There's been some chatter recently of moving Riverside's "Central Library" from its current downtown site on Mission Inn Avenue to a location east of the 91 Freeway. We feel this would be a big mistake.
Central Library 1966
w/ original fountains 1967 RNB calendar 1970s
Pre-Chinese Pavilion 1980s
w/ rose garden 1985 / GRCC 1910
The notion began with a seemingly innocuous letter to the editor that appeared in the June 19th edition of The Press-Enterprise. Initially, the letter received a smattering of support (one, two).
Although we agree the Eastside indeed could use an expanded library, moving the downtown branch is not the answer. Simply put, the Central Library plays a vital role in the city's reemerging downtown arts & culture community. And as the main branch of the citywide system -- as well as being a primary governmental repository for Riverside County and the Inland region as a whole -- the Central Library should remain downtown where it is both expected and belongs.
Moreover, the library is probably the best entity in drawing folks of all neighborhoods and of all classes to the downtown area, some of whom their only semi-regular exposure to downtown may in fact come from visiting the Central Library. And with a reemerging downtown, such wide-ranging exposure is critical for long-term stability.
Fortunately, it appears many others share our view, including the Riverside Downtown Partnership, the president of the Riverside Public Library Foundation and even Duane Roberts, owner of the Mission Inn, who no doubt might be easily tempted in viewing the adjacent library property for expansion of the popular Mission Inn hotel. However, he too understands the importance of having the library at his doorstep:
As the owner of the Mission Inn, there is no person more interested in an economically vibrant downtown, but not at the cost of losing an important center of arts and culture...
But, we must confess, this post goes beyond the relocation factor. We're about to broach a subject that has touched many a nerve since the "new" library replaced the old Carnegie in 1965.
First off, we wholeheartedly agree it was a shame to lose the 1903 Carnegie to the wrecking ball during the mid-1960s. However, as painful as that might have been, it is now in the past and there's nothing we can do to reverse that particular decision -- but we can keep from repeating it. With that said, we believe the current building has its own architectural merits, and thus, should not meet a similar fate. In fact, we're even willing to say we like it. (There, we said it.)
Although we agree its placement in the midst of historic architecture -- ranging from the eclectic Mission Inn to the ornate First Congretional Church -- is indeed a bit jarring, we also believe the building itself offers some of the best representation of mid-century, "new formalism" architecture within the entire Inland region. Such architecture may not be fully appreciated by older generations, but recent generations have grown up among such striking, modern architecture -- only to see it now quickly disappearing from the landscape. Moreover, though subjective as it is, who's to say such isn't the next "historic" architecture worth preserving?
If anything can be said about losing the historic Carnegie and its eventual replacement with the modern facility, it is that it proved to be the catalyst which brought historic preservation to the forefront in Riverside. In fact, we have heard it said that it was the reason for the coalescence of historic preservation efforts during the 1960s, which played a pivotal role in preserving the Mission Inn in the 1970s and early 1980s. To lose such a real-life, existing reminder for future generations to see with their own eyes, in all its juxtapositional glory, we feel will only increase the likelihood of repeating similar mistakes.
Finally, why not make the current Metropolitan Museum the "new" Central Library and the current Central Library the "new" Metropolitan Museum? Architecturally, the current library looks more like a museum of modern art while the current museum looks more like an historic library.
There, it's settled.
All kidding aside, we believe the city's main library branch belongs downtown -- and nowhere else.
Sources: The Press-Enterprise, City of Riverside