July 26, 2012
Check this out: The new Topanga Library has earned LEED Gold certification for its environmentally-friendly construction and energy-saving features.
The LEED certification, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a sought-after designation awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council to acknowledge environmentally sound building practices and the creation of sustainable structures.
In the case of the Topanga Library, features such as a heat-minimizing roof and a recycled water irrigation system are built into the design. Trees cut down during construction were milled into furniture now being used by library patrons.
In addition, 35% of the energy being used in the building falls into the green, non-carbon based category, said David Howard of county’s Department of Public Works, which managed the project.
The library was constructed with the aim of achieving LEED Silver status; winning the gold, as any Olympian will tell you, has an even sweeter ring to it.
“We are so absolutely thrilled,” said Stacy Sledge, president of the Topanga Town Council, who predicted the designation could help turn Topanga into a “real eco-city.”
“This is a wonderful, wonderful acknowledgement to the library and to the Topanga community,” she said. “I have goose bumps.”
April 17, 2012
It’s one thing to check out your favorite Hemingway novel. But it’s not every day that you can walk into a newly renovated library, sit down at the author’s 1947 Royal and peck out your own muscular prose.
So April 22 will be a big day in Malibu for a couple of reasons: First, the Malibu Library will be back in business after a two-year, $6-million makeover. And second, the celebration will include not only a bevy of local authors, but more than a half-dozen historic typewriters that will be available to type on in exchange for a $250 donation.
“People are going to love it,” predicts Los Angeles County Librarian Margaret Donellen Todd, who sees the library’s rebirth as a showcase for the literary and cultural roots of the famed coastal community.
“It’s directly across from Legacy Park, so you have that view. There’s a reading and activity garden, and glass walls that bring the outside in. The civic art is amazing—the children’s mural is beautiful, and we’ve done a tile carpet that’s a replica of the one at the Adamson House at the entry.
“There’s a teen librarian who’s going to do a lot of outreach, and there’ll be a speaker series. And we’ve gotten $25,000 to build a special collection on the surf and the ocean and sustainability.”
The renovation is the county library’s first since it was built in 1963. Spearheaded by former Malibu City Council member Sharon Barovsky, outgoing Council member Pamela Conley Ulich and Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, it was financed with property tax revenue that had been set aside since 2004. The Malibu library is just one several recent library construction projects, including the opening of the Topanga Library in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Among other highlights, the Malibu Library includes an enlarged 100-person community room, a teen study room with floor-to-ceiling images of local surfers, a replica of a landmark lighthouse that doubles as a family restroom and indoor-outdoor spaces and skylights that bring a new sense of airiness to the nearly 50-year-old facility.
Actors Dick Van Dyke and Pierce Brosnan will be special guests at the 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. dedication, but the heart and soul of the new building will be the written—and typewritten—word.
As a kickoff exhibition, L.A. developer and civic leader Steve Soboroff offered to share his historic typewriter collection for the day of the ceremony, giving the public a one-day opportunity to try out some of the famous implements in exchange for a $250 donation that will benefit Malibu High School and the Emily Shane Foundation, a local nonprofit. On display will be typewriters that once belonged to Ray Bradbury, John Lennon, Ernest Hemingway, George Bernard Shaw, Andy Rooney, Joe DiMaggio and others.
Also available for viewing, but not for typing, will be the typewriter that once belonged to Ted Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber.
“We think it might be offensive to some people if we were to let people type on that one,” Todd says. “It probably wouldn’t the best way to raise money, although it would be unique.”
The library also has enlisted the presence of a number of homegrown authors, including “Point Dume” author Katie Arnoldi, Delores Rivellino (“The Malibu Cookbook”), Susan Stifelman (“Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm, and Connected”) and Viki King (“How to Write a Movie in 21 Days”).
Todd says part of the renovated library’s new mission will be an enhanced speaker’s series and an area in which she plans to showcase books by locals.
“I’m really looking forward to building that out as time goes on,” Todd says. “We’re going to take our time and see what works.”
March 7, 2012
When one chapter opens, another closes. This week, as Topanga breaks in a new, state-of-the-art library, the county will bid farewell to another cherished institution—the Las Virgenes bookmobile.
Twenty-eight feet long and stacked to the rafters, the traveling library has rumbled through the Santa Monica Mountains for generations, serving canyon- and hill-dwellers from Malibu to the Mulholland Highway.
“A lot of people will mourn the loss,” predicts former community library manager Donna Serra, who retired in 2010 after more than a decade as the Las Virgenes “bookmobile lady.”
“People from all walks of life have used that bookmobile. Families, academics, homeless people. People would come and bring their dogs inside with them. When we’d go to Topanga, so many people would come that we’d have to put up a sign saying only so many people could be inside the bookmobile at one time. They even used to put us in their parades.”
On Friday, when the bookmobile finishes its last stop—from 1:30 p.m. to 3: 30 p.m. at Hidden Hills City Hall—its route will be eliminated, leaving only four bookmobiles in the Los Angeles County system. County Librarian Margaret Donnellan Todd says it’s a casualty of time and success.
The vehicle itself is nearing the end of its life span, she says, and the library system has managed in recent years to shore up many of the brick-and-mortar facilities near the mountains.
“We now have the Malibu library, which will reopen in April after a full renovation,” Todd says. “Then there are the libraries in Westlake Village and Agoura Hills, which are both fairly new. The City of Calabasashas a new library, and now there’s the new Topanga library, of course.”
Bookmobiles first caught on in the United States around 1900, when a librarian in rural Maryland used horse-drawn wagons to expand local library service. After World War II, Congress began subsidizing them as a way to bring literacy to rural America. At their peak, some 2,000 were in use nationally. A bookmobile nicknamed “Little Toot” served children in the City of Los Angeles through the 1950s; by the 1960s, there were eight bookmobiles in the Los Angeles County fleet alone.
Since then, though, bookmobile use had gradually dwindled, largely due to rising gas prices, suburban development and the Internet. In 2008, according to the National Library Assn., only about 930 remained on the road nationally, including 69 in California.
Libraries have been reluctant to get rid of them entirely, and the National Library Assn. still celebrates National Bookmobile Day. In 2009, Los Angeles County added a bookmobile route in the rural Antelope Valley, where three of its vehicles are now assigned, and its fourth—an urban outreach bookmobilethat mostly serves senior communities and housing projects—is among the most popular in the county.
But most parts of Los Angeles now have branch libraries within easy driving distance, Todd says, and most bookmobiles lack the breadth and digital access that brick-and-mortar libraries now offer. The Las Virgenes bookmobile only carried about 2,500 books, CDs, DVDs and other lendable items, while the new library in Topanga alone stocks tens of thousands.
Serra, the retired librarian, says the bookmobile’s limitations were part of what patrons loved about it. In fact, she says, when the traveling library began electronically tracking overdue books, many patrons pined aloud for the days “when you could just sign your name on a card and that was enough.”
Readers may not have had as much to choose from, says Serra, but she made up for that in personal service. Sometimes, she says, she and bookmobile aide William Moore would drop a bag of books at the home of a sick patron, or use their own cars when the bookmobile was broken down or stopped by inclement weather.
Each week, she says, she and her fellow staffers would load up the lumbering vehicle with items they had personally chosen for patrons.
“There was Uncle Dale, a photographer in the movie business who had a lovely little daughter, Fiona,” recalls Serra. “We’d find special things for her, things with princesses and fairies, but also classics like “The Three Musketeers.” And there were the Portmans, another great family—voracious readers. Mrs. Portman would come in and we’d have 50 books set aside, waiting for her.”
Over the years, Serra says, she came to know the minds of thousands of patrons, from celebrities who would wander up the bookmobile stairs incognito to homeless bookworms from Malibu Creek.
One soul, a courteous transient named Daniel, came in regularly for two years to renew “The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine,” she remembers. Another patron made such delicious homemade tomato relish that the staff stocked her favorite authors—J.D. Robb, Iris Johansen—just to ply her for the recipe.
Pets were welcomed, she says, and one of her favorite Topangans perused the stacks for years with a Tennessee squirrel hound named Lily, looking for volumes on spirituality. When the woman died in 2008, Serra went to the memorial service.
“For my birthday one year, she gave me an ancient Sanskrit poem written in calligraphy, about looking forward to each day and living to the fullest,” says Serra. “I still have it here in my house with me.”
Serra predicts it will take time for her former patrons to get used to a library that isn’t on wheels: “They’re a unique group, people who use bookmobiles.”
But Todd, the county librarian, says that the Las Virgenes bookmobile will have its own next chapter: After Friday, it will become either a backup bookmobile or be dispatched as an “express library” to sites undergoing renovation.
“It’ll have a nice part-time job—not a lot of stress, not a lot of mountain roads,” she says, laughing. “I suppose you could say that it will be enjoying its retirement years.”
January 17, 2012
It may not be easy to tell a book by its cover, but when the county’s newest library opens this weekend, visitors will have no trouble knowing which community’s stories are surrounding them.
From the design to the public artwork, the long-awaited Topanga Public Library, which will be dedicated on Saturday, is an organic outgrowth of the community it will soon serve.
“They tried to make it as homegrown as possible,” says Topanga artist Matt Doolin, who, with his brother Paul and his mother Leslie, created a circular tile mural of an idyllic Topanga landscape that will anchor the library’s main room.
The 11,293-square-foot, silver LEED-certified building broke ground in 2008 and has been in the works for more than a decade; for generations, residents of the mountain community had made do with other towns’ libraries and a visiting bookmobile. (Click here for a gallery of early construction work.)
Although Los Angeles County funded the $19.6 million project, it was clear from the start that the iconoclastic community, filled with environmentalists and artists, would insist on weighing in on the building’s aesthetic and carbon footprint.
“There are a lot of stakeholders in Topanga,” laughs Rebecca Catterall, former president of the Topanga Canyon Gallery and a 30-year-resident of the rustic enclave.
“There’s a sense of a spiritual connection there that’s not like any other place, and I think it’s important to the people,” agrees Norman Grochowski, who spent most of his career in Topanga and whose massive-yet-whimsical steel-and-ceramic book flowers bedeck the library’s entry.
“Topanga is a land within a land, a place far away.”
So a local design advisory committee was convened to determine the rustic “lodge” look of the North Topanga Boulevard building, and the library was built to the latest green construction standards.
Meanwhile, in accordance with county policy, one percent of the cost of construction was allocated for the incorporation of civic art into the project. A second local committee, this one pulled from the local art scene by the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, commissioned pieces by four local artists. (Click here for an extensive photo gallery of the of the library’s artwork on Green Public Art’s Flickr page.)
Catterall, who sat on the arts committee, says the group methodically culled 29 entries in search of artists who were both representative of the community and who worked on an architectural scale. Patricia Correia, a Topanga-based art dealer and former gallery owner who served with Catterall, says the artists were chosen first and then asked to make pieces for specific areas of the building.
“A lot of times in public art, people pick a beautiful sculpture and then find out it’s too small or too big.”
Some aspects of the new library ended up being literally rooted in Topanga: A podium, two Adirondackchairs, two rocking chairs and a picnic table were made from trees that had had to be removed during construction. That work, set in motion by Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s office, was done by Don Seawater, whose California-based Pacific Coast Lumber Co. is a leader in the use of reclaimed wood and urban forestry.
Artist and art teacher Megan Rice, who did two papier mache sculptures for the library’s children’s section, also honored the fallen trees—two oaks and two pines—by using one of the stumps as the base for “A Great Tale,” which depicts a little boy reading to his faithful dog.
“I’ve lived in Topanga since 1956, and when I heard they were looking for artists with a vested interest in Topanga, I felt, ‘That’s me’,” says Rice, who was 5 when her parents moved to the community.
“My mother was the children’s librarian at Topanga Elementary School for eight or ten years, and I grew up with the bookmobile—in fact, in my early childhood, it was a very big part of my life because we had few neighbors, and for a long time my mother didn’t have a car, so getting a big stack of books there was a source of great excitement for me.”
Local potter Jim Sullivan, a resident since the early 1960s, remembered the Topanga childhood of his now-grown daughter when he designed the ceramic tile “rug” just inside the front entrance. “When she was in fourth grade, she went to the Adamson House inMalibu, and the docent stopped them at the front door and pointed to the threshold,” says Sullivan. “She said, ‘Does anybody know what that is?’”
Only Sullivan’s daughter, the child of a ceramist, knew that the design on the floor was a broken tile mosaic. When the guide explained that broken tile was often used in doorways because of ancient lore that it kept out evil spirits, Sullivan says his daughter became so excited that she begged him relentlessly to install similar mosaics in their own house.
Since then, he says, he has done a number of such installations, and when he heard about the library commissions, he felt a piece of broken-tile floor art would be perfect for Topanga’s new landmark. His 8-foot-wide piece, made entirely by hand, he says, depicts a spark growing into a flame of intellect and community.
All the artists who contributed work are established and well known in Topanga. The Doolins have done murals at local landmarks ranging from Disneyland California Adventure to public pools in South Los Angeles. Grochowski, who now lives in Crescent City, Ca., but visits Topanga several times a year, has shown work at LACMA and the Laguna Art Museum.
Rice’s work has been exhibited throughout California, and Sullivan, whose ceramics are in a number of private collections, has done historic restoration work from Malibu to Pasadena; for many years he co-owned Malibu Ceramic Works, a Topanga tile company that replicated historic tiles.
Correia says the work by Sullivan and the Doolins echoes Topanga’s long history as a center for ceramic artwork and the sculptures by Rice and Grochowski brought variety.
“There aren’t a lot of libraries getting built anymore,” she notes. “It was exciting, and we wanted to bring a three-dimensionality to the space, take it beyond just a big painting or a big mural outside.”
The new library “is incredibly important,” adds Correia.
“We don’t really have an everyday kind of communal place that isn’t a commercial space,” she says. “This is going to bring the community together in a way that deals with knowledge and culture and imagination. I can’t wait.”
The library’s grand opening will take place Saturday, January 21, at 11 a.m. The address is 122 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd.
November 22, 2011
Mmm. Turkey and stuffing, cranberries and sweet potatoes, pie and ice cream—few pleasures are as reliably delicious as Thanksgiving dinner, or as enduring: The basics alone will set you back thousands of calories.
Fortunately Los Angeles County has a bounty of public recreational options that can help offset the gluttony, many of them right here in the 3rd District. So as we load up our plates this week, let us also give thanks for the equally enduring pleasures of a Thanksgiving morning workout or a brisk walk after dinner. Here are some of our favorite menu additions for a healthy holiday:
Take a hike
It’s not an accident that a landmark in the Santa Monica Mountains is the headquarters for a health and fitness reality show. The hills and canyons of Los Angeles County have been an inspiration to millions, and the county’s trail system just keeps getting better. With the exception of a couple of small parcels, for instance, the 65-mile Backbone Trail is now almost entirely owned by the public, and the long-planned Coastal Slope Trail has passed several key milestones this year.
Enter the Fitness Zone
You don’t need to join a gym to improve your strength, flexibility or cardiovascular abilities. Thanks to the Trust for Public Land, outdoor gyms have been installed in the last four years in more than two dozen parks across the county, with durable, weather-resistant exercise equipment designed to let you get toned at no cost. Both El Cariso Park in Sylmar and Pan Pacific Park in Los Angeles now have Fitness Zones that are just waiting to help you whittle away that second helping of stuffing. (For a map of Fitness Zones, click here.)
Hit the bike trails
Better yet, ride over the river and through the woods on one of Southern California’s paved bike paths, some of which are world famous, after all. If you’re socially inclined, preface your dinner with one of the Thanksgiving bike rides that have been organized in places like Beverly Hills and Brentwood. With events like CicLAvia capturing the public imagination, pedal power has never been hipper than it is right now in L.A.
Step into liquid
You’ll probably need a wetsuit, but who in Los Angeles wouldn’t give thanks for our beaches? Even if you don’t like to surf in November, the Southern California coast offers endless fitness opportunities—for free. If you’re not a water baby, check out the Marvin Braude and Ballona Creek Bike Trails. Or make like Zev and take a beach run between Santa Monica and Marina del Rey before Thanksgiving dinner.
Pick up the pace
If you can walk, you can speed walk, or even jog a little. If you’re feeling really ambitious, maybe you want to sign up for one of this year’s “Turkey Trots” for runners in Burbank, Topanga and Van Nuys. More interested in proceeding at your own pace? Run the UCLA perimeter or shake a leg on one of the two jogging tracks at Van Nuys/Sherman Oaks Park. Out-of-town guests? Take the whole crew to the San Vicente median, jogging track to the stars (or, in any case, the almost-famous). It’s grassy, tree-lined, filled with beautiful people and easy to get to, and if you do the whole 6-mile loop from Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica to South Bundy Drive in Brentwood, it’ll knock about 600 calories from your intake. Or make room for extra pie.
October 27, 2011
Did you hear something?! Halloween creeps closer—soon it will be upon us. Take a break from coating your shrubbery with cobwebs, and dare to peek at what’s happening near you this Halloween/Day of the Dead.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice!!! At LACMA, it’s not just Halloween—it’s also the last chance to check out the Tim Burton exhibit. It will be open for 38 straight hours, from 10 a.m. Sunday, October 30, until midnight on Halloween. All weekend long, the museum will host Burton-esque creative festivities. Kids can create props and use them in a free interactive storytelling session at noon on Saturday. Later that night, adults can attend a costume ball with live music and visual effects (tickets are $100). On Sunday, artist-led workshops and a horror film fest round out the entertainment.
For a classic Halloween in a gorgeous setting, join Topanga’s Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum this Friday for an event all ages can enjoy. A not-too-scary haunted house will provide thrills without tears, and actors will read classic ghost stories while Shakespearean zombies, headless horsemen and witches haunt the grounds. You can bob for apples, carve a pumpkin and dine on organic chicken and waffles. Popular children’s musician Peter Alsop and others will provide live music, and a costume contest will be held in the lush canyon venue.
East Los Angeles Civic Center
Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation and Los Angeles County Public Library have teamed to present a free Día de los Muertos cultural festival. The celebration features a community altars contest from local families, Day of the Dead-themed art, and a performance and lecture by Gregorio Luke, former director of the Museum of Latin American Art. It all takes place Wednesday, November 2, from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. at the East L.A. Civic Center, 4837 East 3rd Street.
Los Angeles Haunted Hayride
At Griffith Park, the brave among us can find their thrills on the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride, a 25-minute terror trip with ghosts, monsters and—gasp—clowns. There also will be a ghoul-filled maze and a sideshow with food, magic shows, rides and games. The event runs every day through October 31; $25 gets you the hayride and side show, and $10 more will get you into the maze . . . if you dare.
If you’re looking for Day of the Dead entertainment, The Autry presents “¡Vivan Los Muertos!” Artists will display their altars and calaca (skeleton) art, traditional food will be served, and visitors will be able to try their hand at mask-making and other crafts. Music, ceremonial dancing and Aztec blessings will add to the atmosphere as ancestors are honored in line with cultural tradition.
Wherever you trick-or-treat this year, do it safely with these basic safety tips from Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Among other things, their experts remind that some candies, especially those made outside the United States, are known to contain lead. So as we wind up National Lead Poisoning Awareness Week, check out Public Health’s anti-lead campaign, and use this handy flyer to know which candies to avoid. Together, we can make sure the only “damage” Halloween candy does this year is to your diet. Happy haunting!
August 25, 2011
The public is being invited to weigh in on what should be included in an environmental review of plans to build four homes on a Santa Monica Mountains ridgeline above Topanga Canyon.
The residences would be built on previously undeveloped land along the Calabasas Peak Motorway—a 40-plus acre expanse bordered by open space and trails on the west and south, and “low density” residential on the north and east.
The scenic ridgeline has long been a visual boundary marker between Calabasas and Topanga Canyon, and overlooks both areas.
Each of the proposed homes would be located on a 10-acre site on the property, which has been designated a “significant ridgeline,” meaning that any development within 50 feet would require a variance to the county’s ridgeline ordinance. In preparation, the county is preparing a single environmental impact report for all four homes—and now is seeking public input to determine all the issues that the EIR should explore.
The scope of work proposed for the four homes “will create potentially significant impacts to the significant ridgelines, native flora and fauna, and raises issues of concern for safety which will be resolved under one Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project area,” according to a notice of preparation by the county’s Department of Regional Planning.
The notice says that the project would require installation of a 277,000-gallon water tank at the ridgeline’s highest peak, as well as four septic systems. There are coast live oaks throughout the property; the report said a permit would be needed to “encroach upon the protected zone for three oak trees to widen the existing Calabasas Peak Motorway to Fire Department standards.”
An overview of what’s being proposed will be presented at a public meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 31, at the Topanga Community House, 1440 N. Topanga Canyon Boulevard, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Regional planning officials are asking for suggestions and comments from the public at the meeting, or in writing by Sept. 15.
January 25, 2011
For a while, Westside book lovers feared there might be no happy ending. But after nearly a year of revisions, disputes and other construction issues, the long-delayed Topanga Library is back on schedule again.
After months of negotiations with the county, the project’s main contractor, FEI Enterprises, Inc., has agreed to resolve scores of outstanding or disputed change requests that had helped put the project at least a year behind schedule.
A change order for $645,651.52 approved today by the Board of Supervisors settled the last of the differences, clearing the way, among other things, for FEI to finish the project.
As a result, the library is now scheduled to open this fall.
“We’ve worked out the issues between us,” said Kamel Youssef, senior capital project manager at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works. “The project is making good progress now.” (Click here for a photo gallery of early work on the library.)
The various disputes and delays, outlined in a letter to the board from Chief Executive Officer William T. Fujioka, ranged from planning problems to complications resulting from the discovery of Native American artifacts. Some were resolved separately by Public Works while others ended up being settled in the change order approved by the board on Tuesday.
Long sought by Topanga residents, who for generations have had to rely on bookmobiles and other communities’ libraries, the new facility—now estimated to come in at a total cost of $19.5 million—will bring a 42,000-volume permanent library to North Topanga Canyon Boulevard in the center of the mountain town.
Filled with civic art and built to the latest green construction standards, the new building will cover more than 11,000 square feet, featuring a reading area for adults, a community meeting room, an after-school homework center for students, teen and children’s areas, public-access computers, express-service checkout machines and a ground-floor garage.
The project, which broke ground in 2008, originally had a tentative opening date of summer 2009, which was stretched by various construction delays into the spring, and then the summer of 2010. But according to the board letter, disputes with the contractor began to arise early that year after FEI submitted a series of requests for costs of additional work it claimed had to be done because of alleged deficiencies in plans and specifications and various site-related issues.
“While there may have been some merit to some of these assertions, FEI’s proposals . . . lacked sufficient clarity, detail and justification to support the requested costs,” the board letter said. “Also, Public Works believed that FEI’s performance of the work was much slower than required by the approved schedule due to a lack of manpower and changes in FEI’s management staff.”
February 26, 2009
On average, Topanga residents carry around four or five library cards. Soon, they’ll need just one, thanks to the long-awaited construction of the Topanga Library. Scheduled for completion in the summer of 2010, the library is expected to be one of the most heavily used in the L.A. County library system. The $12-million project, funded through the Third District office of Supervisor Yaroslavsky, will include a 40,000 volume library, community meeting room, teen homework center and artwork by Topanga locals. The structure also will meet the latest in green-building standards. Ground was broken in 2008.