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Ground Level: The Glendale Public Library, designed by Welton Becket

May 18, 2011 | 10:58 am

The architect Welton Becket has been much in the news lately. Developers Millennium Partners and Argent Ventures have announced plans to surround his famed 1956 Capitol Records building with a massive mixed-use development. And as I wrote earlier this week, his 1959 Sports Arena in Exposition Park may be headed for demolition — despite a brief burst of attention this fall when the UCLA basketball teams arrive to play there while their own Becket-designed home, Pauley Pavilion, is under renovation.

But even Becket aficionados may not be familiar with one of the most muscular and extroverted works his firm, Welton Becket Associates, ever designed: The main branch of the Glendale Public Library, which opened in 1973. (Following Becket’s death in 1969, the project was completed by his colleagues at the firm.) With its mute concrete exterior and angular, battlement-like bay windows, the library reflects an interest in the tough-minded offshoot of late modernism known as Brutalism. For that reason alone the library stands out in Southern California, where significant Brutalist designs are relatively rare (and thank God for that, many who detest the style would tell you).

But the library also shares a great deal with the firm’s earlier and more accessible work, such as 1967's circular Mark Taper Forum at the Music Center. In fact, the closer you get, the more the library’s aggressive posture reveals itself as something of an act. This is particularly true once you walk inside, where the sunny double-height main reading room is overlooked on three sides by a mezzanine, and where the design is more humane than brutal. The building is a sheep in wolf's clothing.

Glendale Public Library, 222 E. Harvard St., Glendale.


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—Christopher Hawthorne

Above: The Glendale Library designed by Welton Becket Associates. Credit: Katie Falkenberg/For the Times