Library's roots in the city run deep

After a rocky time when it was threatened by development, community icon will now celebrate being added to the National Register of Historic Places.

November 20, 2013|By Anthony Clark Carpio | This post has been corrected, as noted below.
  • Branch manager Robin Ott stands next to one of the Main Street Library's most popular items, a 1915 grandfather clock built by students from Huntington Beach High School in 1915.
Branch manager Robin Ott stands next to one of the Main… (Don Leach, HB Independent )

Huntington Beach's Main Street Library has undergone repairs and updates over its 62 years of existence, but aside from the subtle alterations, the 9,000-square-foot structure has remained substantially the same.

The library was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places.

It still has its original bookcases, a grandfather clock built by Huntington Beach High School students in 1915 and even sets of tables and chairs from when it opened in 1951.

"They're old, but they're really comfortable and they've held up beautifully," library branch manager Robin Ott said, examining the furniture. "They're not pretty. Some of them have been reupholstered, but some of them have not; they've got the original padding."

Ott, 57, has worked at the Main Street Library since 2002 but has been going to the facility since 1963, when she was in the second grade.

"I can see my little ghost running around here," she said. "When I walk back into that room sometimes, I can just see myself just sitting in there reading."


She was referring to the children's wing of the library, which is currently under renovation after being the home of the nonprofit Beach Cities Interfaith Services' community center for several years. It's almost a miniature version of the main structure — with its three-hinged arches, bay window and clerestory windows.

"I have a lot of distinct memories sitting on that bench under the window," Ott said. "I used to sit there and read 'Wizard of Oz' and Nancy Drew."

Now the branch manager oversees the day-to-day operations of the library and the more than 25,000 items — books, movies and archived material — in its collection.

Though a recent Friday morning at the library was quiet, with a few residents reading books or newspapers in the main room, talks about the library weren't always serene.


'A long time coming'

The Main Street Library dodged a bullet with help from city residents.

In 2009, the Huntington Beach Marketing and Visitors Bureau had considered plans to develop the 1.1-acre Triangle Park, which is home to the library, with an eye toward turning it and everything on it into a cultural center, but many downtown residents wouldn't have that.

"The Huntington Beach Downtown Residents Assn. had major rallies and gathered about 200-plus people that came to the park to discuss how we wanted to preserve our open land and our historic library," said Gloria Alvarez, chairwoman of the city's Historic Resources Board.

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