Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Saving history: The Main Street Branch Library on Triangle Park in Historic Huntington Beach

ABOVE: Interior of the first library in Huntington Beach at Walnut and 3rd streets, circa 1913.  In a donated building, the library moved around a bit before finding a permanent home. (Photo, Huntington Beach Public Library)

   "From the beginning the Huntington Beach Public Library has been an illustration of citizen concern for the community and its future generations...some local organizations and the Huntington Beach Women's Club called a mass meeting on February 15, 1909, to form a library association."
                                                              History of Huntington Beach Public Library 

   Huntington Beach received a pre-holiday gift this year with our City Council's unanimous endorsement of the effort to list the Main Street Branch Library on the National Register of Historic Places.

   We took a look at the history of this little library--sited in a historic park--in August 2012, Historic Walking Tour #12 and #13: Main Street Library and Triangle Park,

   Establishing a library was one of the very first acts taken by early pioneers as they set about creating a community.   Huntington Beach was a dusty seaside town with unpaved roads, not much of a water or sewer system, and the entire community pitched in with whatever was needed.  It was a time of big dreams for the community and for the future of California.
ABOVE: At the same time residents were creating the first library, others were trying to harness the power of the ocean. See "Masters of the Ocean Waves" (Image, Los Angeles Herald, December 19, 1909)

   When early residents formed a library association, they enlisted the help of librarians from nearby Long Beach, paying their lunch and traveling expenses.  At the time the first library opened in 1909  "there were 338 volumes in the library, 228 were gifts while 110 had been bought new. The new library subscribed to twelve magazines..." (History of Huntington Beach Public Library).

    As the community grew, the need for library services grew, eventually leading to the opening of the Main Street Library on Triangle Park in 1952.  Today, Huntington Beach is lucky to have a Richard Neutra-designed Central Library, sited in Central Park.  This was another effort by the community to create centers of culture and learning for residents and future generations, just like the first effort in 1909 and all those in between.

Left: Interior of the internationally acclaimed Huntington Beach Central Library, designed by Richard Neutra, in the City's 350-acre Central Park.  The Central Library holds the largest children's library west of the Mississippi. (Photo from the Italian magazine, Architettura, vol. 22, no. 250-251, 1976)

      The effort to list the Main Street Library on the National Register of Historic Places is a call to action for both Huntington Beach newcomers and descendants of our farseeing pioneers.  The first step is to enlist the nominating support from the California Office of Historic Preservation.

By January 8, 2013, send a LETTER or EMAIL supporting the historic listing of the Huntington Beach Public Library at 525 Main Street to:

William Burg
State Historian I
Office of Historic Preservation
State of California  

1725 23rd Street, Suite 100
Sacramento, CA 95816

 About the Main Street Library on Triangle Park:
   The Main Street Library, 525 Main Street, is sited in the original 3.57-square-mile townsite, which contains the National Register-listed Helme-Worthy Store and Residence (, Huntington Beach Elementary School Gymnasium and Plunge (1931), and Newland House (1898), as well as many locally designated and eligible properties.

   Five blocks north of Pacific Coast Highway, the property is near the historic site of the Huntington Beach Municipal Pier, surrounded by eclectic residential neighborhoods. As a neighborhood park including a number of nearly ninety-year-old palm trees, Triangle Park (1912) provides the setting for the 9,034-square-foot Main Street Branch Library (1950-1951), a locally designated City Landmark. 

   The Main Street Library was designed in the "International Style" of early post-World War II period of the Modern Movement. Municipal restoration efforts over the last 30 years have returned Triangle Park to an authentic mid-1920s period, and the park and library remain as both the earliest and latest components of the community's early Civic Center.

  National Historic Register criteria for listing include properties that embody a significant contribution to broad patterns of the City's local history, in the area of community planning and development, as well as properties representative of unique architecture. 

   Established as a recreational park in 1912, just three years after the incorporation of Huntington Beach, Triangle Park became part of the City's early-20th century Civic Center campus.  The Library's architecture represents the principles of postwar Modern design and the distinctive characteristics of site-cast, concrete tilt-up construction from the Mid Century  period, particularly that of public libraries. The Main Street Library is the work of masters, James Edward "Ted" McClellan, Denver Markwith, Jr., and Jack Hunt MacDonald.

A little mid-century inspiration. (Image,

UPDATE: California Historical Resources Commission on February 8, 2013, voted unanimously (7-0) to recommend that the U.S. Park Service list on the National Register of Historic Places the Main Street Library on Triangle Park.  As of April 2013, we await word on the national listing.

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