The John C. Fremont Branch Library’s history begins in 1912, when a group of public-spirited citizens opened the Colgrove Station reading room at Vine Street and Santa Monica Boulevard.
Designated a sub-branch of the Hollywood Branch Library in 1916, the reading room moved to a bungalow in 1923 that was erected on the grounds of Vine Street School. Voters approved a bond measure in 1923 for the construction of new library branches, including a permanent home for the bungalow, which was now known as the Santa Monica Boulevard Branch Library.
In 1925, the bungalow was moved to the corner of Melrose Avenue and Seward Street in anticipation of the construction of a new permanent branch on the corner of Melrose Avenue and June Street. The Board of Library Commissioners that year also voted to change the branch’s name to the John C. Fremont Branch to honor the noted American explorer, soldier, and politician. Fremont, known by the nickname “Trailblazer,” played a major role in the 1846 “Bear Flag” Revolt and in the American conquest of California.
Construction of the new branch began on December 26, 1926, and was completed in May of 1927. The branch opened on June 1 with no chairs or tables for the first week. This did not deter patrons, however, who leaned against book shelves or just sat on the floor to read.
The charming building, which has been described as early Italian with a touch of Spanish, has since earned a position on the National Register of Historic Places and has been designated a Historic Cultural Monument of the City of Los Angeles.
In 1990, the building was closed in compliance with the Los Angeles City Building and Safety Commission’s earthquake hazard reduction order: the branch’s masonry was unreinforced and did not meet seismic safety codes. Temporary quarters were set up at 736 N. La Brea Avenue, from which location the library operated until February of 1996. The branch was reopened at its historic location on March 26, 1996. Among the improvements to the building were the addition of a meeting room, a small parking lot, air conditioning, wiring for computer and Internet access, and access for the disabled.
An outdoor courtyard was also added to the building. Artist Barbara Field created a series of sculptures called “Big Ideas.” These free-standing sculptures and functional elements are large punctuation marks made of glazed and handmade tiles, some of which were designed by neighborhood schoolchildren. The art includes a question mark, an exclamation point and parentheses, which align with the curved entrances of the building and echo both the old and new architecture.
The architectural firm M2A and the branch received an award of Design Excellence from the Los Angeles Board of Cultural Affairs Commissioners in 1997 and a Historic Preservation Award of Excellence from the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission in 1998. The branch celebrated its 75th anniversary in June of 2002.
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