Monday, August 27, 2012

Main Street Branch Library and Triangle Park

ABOVE: The Main Street Branch Library, a Mid Century Modern building seated on one of Huntington Beach's oldest parks.  It served as the main library from 1951 to 1975.

   Have you heard about the battle for Triangle Park?  This triangular pocket park represents some of Huntington Beach's earliest history and hosts the Mid-Century Modern Main Street Branch Library, once the town's only library.  

   Every now and then, someone proposes replacing the charming little library with some new-fangled idea and locals storm city hall to defend it.  Surf City may be a laid back beach town, but our politics are anything but dull.

Directions to Walking Tour stop #12 and #13: Walk northeast up Main Street toward the historic residential district of the downtown.   The Main Street Branch Library, 525 Main Street, and Triangle Park is located on the northwest side of Main Street between 6th Street and Acacia Avenue.

ABOVE: The City's first library was a used, roofless office building purchased for $50 and moved to the area of present day Walnut Avenue and Main Street in 1909. (Photo, City of Huntington Beach)

The first libraries
   A handful of local citizens and the Huntington Beach Women's Club (which lost their historic building to fire in 2011), called a meeting in February 1909 to form a library association.  It appears local residents were fully on board, as donations of books and items for the library prompted an immediate need for a building.  

  One of the library association's first board of trustees members put up the $50 for a used office building and a local property owner offered his land at the corner of Walnut Avenue and Main Street as a temporary site for a "nominal rent."  The building was moved in 1911 to Walnut and 3rd Street.

   At opening, it was recorded there were "338 volumes in the library, 228 were gifts while 110 had been bought new. The new library subscribed to twelve magazines and held hours of 10 a.m. to noon and 2:00 p.m. to 7 p.m."

ABOVE: The Huntington Beach Carnegie Library housed 2800 volumes, "700 of which were donated by residents of the city." (Image, Wiki Commons)

   As the library collection grew, plans developed to purchase a larger parcel of land and seek  a Carnegie Library grant.  The library association and the City jointly purchased land at Walnut and 8th Street and by 1913 had received $10,000 from the Carnegie Corporation for construction of a library on the site.

   The Huntington Beach Masonic Lodge was called upon for the cornerstone ceremony.  The Huntington Beach Public Library history records the items placed in the cornerstone included "the history of the city, the library, names of all those who had served on the Library Board, city trustees, pastors of the churches, members of the Board of Trade, names of those who had served on the library staff, the name of each child in the schools and a small American flag." 

  Surviving a significant earthquake in March 1933, the Carnegie Library held 42,000 volumes when its doors closed for good in 1951.  Although Huntington Beach city council minutes note the Masonic Lodge and Acacia Lodge attempted to purchase the library, the building was demolished by March 1969.  

   A December 1, 1972, letter on file in the City archives from the Huntington Beach Masonic Lodge No. 380 to the city council reports the Masons "retrieved the Carnegie Library cornerstone sealed strongbox and offers to lay the cornerstone at the new Central Library and new Civic Center."  

ABOVE: Rapid land sales in Huntington Beach meant there were more people arriving daily and not enough hotels or houses.  The tent cities of the early 1900s were a common solution to the problem.  (Photo circa 1906, courtesy Orange County Archives)

Cardboard Alley
   In 1917, while the first libraries were moving further up Walnut Avenue, the Huntington Beach Company officially deeded land blocks #405 and #505 to the City, specifying a public park.  

   A portion of Block 505--the future Triangle Park--was temporarily used for tents to house the constant flow of new residents to Huntington Beach.  Home builders could not keep up.  

   City of Huntington Beach Historical Notes (1975) report "on July 5, 1921, a lease contract was signed with R.E. Wright who constructed small beaverboard houses and rented them for $30 and $35 a month of which $8 a year went to the City.  Bungalet Court, more commonly known as 'Cardboard Alley' was located on the triangular piece of land." 

The Horseshoe Club
   By the mid 1920s, what was now being referred to as the "triangular park" was being seeded with grass, street lights were making their way up Main Street, and the City was planting trees.  By 1925, visitors to Huntington Beach increased with the opening of the Pacific Coast Highway.

   In February 1925, the board of trustees (city council) discussed "with considerable interest" a resident suggestion "advocating the use of Block 505 for a recreation park, suggesting tennis, croquet, and handball courts as being a very desirable form of amusement."   Triangle Park soon became a favorite spot in town, including checker boards, horseshoe courts, and a putting green.

ABOVE: Huntington Beach Horseshoe Club House, circa 1935.  The Club House was used by the Red Cross during World War II.  (Photo by Burton Frasher, Frasher Foto Postcard Collection, Pomona Public Library)

ABOVE: Huntington Beach Horseshoe Club at Triangle Park, circa 1935.  (Photo by Burton Frasher, Frasher Foto Postcard Collection, Pomona Public Library)

   City of Huntington Beach Historical Notes (1975) report the Horseshoe Club was constructed in 1931 "on the north east corner of Triangle Park, it was used by several clubs for meetings until 1942…During the war, the American Red Cross set up headquarters in the building where they gave first aid and volunteers rolled bandages.”

Where is the B-17?
   At the close of the WWII years, the City archives note an interesting discussion by the Huntington Beach city council regarding Triangle Park.  

   The May 20, 1946 city council minutes report, “Councilman Hawes recommended that the B-17 owned by the City be placed somewhere near the City airport instead of Triangle Park on account of the many difficulties in transporting the plane to the center of the City.  The matter was referred to the Streets and Parks Committee..."

   Please contact Historic Huntington Beach if you know where the B-17 is located today.  Really.

ABOVE: Main Street Branch Library, circa 2009. The library, designed by Los
Angeles architects McLellen, MacDonald and Marc, features a green marble entrance. (Photo, Chris Jepsen,

The Main Street Library at Triangle Park
   Delayed by WWII, construction began on the Main Street Library in 1949 and the doors opened in 1951, as the Carnegie Library closed.

   City of Huntington Beach Historical Notes (1975) remark, “When the current Main Street facility (library), consisting of 9,000 square feet, was completed in 1951, it was celebrated for its size and its design.  The Carnegie Library, 8th and Walnut Street, its predecessor, was half as big."  

   "The 1951 structure opened with 40,000 volumes with a budget of $40,000.  The marble façade at the entrance was a real attraction.  The walls were pre-cast, reinforced concrete sections.  The ceiling was acoustical and the heating was provided by radiant pipes embedded in the floor." 

   "The large picture window at the north east end of the building displayed various artwork several times a year…The attractive park site remains a fine setting for the building.”

   Now approaching the century mark, Triangle Park was reaffirmed officially as a public park--retaining its historic name and purpose--in 2010.  

   The Main Street Branch Library, over 60 years old and a veteran of municipal budget wars and development ideas--still provides community library services, free Wi-Fi, and a green lawn on which to lie back and read a good old-fashioned book.  

All rights reserved.  No part of the Historic Huntington Beach blog may be reproduced or duplicated without prior written permission from the author and publisher, M. Adams Urashima.   


  1. OK, so where is the B17?

  2. I don't normally publish anonymous comments, but this IS the question? Hard to imagine "losing" something that big. One day, we'll find out!


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