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Libraries: Two years’ work and a lot of scrubbing make Doheny Library strong and squeaky clean

Construction underway for a fall opening.

One of USC’s great architectural treasures, the Edward L. Doheny Jr. Memorial Library, will reopen this fall after nearly two years of intricate structural work that topped $17 million.

Today the 69-year-old Italian Romanesque building is cleaner, brighter and safer, said Jerry Campbell, chief information officer and dean of the university libraries.

“The Doheny Library is simply stunning,” said Campbell. “We look forward to students and faculty seeing it so fresh and clean this fall. I am certain that it has not been in such good shape since its original opening.”

A grand opening celebration is scheduled for October; however, books and offices will be moved over the summer, and the library will open for business in late August.

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.

Portions of the library’s 168,000-square-foot interior were also scrubbed and refurbished. A big challenge was removing tobacco and soot stains left after years of cigarette smoking in the library. Workers used cotton swabs and distilled water to wash much of the delicate surfaces and ceilings, including gold leaf details.

The meat of the project was less aesthetic and more 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.

“In addition, very high and elaborate coffered ceilings with decorative molding and large plaster flowers at the center had to be cut and removed to allow for installation of shear walls,” said Steven Lohr, project director at USC’s Facilities Management Services. “The walls were taken apart in pieces and then, like a puzzle, were placed back together again.”

“The work was done seamlessly,” Campbell added. “It was a marvelous feat of engineering and design. Remarkably, these tremendous life-saving changes are invisible.”

The Doheny Library, which was designed and built in 1932 by architect Samuel Lunden.

The Los Angeles Conservancy recently recognized the Doheny upgrade as one of seven “exemplary preservation projects” at its 20th annual Preservation Awards.

“The complex structural upgrades were accomplished meticulously and unobtrusively, and decorative surfaces were cleaned and repaired,” said Ken Bernstein, director of preservation issues for the conservancy. “The project has resulted in a reawakening of Doheny Library’s stature, beauty and usefulness as a central campus resource, exemplifying USC’s ongoing commitment to stay in the heart of Los Angeles and reinvest in its historic campus architecture.”

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 was constructed with a $1 million gift from the Edward L. Doheny Sr. family – an unprecedented amount considering it was made during the Depression.

The family made the gift after the death of their only son, Edward L. Doheny Jr., in 1929. He was an active USC alumnus. Estelle Doheny considered the library an important cultural statement for USC and Los Angeles, as well as a memorial to the family. She took a keen interest in the artistic and architectural details of the building and its interior, specifying that furnishings be made in America, and Los Angeles companies and designers be involved.

Libraries: Two years’ work and a lot of scrubbing make Doheny Library strong and squeaky clean

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