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Libraries: A ‘reinvigorated’ Doheny reopens its doors

by Gilien Silsby
The Doheny Rotunda is lit by six stained-glass windows by Wilbur Herbert Burnam of Boston. A chandelier ornamented with pewter and gold hangs from the wood-beam ceiling; the floor is Roman travertine.

USC’s “cathedral of knowledge” – the Edward L. Doheny Jr. Memorial Library – opened Aug. 27 after 18 months of restoration that transformed the Italian Romanesque landmark back to its former glory.

Nearly $17 million was spent on earthquake upgrades, repairs and renovation, which included removing tobacco stains with cotton swabs and distilled water.

Although the doors of the Doheny were unlocked on the first day of classes, an official grand reopening celebration is scheduled Oct. 10. The ceremony and reception, which are expected to draw local and national dignitaries as well as members of the Doheny family, will be open to the university community.

In addition to undergoing structural improvements, the 168,000-square-foot Doheny Library has been strengthened as an intellectual and cultural center, said Jerry Campbell, chief information officer and dean of the university libraries.

A special room for seminars, workshops and conferences has been created along with a new public reading room on the first floor that combines three formerly separate resources – periodicals, interlibrary loans and microform collections. The reading room is now called the Academic Resources Gateway office.

“We’re creating unique areas to encourage interaction among faculty and students,” said Campbell. “The renovated library also includes more space for student and faculty use. Several areas in the library that formally housed administrative staff have been converted to public use.”

Another change to the Doheny Library since its closure is the move of the Music Library from the second floor to the ground floor, near the Cinema-Television Library.

Also new is an enhanced exhibition program in the Treasure Room next to the Times-Mirror Reading Room on the first floor of the library.

The first exhibit features a rare look at Doheny Library’s 69-year history.

“Doheny Memorial Library: Heart of the University” documents the history of the Doheny family and the development of the library through original drawings, architectural plans and correspondence between USC’s librarian and architect Samuel Lunden of the firm Cram & Ferguson.

An engraved trowel used to lay the building’s cornerstone in 1931 will also be on display along with the original key to the front door and a variety of photographs chronicling the library’s history.

“The exhibit will help familiarize students with the library and its history because, after all, many students have never had the chance to set foot inside,” Campbell said.

“When the Doheny Library opened in 1932, USC President Rufus B. von KleinSmid characterized it as ’The very heart of the university … sending lifeblood of truth and light,’” said Campbell. “Students will soon learn that this tradition continues today.”

The Los Angeles Conservancy recently named Doheny Library one of seven “exemplary preservation projects” at its 20th annual Preservation Awards. The conservancy described the library as “one of the most important and beautiful Italian Romanesque buildings on the USC campus, boasting an impressive and elaborate main reading room.”

The library’s doors were closed in late 1999 for a seismic retrofit. USC officials also decided to install fire sprinklers and give the library an intensive cleaning.

For the first time in the building’s history, the exterior was thoroughly bathed – from the bronze doors to the sculptures of Dante Alighieri and William Shakespeare that frame Doheny’s entrance.

But the majority of the project was structural.

For the earthquake upgrades, a number of walls had to be dismantled so the contractors could create new and stronger concrete walls. A total of 17 separate shear walls – one topping 75 feet – were inserted to stiffen the building’s structural system.

Even the most elaborately decorated and delicately crafted veneers – from wood paneling to 69-year-old painted details – had to be cut and removed, then placed back.

“The beauty of this project is that visitors will never be able to tell that these decorated walls and ceilings were removed and put back,” Campbell said. “They’ll only notice richer colors and a reinvigorated space.”