I remember it being filled with magic and enchantment, a place where I could take home a wonderful stack of books every two weeks.

I have spent many hours in the downtown library throughout my life, as a child, as an adult on lunch hours, after work, on the weekends, and eventually with my own children and grandchildren.

The decor hasn’t changed much from what I remember as a child in the early ’70s. It has become rather uninviting and depressing. All three floors are in serious need of renovation, and this is where any available money should be spent.

What a wonderful gift to the city it would be to have the inside of our library beautiful again.

Judy Hamrouni

April 2, 2012 – The Press-Enterprise

Move ahead on library fix

It’s good to see that the historic Riverside Municipal Auditorium is getting needed seismic retrofitting using the last of the redevelopment funding available under the current law.

Unfortunately, the nearby public library will not benefit from redevelopment funding as well (“Council requests designs to redo library,” Feb. 28). While the current building is certainly usable, time is beginning to take its toll. The downtown library, located in the heart of Riverside’s historic district, is the centerpiece of a community that is fortunate to have three universities and a community college. The treasures within include a solid reference collection documenting the history of the United States and our Founding Fathers.

The time is now to promote the maintenance of this centerpiece of learning. Further delay will only lead to further decay.

David Van Voorhis



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  1. Am I the only one who thinks it’s hideous? It’s not a classic modern style, but more like a cheap imitation of the modern look fad at that time.

    I rather we seize the opportunity to tear down and build a building that will be worthy of landmark status for our future generations.

    Think about it: There is a gorgeous Mission Inn next door and there are no windows in the library to take advantage of the Mission Inn scenery. Oh my, during the Festival of Lights, we can soak the evening lights.

    Hence, the library needs to be torn down.

    There are other many finer modern buildings in City of Riverside that are worthy preserving like the downtown Fire Station. Also, the Citibank bank on Central (the interior is awesome), but they stuccoed everything up on exterior to blend with Riverside Plaza’s SoCal look.

  2. @Rene — Thanks for commenting! Typically, a love/hate aura has surrounded the “modern” library. And indeed, it is a subjective process. But it’s also a cyclical thing. We must remember to not quickly condemn more recent architecture that younger generations might deem as being historic (now or later). In essence, mid-century architecture is facing the same cyclical — and even shortsighted — apathy today that Victorian architecture suffered 50+ years ago.

    With that said, Riverside’s very own modernism survey (2009) found the downtown library to be a fine example of the New Formalism style. This makes sense on account the library’s main architect — Bolton C. Moise — once worked with nationally-known architect Edward Durell Stone, who was an early proponent of the New Formalism style.

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