Clark Library

So not too far from USC resides the Clark Library. I swung by there this month after the Festival of Books for old times sake. Unfortunately it was closed (renovations—always check website info before you leave people). The Williams Andrew Clark Memorial Library holds one of the most comprehensive rare book and manuscript collections in the U.S. It’s particularly strong in its English literature and history as well as Oscar Wilde collections. It was established in 1924 and currently houses more than 100,000 rare books and 20,000 manuscripts. It was established during the early 20th century book-collecting phase by America’s rich and famous. In 1934, the collections were donated to what is now known as UCLA, in one of the university’s most generous bequests. It is one of 12 of UCLA’s official libraries. It is open to students, scholars, and professors around the world as a sort of research lab. It also offers cultural programs such as lectures, theatrical presentations, and chamber music performances. The library’s most treasured section is likely its Oscar Wilde collection, one of the largest in the world. The collection includes Wilde novels, playbills, photographs, and caricatures. I remember last time I was able to enter the library, Wilde’s works were on display underneath a wondrously painted ceiling filled with artfully arranged muscular men that left nothing to the imagination. I don’t know how intentional the juxtaposition was, but I think Oscar would approve.

Outside, the library’s striking architecture is evident. It’s walled off and filled with spacious lawns, seeming to isolate itself from the busy city just outside. Robert D. Farquhar, a romantic architect of California, designed the two-story brick building. It reminds me of some sort of modest European estate, hidden away in an American city. It feels like time stops on the Library grounds, since it’s so out of sync with the noise and action of the city. Farquhar was sent East by Clark to study up on their interior arrangements and library functions. Clark wanted the best library money could buy, incorporating the best practices at the time against fires, earthquakes, ventilation, and temperature-and-humidity control. It stands today largely unchanged, thanks to strict building codes left behind in Clark’s bequest, a rarity in L.A. architecture.

2 Comments

  1. Brianna Maloney

    As far as the “rich and famous” collecting things for their own benefit goes, I think books are the most harmless of them all. They provide the most purpose in their collection, where as art, architecture, or a collection of any other number of strange or intriguing things don’t really serve much of a purpose other than to look pretty.

    It’s weird, I used to visit USC a ton but have never heard or seen anything about this library… it sounds like an amazing place! I’m a total bookworm so this seems like somewhere I would need to visit one day, if not just to gawk at all of the books.

    • Katarina Stiller

      “Oscar Wilde quite rightly said, ‘All art is useless.’ And that may sound as if that means it’s something not worth supporting. But if you actually think about it, the things that matter in life are useless. Love is useless. Wine is useless. Art is the love and wine of life. It is the extra, without which life is not worth living.” (Stephen Fry)

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