Following an unsuccessful effort in 1844 by Mexican residents and one in 

the mid-1850s by the Mechanic's Institute, another attempt to provide Los 

Angeles with a reading room took place in 1859 when several prominent citizens 

organized a subscription library.  Housed in Abel Stearns' newly-built Arcadia 

Block at the corner of Los Angeles and Arcadia Streets, it provided books and 

Eastern newspapers for the members.  Despite a modest membership fee of five 

dollars and monthly dues of only a dollar, the venture failed for lack of 

public support and the irregular delivery of the newspapers. 

    The next effort, in 1872, succeeded.  Again the town's prominent citizens, 

including a former and a future governor, took the lead in establishing the 

facility.  Located in rooms provided by John G. Downey in the block that bore 

his name, the library relied not only on membership fees {a life membership for 

$50 or an annual fee of $5} but also received property tax funds after the 

state legislature in 1874 authorized a library for Los Angeles.  It existed as 

an independent agency, under the direction of librarian John Littlefield, until 

the municipal charter of 1878 recognized it as an official city function.  At 

that time the annual fee was reduced to $4.  

    Patrick Connolly was librarian {1879-1880} as the 'eighties opened, 

overseeing about 150 paying subscribers and 2100 volumes.  He was followed by 

Mary Foy {1880-1884}, Jessie Gavitt {1884-1889} and, briefly in early 1889, 

Lydia Prescott.  The new city charter of 1889 placed control of the library in 

a board of regents, appointed by the mayor.  That year, under librarian Tessa 

Kelso {1889-1895}, the facility moved from the Downey Block to the new city 

hall on Broadway, where it remained until 1896.  

    At the time Kelso became librarian the holdings had increased to 6000 

books but the membership had declined.  Much to the consternation of more 

conservative library patrons, Kelso began to stock the shelves with French 

novels.  She was also noted for smoking cigarettes in public.  But the library 

thrived and during her tenure, in 1891, the membership fee was abolished and it 

became a free library.  The institution would make several more moves and have 

several other head librarians, including former Times city editor Charles 

Lummis, before reaching its present site in the 1920s.

    Letters to the Times about the library in the 1880s were largely complaints 

about the hours it was open, the size and condition of its holdings, 

inconsiderate patrons and the librarian.  While "Philotay" took a circuitous 

course to get to the point, this 1885 letter, which reads as though it might 

have been penned by future librarian Lummis, then on the staff of the Times, 

attempted to shame Angelenos into vastly improving the existing library.

                         {Times, Oct. 29, 1885, p. 2}

                             Licks at the Library.

              To the Editor of the Times--Sir:  A few days ago an 

         Eastern man of considerable business capacity said in regard 

         to Southern California, having especially Los Angeles in his 

         mind: "This country will never be a Wisconsin or a 

         Pennsylvania; the business man cannot spread or throw himself 

         with sufficient certainty of profit into the arms of nature.  

         This land can never become a source of great wealth, although 

         it will prove to be of great value.  It will in the coming 

         few years rapidly develop its real qualities, which are, in 

         summa, to absorb money, giving in return comfort and beauty 

         to those who spend their surplus savings here.  It will, in a 

         great measure, depend on the East for its existence.  

         Southern California will become 'the Italy of America.'"

              Let the above independent opinion of the nature and 

         future of Southern California or Los Angeles be taken for all 

         it is worth.  Such a definition of our case is well worthy to 

         receive attention.  A rebuke or rejection is often more 

         valuable than high praise.  But to the point.  We thought of 

         those words, Mr. Editor, when we first entered the library of 

         the city of Los Angeles.

              Pray, beware of the thought, that this institution 

         reminded us of the Vatican!  It rather struck us as if we had 

         run into the editorial rooms of a second-class newspaper.  

         The same insignificance as to comfort and pleasantness, the 

         same disregard of order, of cleanliness and of propriety 

         prevails here as there.  Even the scissors, the first 

         assistant of a great editor, seem to have permission to 

         perform their duty here.  Of newspapers you have the very 

         best and a great number, but they are in bad shape.  The 

         periodicals are ill-treated, even shamelessly handled and 

         only fit for the rag basket.  And the books--Lord have mercy 

         with us!--strike the beholder with horror.  Oh! that such a 

         thing as these rooms with their contents was ever called a 


              But why did we think of the words of our Eastern 

         friend?--of the Italy of America!--here in that library?

              Whoever visits your home, Mr. Editor, must, of right, 

         say that it is beautiful.  Your guests, who learned to write 

         and are not blind, must send handsome letters, dictated by 

         enthusiasm and love, to their friends at home.  Their letters 

         must be full of news, full of interesting portraits, full of 

         sensitive, animating pictures, and to outline the features of 

         their object truly, they must describe the rare views of the 

         mountains.  Those thus addressed desire to see your home 

         and--come!  "The Italy of America" receives them gladly. Its 

         "metropolis, Los Angeles," claims the largest number of those 

         tourists.  It is the center of that Italy.  And this center, 

         where we notice business blocks as fine as at Chicago and 

         residences as lovely as on Grand Avenue at Milwaukee, where 

         they have electric lights, street cars and cable cars, where 

         they have a number of fine churches, of good public schools, 

         a State Normal School, and academies of arts and science; 

         this center, which desires to maintain its position against 

         other rising cities, not far from it; this center, which is 

         anxious to uphold and better its reputation, and which is the 

         home of many wealthy, loyal-hearted people; this "metropolis" 

         has the courage to say: "A public library?  What do you 

         mean?"  No!  We have no such an institution!

              Los Angeles can do better.  It is far behind in this 

         matter.  Let its best citizens look it up, and let them fight 

         for a library, if necessary!  The people will thank them for 

         their efforts, ere long. If the common citizen does not call 

         for any books, create in him an appetite for them.  And this 

         can only be done by a "library" that will do credit to a 

         place so lovely and much visited as the City of the Angels.

              Truly your friend,                    


    "W. H. H.," also writing in 1885, had a distinctly different view of the 

library facility, finding it much more inviting than did "Philotay."  Still, 

"W. H. H." offered two suggestions to make it even more attractive to out-of-

town visitors and regular patrons.  When the proposal regarding the schedule 

went unheeded, a second letter appeared a year and a half later, its content 

suggesting that it was perhaps written by the same author.

                         {Times, July 10, 1885, p. 2}

                              The Public Library.

              To the Editor of the Times--Sir:  As the Board of 

         Trustees of the Public Library are to hold a meeting next 

         week, there are two suggestions which I wish through your 

         columns respectfully to submit to their consideration.

              The first refers to holidays.  Some half dozen of these 

         occur in a year, during which the Library is closed; and I 

         consider that no public officer is better entitled to holiday 

         privileges than the Librarian who does duty seven days per 

         week.  But why close the Library?  Crowds are in town on 

         every public holiday, who are bent on sight-seeing and who 

         are debarred the enjoyment and profit of seeing this resort, 

         which is one of the most pleasing in our city.  Cannot the 

         Board appoint a substitute to take the Librarian's place on 

         such days?  For two or three dollars each holiday, some 

         citizen whose patriotism is of the quiet kind might be had, 

         and the visitors who have been wearing out the handle of the 

         Library door every holiday for years past would bless the 

         Trustees for the boon.

              My second suggestion concerns the large notices hung up 

         in the readingroom prohibiting smoking.  Are the Trustees 

         aware that these are unheeded?--that the notice is treated 

         with utter contempt?--that when ladies do come into the room, 

         they stay as short time as possible in the perfumed 

         air?--that non-smokers of the hardier sex have sometimes 

         offered a gentle remonstrance, but all in vain?  My 

         suggestion is simply this:  That either the notice should be 

         taken down altogether, or the defiers of the ordinance gently 

         persuaded to heed it.               

                                      W. H. H.

                         {Times, Dec. 29, 1886, p. 10}

                              THE PUBLIC LIBRARY.

              Los Angeles, Dec. 27.--[To the Editor of The Times.]  

         Permit me through your columns to call the attention of the 

         public and our Board of Regents to the necessity and 

         propriety of keeping open the public library on holidays.  

         Above all other days those are the ones during which many 

         strangers, as well as citizens, find time and inclination to 

         avail themselves of its benefits and privileges, were its 

         doors thrown open to them.

              The writer does not mean in the slightest manner to 

         reflect upon the management of our very efficient and 

         faithful lady librarian, for she has no option in the matter, 

         and needs the recreations and enjoyments of such occasions as 

         much as other workers.  But let the Regents increase her 

         salary $2.50 or $3 per month, and require the library kept 

         open on the six or eight holidays that annually occur.  The 

         librarian can always find some poor and competent person glad 

         to earn $2.50 or $3 by taking charge for a single day upon 

         such occasions.

                                           PRO BONO PUBLICO.

    "W.H.H." was concerned that the use of tobacco in the reading room would 

discourage female patrons.  "Invalid," on the other hand, thought the library 

gave too much consideration to women.

                         {Times, April 12, 1882, p. 3}

                                Wants to Know.

              Editor Times:  Please tell us why the best and sunniest 

         room in the Free Library is reserved for ladies only, as 

         there seems to be but a very small percentage of the patrons 

         of the Free Library that belong to the fair sex, and oblige.


    Ignoring "Invalid's" concern, the library continued to provide women with 

special quarters.  But as the holdings grew to 6000 volumes without an increase 

in space, the cramped rooms in the Downey Block location led to changes that 

reduced the favoritism that had disturbed him, as librarian Jessie Gavitt 

explained in this reply to "Resident Subscriber's" complaint that men were 

invading the rooms set aside for women.

                         {Times, April 1, 1888, p. 3}

               To a "Resident Subscriber" of the Public Library.

              Los Angeles, March 31.--[To the Editor of The Times.]  

         About six months ago it became necessary to put book-shelves 

         in the room then occupied as a ladies' parlor, as the room 

         proper was overcrowded, and no more rooms were obtainable in 

         the building.  The public have access to all books on the 

         shelves, and it was not practicable to exclude men from them 

         because they were in that particular room.  Until the new 

         City Hall is built, where we are promised commodious rooms 

         for the library, we are helpless, unless some of our 

         liberal-minded citizens of wealth, who are interested in the 

         welfare of our city, will earn the lasting gratitude of the 

         people of Los Angeles by giving us a library building.  If, 

         however, men frequenting the library would remember that 

         "cleanliness is next to godliness," and that women are 

         entitled to a little consideration, especially as they are 

         invaders, there would not be quite so much cause for 


                                       THE LIBRARIAN.

    Despite the city's meteoric population growth, the number of library 

subscribers had fallen to 130 by 1889.  "A Resident" offered an explanation why 

that had occurred.  "X" read "Resident's" criticism as an attack on Mrs. Lydia 

Prescott, who had succeeded Gavitt as librarian in Jan., 1889, and submitted 

this spirited defense of the librarian.  Alas, Mrs. Prescott and the works of 

Sir Henry Rider Haggard soon gave way to Tessa Kelso and those racy French 


                         {Times, Feb. 23, 1889, p. 2}

                              The Public Library.

              Los Angeles, Feb. 16.--[To the Editor of The Times.]  We 

         are glad to see that some step toward making our Public 

         Library of more credit to itself and to our city is being 


              Of the 17 public libraries on this coast that of the 

         city of Los Angeles has ranked among the poorest as to number 

         and character of books.

              While the increase in the population of the city has 

         been enormous, and the demand for good reading has also 

         increased, yet the number of books in the library has been 

         but slightly added to, and the additions are for the greater 

         part not standard works.

              The position of the library is most unfortunate; but if 

         the crowd of expectorating loungers could be kept from the 

         lower entrance and stairs it would be easier to have patience 

         with the location until the new reading-rooms in the City 

         Hall are ready for occupancy.

              The signs on the present library are inconspicuous, and 

         many business and other people pass there daily without 

         having their attention attracted to the fact that there is 

         any library at all.

              Some of our citizens who two years ago visited the rooms 

         to read or take the books for home use, have entirely dropped 

         their subscriptions and deserted the place, on the ground of 

         lack of supply of a good class of modern literature, and not 

         as good a supply of older and of reference books as there 

         should be, so the revenue to the library is much cut off--and 

         yet the present condition of the treasury gives no excuse for 

         failure to purchase those works which the reading public 

         require.  Visitors from Eastern cities, with their well-

         stocked libraries, find this one far behind the ordinary 

         requirements of the student of even small towns, and cannot 

         help wondering why an intelligent public has so long 

         slumbered over this neglect.  More books and a better class, 

         that such books as "He" and "She" may grow distasteful to 

         all, is what the public should have; also lower rates for 

         fines, as probably the high rate often prevents a party from 

         returning a book that has been too long kept out, where as a 

         small daily charge for overtime might not be so much dreaded, 

         and the book might be replaced upon the shelves.  There is a 

         large number of missing books that never appear at all.  

         These should be called in, without penalty, that the supply 

         may be no less than the expenditure in the past would 

         warrant, and with a reasonable supply of new works the 

         library would become more useful to a large number of people 

         who cannot purchase freely for their own homes.

                                            A RESIDENT.

                          {Times, Mar. 7, 1889, p. 5}

                              About Mrs. Prescott.

              Los Angeles, March 4.--[To the Editor of The Times.]  As 

         the last article on the library that appeared in your paper 

         was somewhat personal in its tone, let me make a few 

         statements, personal also.

              There is a report being sedulously circulated that the 

         appointment of Mrs. Prescott as librarian was a Democratic 

         movement.  Since there are a great many people who take such 

         a statement for gospel truth, without any inquiry whatever, 

         it is for their benefit the following points are given:  Mrs. 

         Prescott, always a Republican, belonging to a Republican 

         family, had three brothers, all of whom enlisted in the Union 

         army; all of whom were wounded, one dying in consequence of 

         his wounds.  She was called to St. Louis to nurse one of 

         them.  This was just after the recall of Gen. Fremont, and 

         Mrs. Prescott, a stanch Fremonter, because a stanch 

         Republican, was between two fires--the South, who could never 

         approve of Fremont, and the disaffected North.  But through 

         all the many months of consequent annoyance she was true to 

         her convictions.

              On the recovery of her brother she gave two years' 

         gratuitous services to sanitary commission work in St. Louis, 

         and at the close of the war gave another two years of unpaid 

         services to the Freedmen's Bureau.  She was appointed 

         superintendent of freedmen's work for the Mississippi Valley.  

         With all the zeal that she had displayed in the sanitary work 

         she devoted herself to organizing freedmen's schools; 

         organizing those that have developed into "the Sumner High 

         School" of St. Louis, the "Lincoln Institute" of Jefferson 

         City, the "Garrison Institute" and "Peabody Academy."  This 

         is not the kind of work that has the exclusive support of 

         Democratic leaders.  Nor, you may say, does it bear upon the 

         fitness of a candidate to fill the position of librarian.  

         This I readily grant; but with the knowledge of these facts 

         that of still others was possessed by the Councilmen who made 

         the appointment.  Let me give a few of these:

              Mrs. Prescott taught during 14 years as principal of 

         high-grade schools in St. Louis; was superintendent of 

         kindergarten work in Oakland under the W.C.T.U., to which 

         organization she had belonged from its foundation; organized 

         and supported for many months a kindergarten in that city; 

         was invited by the W. C. T. U. to read a paper before the 

         Alameda County Convention; did "aggressive work for 

         temperance;" was invited to read this again before the summer 

         Chautauqua meeting at Pacific Grove; was appointed for her 

         war record Chief of Staff of the National President of the W. 

         C. T. U.

              Besides these experiences, which help fit one for almost 

         any position in life, Mrs. Prescott has been a member of the 

         "Ancient Literature Class of Oakland and San Francisco," and 

         was invited to represent the class at its annual meeting, the 

         subject of the paper to be read by her being assigned by the 


              She was for two years corresponding secretary of the 

         noted "Ebell" Society of Oakland.

              John Mance Cheney, poet and librarian of San Francisco, 

         sent a letter of congratulation to Mrs. Prescott on her 

         appointment to office here, at the same time expressing his 

         appreciation of the benefit to the library that would result 

         from it.

              A word to the wise is sufficient.