Building Neighborhoods Into Communities Through Libraries

Lloyd Whaley’s Los Altos Neighborhood Library
5614 E. Britton Dr, Long Beach, CA 90815

Lloyd Whaley had a vision. It was much larger than a massive master-planned community aimed at expanding Long Beach to the east. It was about creating a place for families to come together, neighbors to converse and the residents of Los Altos to grow roots. Lloyd knew that community didn’t just come in a housing tract. It came from the gathering centers within it. So he made sure that his developments had opportune community centers built into them – no more having to travel to downtown! Shopping centers, churches, a YMCA, parks and libraries became the centerpieces of each East Long Beach neighborhood, many of the latter built with the help of generous land donations from the Whaley family.

Up until 1957, if East Long Beach residents wanted to access a library, they either had to travel downtown or wait for the Long Beach Library’s Bookmobile that parked once a week at Bellflower and Stearns. Eager children and families would check out their books to read, but would have to wait another week until they could return it and check out a different title. This seven-day lag just wouldn’t do for the fast-growing community of young families in Los Altos. The new goal was to give all Long Beach residents access to a library within one mile of their home. And the first neighborhood to deliver on this promise was Los Altos.


The Los Altos Neighborhood Library opened at 5614 Britton Street on February 21, 1957 to much fanfare. With a half-decade having past since the last new library in Long Beach was built, residents were ecstatic to receive the first of a string of state-of-the-art libraries in their own backyard. Architects William A. Lockette and Richard L. Popper designed the 6,900 square foot brick structure that featured an adult reading section, children’s area and a new luxury amenity – air conditioning! To honor their generous land donation and commitment to community, Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd S. Whaley were the first people to receive library cards at the new branch.

The Los Altos Library opened with a stock of 15,000 titles. But when nearly 2,500 were checked out on the first day alone, they were forced to put a limit on the number of books each person could borrow. The Los Altos branch quickly became the most popular library in the city, surpassing the elegant Carnegie Main Library downtown in checkouts. In addition it established a regular place for families and neighbors to gather and enjoy many engaging programs including cinema viewing, music programming and book discussions. It continues to do so today.

In February of this year, Lloyd’s most notable community library celebrated its 60th anniversary. They honored the occasion as they did the opening, with engaging programming, free to the public that continues to establish a strong sense of community. Just the way Lloyd would have wanted it.

 

 Alamitos Neighborhood Library
1836 E. Third St, Long Beach, CA 90802

Holding the distinguished honor of being the first library built in Long Beach, the Alamitos Neighborhood Library was completed in 1897 and derived its name from the surrounding community, Alamitos Heights. Thanks to a group of local women who came together to form the Alamitos Library Association in 1895 - and with the help of Jotham Bixby Sr. who donated the land - funds were raised to construct and stock the pioneering athenaeum. From 1897 to 1927 the site served not only as a library but also as a clubhouse, social center and lecture hall. Falling into disrepair, the original building was demolished in 1927 and a new library, designed as a replica of a castle in Spain, was opened in 1929. Today, this library remains one of the most unique and beloved historic buildings in Long Beach.

Ruth Bach Neighborhood Library

4055 Bellflower Blvd, Long Beach, CA 90808

 

The neighborhood library that sits next to Heartwell Park on the corner of Carson Street and Bellflower Boulevard opened in 1958 with a name that memorialized Long Beach’s first female City Council member, Ruth Bach. A notable figure in the Long Beach community, Ruth was known to be a strong and hard-working woman. Born in Milwaukee, Ruth graduated with a degree in social service administration from the University of Chicago. She spent her post-graduate years traveling to places like Puerto Rico to pursue social work. In 1944 she moved to Long Beach where she made her home in Lakewood Village becoming an active community member, Sunday school teacher at the First Methodist Church, member of the Women’s City Club, and representative of the Long Beach Coordinating Council. In 1954, she decided to run for City Council. Ironically, she found herself running alongside two other women, one of whom was also named Bach, Frances Bach. But Ruth Bach prevailed. While visiting family in Wisconsin in 1956, Ruth passed away unexpectedly. But her legacy of service as Long Beach’s first city councilwoman lives on at the Ruth Bach Neighborhood Library.

 

Dana Neighborhood Library
3680 Atlantic Ave, Long Beach, CA 90807

Originally opened in 1928 as California Heights Station Library, Dana Neighborhood Library derives its current name from Richard Henry Dana Jr. an American lawyer (who counted Abraham Lincoln among his clients) and author who is best known for his novel Two Years Before the Mast. But his successful literature career isn’t what makes Richard so noteworthy; it was his progressive attitude and willingness to help those in need that would cement his legacy.

A seasoned sailor, Richard’s travels took him from “stuffy” Boston to the unknown adventures of the California coast (Dana Point in Orange County also bears his name). Along the way he gained sympathy for the people of the time that were underrepresented and oppressed. He began providing legal aid to African-Americans who were captured under the Fugitive Slave Law, and was a champion for change during that period of American history.

In 1958 the Dana Neighborhood Library moved from its original location at 913 Wardlow Rd., to its current location at 3680 Atlantic Ave. Much like its namesake, the library couldn’t stay in one place either. But no matter what its location, it continues to provide education and knowledge inspiring future generations help those in need, just like Richard Dana.

Brewitt Neighborhood Library
4036 E. Anaheim St, Long Beach, CA 90804

This small community library was opened in 1948 as the East Long Beach Branch, but was renamed in 1954 after Theodora Brewitt, an esteemed librarian for the city from 1921 - 1950. During her tenure, Theodora pioneered the establishment of the record and film departments of the library. She knew that they would be just as important as books in the future, a very progressive idea at the time. She also helped to develop the reference department, with her colleagues marveling at how she was able to combine imagination and great detail. There are countless newspaper clippings that mention Theodora’s name, and almost always she is noted as being a memorable member of the Long Beach community known to never turn down a request whether it was big or small. Brewitt was a great pioneer when it comes to Long Beach and the libraries within the city, so it is no surprise that they renamed the East Long Beach Branch after her.

 

 

 

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