Posted by: Brad Nixon | April 14, 2018

In Old Town Torrance, a Library Survivor

To end National LIbrary Week, I revisit a theme I sounded to begin National Library Week on Monday: While libraries typically reside in buildings, they are NOT buildings. They’re comprised of books, media, information sources and library staff. Libraries can also occupy vehicles or be housed in streetside kiosks. Buildings come and go, but libraries persist so long as communities support them.

I’ve previously written about some historic library buildings that still stand, although the library function moved elsewhere. The underlying story — a positive one — is that communities continue to support libraries, often despite the enormous expense of building new structures as old ones reach obsolescence.

I’ll stay close to home for this post. With about 150,000 residents, Torrance, California is the 8th largest city in Los Angeles County, and contains a significant amount of industrial, commercial and retail activity, not just residential areas. Originally occupied by native Tongan tribes, the area was settled by the Spanish, began growing rapidly in the 1900s and was incorporated in 1921. There’s been a library function in Torrance since the early 1900s, and in 1914 it became part of the Los Angeles County library system. As the depression was ending in 1936, Torrance gained a new library building, constructed by the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA).

Torrance Brad Nixon 1558 (640x474)

Faced in concrete, streamlined and relatively undecorated, it’s a textbook example of what’s often referred to as PWA Moderne (for Progress Works Administration, the WPA’s blanket organization).

Torrance Brad Nixon 1564 (640x480)

The library’s located in “Old Town Torrance,” yet another of the tens of thousands of old American towns laid out in more or less regular grids, its streets lined with brick and stone buildings that have been reskinned and remodeled numerous times. Like most of those small towns, Old Town Torrance’s retail sector has struggled as life became structured around the automobile. There’s been an attempt to revitalize the area into an antiques and boutique store nexus. It has a few restaurants — including a couple of quite good ones — that appeal to visitors, but there’s also a mish-mash of other shops, workout gyms and some vacancies. The old town has a tree-shaded green axis fronted by modest residences, but has lost most of its identity to the morass of suburban development around it, and there’s little sense of place, despite the efforts of the local Chamber of Commerce.

Torrance Brad Nixon 1569 (640x480)

Torrance is home to large corporate headquarters, warehouse and manufacturing operations and heavily developed shopping boulevards, including an enormous enclosed shopping mall that was the largest mall in the U.S. when it opened in the 1970s. A common conflict, everywhere.

In the 1960s, the citizens of Torrance demonstrated admirable civic spirit and passed a $2.5 million bond issue to construct a new central library as part of its civic center, a mile from Old Town. At about the same time, Torrance left the LA County system and became a special library district in its own right. Once the new library opened in 1971, the old building became redundant. Today it’s the home of the Torrance Historical Society, and it’s a pleasure to see an excellent example of PWA Moderne still in use and maintained more than 80 years after its construction.

Torrance Brad Nixon 1566 (640x386)

Torrance Public Library system now includes five branch libraries in addition to the large central facility. Obviously, the investment is far beyond that original bond issue’s scope, and it’s to the credit of Torrance’s people that there’s a place for libraries in the community.

That, I think, can stand as the envoi for this year’s National Library Week: We can support libraries or not. The buildings will fail. Libraries need not fail. The inscription over the old WPA structure is apropos:

Torrance Brad Nixon 1560 (640x480)

“Knowledge is that which next to virtue truly and essentially raises one man above another.” Although unattributed on the building, it’s by the English essayist, poet and playwright, Joseph Addison. Let us raise everyone. Thank a librarian, and keep voting “yes.”

The former library building is at 1345 Post Avenue, Torrance, California. The Torrance Central Public Library is at 3301 Torrance Blvd., Torrance, California.

Some of the photographs in this post and select images from other Under Western Skies posts are available on Click on the linked photos, or CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky photo portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2018


  1. Nice!
    When you informed us it was National Library Week, we stopped by, checked out a couple of CDs and 2 John Sayles movies and left some treats which were gratefully rushed off to the break room.
    (Having recently purchased books at our local bookshop, we didn’t check out any that day, which I think was Tuesday).


    • Does your library charge a rental fee for DVDs? Ours does: $1 per week for the stock stuff, $2 for 2 days for new arrivals. Many libraries do not.


  2. Thank you for continuing to illuminate and support our national libraries. They’re an invaluable resource for the communities they serve.

    I’ve never forgotten my wonderful childhood librarian. Thank you, Miss Rogers, and all the other dedicated librarians out there!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hooray for Miss Rogers … and all the Miss Rogers’ who helped us all, and continue the effort. She’d be proud of that young girl and the writer she became.


  3. I think it’s wonderful to know that the library building is now being used by the Torrance Historical Society. It’s also encouraging to know that the library moved to a new (and presumably better) building. I remember the library helped stave away boredom and spurred my creative mind when I was a child living in England.
    Sadly, there’s scant appreciation for reading and libraries in my home country of Indonesia.


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