THE BLOG

Topanga Canyon Library: Not Just Another Pipe Dream

01/23/2012 07:37 pm ET | Updated Mar 24, 2012

In an era of closures, closures, closures everywhere, the un-incorporated town of Topanga Canyon has pulled off a miracle. A library opening!!

How did this happen?

Well, if you know anything about Topanga at all -- and how could you -- it's a formerly-tiny place (the population may be 11,000) in the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains. It used to be a bit like Marin County, in the Bay Area. Rustic, gorgeous, and ... opinionated. The road to the south leads to Malibu, with the San Fernando Valley to the north as the less glamorous destination. Either way, a bit of a trek.

In fact, who wouldn't want to live in Topanga, (except maybe for that lengthy destination?) But, who knew there wasn't a library???

The two women who spear-headed this decade-long -- and yes, it was well over a decade -- quest were themselves fifteen and eighteen year residents of Topanga, moms of kids in the Topanga elementary school, all of whom used to visit the weekly Las Virgenes Bookmobile. One of the mom's, Cynthia Scott, became a volunteer, and she -- inspired by her kids -- started gathering petitions about getting a library. She now works for County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, the third crucial element in this triad of a deal.

The second mom, Adriane Allan, was a library science student who got a Masters in Library Science from UCLA. In 2001, she had been working on a paper about the importance of libraries to their communities, and something sparked. She called Supervisor Yaroslavsky's office, where they were -- quite understandably -- a tad discouraging. Nevertheless, she started to gather all kinds of information for her paper. What would it take to build a library in Topanga?? Names, facts, feasibility studies... The figures were discouraging, to say the least, but she wanted to finish her paper!! (This woman is now a Santa Monica Children's Librarian, bless her heart.)

These two women were urged to get in touch with each other, and formed a non-profit group called, way back then, 'Friends of the Proposed Topanga Library'. This was what they presented to Supervisor Yaroslavsky. So, who's to say, what sets something into motion... is it being a mom, a woman, a reader, that sets things into gear??

But there, their troubles began.

For in Topanga, the political IS personal. Everything is taken seriously. First, there was the initial relocation of the RCD -- the Las Virgenes Resource Conservation District, which had been in a trailer on this proposed property for 35 years, at $10 a year.

And there were the oak trees. In Topanga, not a tiny item. Luckily, an artist found at a county fair was able to make furniture. And in fact, the podium where Speaker Yaroslavsky spoke at last Saturday's opening ceremonies is made of the recycled oak tree, as well as picnic benches and rocking chairs on the Children's Deck. Artist Megan Rice used recycled wood from the oaks in her sculpture.

According to Zev Yaroslavsky's office, "One of the qualifications for this particular bond was that 1% must go to City Civic Art, and we went way over." Four home-grown Topanga artists were chosen for this particular project, in a place where artists abound. Interestingly enough, this is a requirement now for all civic buildings, that 1% go to civic art. So, fire stations will soon have public art!!

They didn't qualify for the first bond. But they kept trying. Some in Topanga still felt/feel that this might be money better spent in serving the community in a different way. Because of the location, Topanga teens have a lack of things to do. There are poor homeless people, called 'creak-ers', who live in the creek, nearby. However, this particular (2000) bond money WAS earmarked for libraries. It couldn't be used by the community in any other way.

Construction woes and LEED qualifications added a year. But the incorporation of LEED, which is the U.S. Building Council's 'Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design,' was critical for several reasons. First of all, Supervisor Yaroslavsky had been one of the main proponents of this being standard in all new County buildings 10,000 square feet built after 2007. Second of all, it's Topanga. (Yes, energy consumption is reduced by 30%!) (And windows placed high will offer views of the mountains and not the street, below!)

Topanga's needs were special -- it's not a place with regular sidewalks, so didn't qualify for some things the first time around. The new library will have some sidewalks and is located next to a Verizon building (now, that's hard to believe!)

There was building in mountains. Floods and fires! And community delay -- indeed, who among us doesn't have 'fear of urbanization?' But many people in Topanga already have five library cards, belonging to the libraries closest to them (which can be 40 minutes away.)

In the end, 42,000 books are now available to anyone for free that weren't there, before last Saturday, and that's a good deal.

As Jim Sullivan told the art panel when he was first auditioning his piece called "First Light," in which a layer of purple tiles evince a flame at the door to the library, AND which you have to step over to get into the library, how his daughter, Kathleen, on a 4th grade trip to Adamson House, discovered that a broken mosaic at the foot of a doorway presents an obstacle to evil spirits, and they began making them. "I'm not sure of our belief systems," said Sullivan. "But we can all use luck!"

Pottery is still a discipline where you still literally make vessels out of clay in exactly the same way, as time-immemorial. Like stories passed down, the same then as now.

As Jim Sullivan's written words clarify, "the artist chose the flame, which historically signifies knowledge and passion, to symbolize the new library's collected intellect that illuminates the world we live in."

Local celebrities Wendie Malick and Ellen Geer (whose father Will, co-founded the Topanga Theatricum Botanicum, and whose players performed "Americana," with Mark Twain, Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman and Eleanor Roosevelt, among others) co-hosted the event.