Old Cypress Park library nominated as a city landmark

Richard Henry Dana Library, Cypress Park | Photo by Charlie Fisher

By Nicole Possert

Cypress Park and Richard Henry Dana?  What does the neighborhood built near railroad tracks  have in common with the 19th Century author and sailor?  It goes back to 1926, when the community’s library was built in the Georgian Revival style and named after this literary icon.  The property, vacant since the new larger library opened in 2008, is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  And now, the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission has started the process to consider local designation and protection as a city Historic-Cultural Monument. Earlier today, the commission  voted to take under consideration a monument nomination for the library prepared by the Highland Park Heritage Trust (author is a board member).

The 85-year-old Richard Henry Dana Library on Pepper Avenue “was built in 1926 by the firm of Henry Sims Bent … as part of a twelve branch expansion of the Los Angeles branch library system”  according to a Cultural Heritage Commission’s staff report. “It was given the name of Richard Henry Dana as a part of an effort to have the public submit name ideas after famous literary icons and pioneers related to California.”

Richard Henry Dana, Jr. (August 1, 1815 – January 6, 1882) was an American lawyer and politician from Massachusetts, a descendant of an eminent colonial family who gained renown as the author of the American classic, the memoir “Two Years Before the Mast.” Both as a writer and as a lawyer, he was a champion of the downtrodden, from seamen to fugitive slaves.

Charles J. Fisher, volunteer board member and the historian who prepared the nomination for the Highland Park Heritage Trust stated “the nomination is part of the Heritage Trust’s long-term plan to protect historic resources in the communities we serve.”  Since 1982 when the organization was founded, it has been responsible for successfully nominating over 75 properties to the city’s  Historic-Cultural Monument program.  The local designation gives the strongest protections for historic properties, preventing wholesale loss from unnecessary demolition.  Although the name references one community, Highland Park Heritage Trust serves the interests of the broader Arroyo Seco communities in Los Angeles from Garvanza to Cypress Park.

The modest one-story former library is a “cross –gabled building is L-shaped with an off-centered entrance … with two fixed round windows symmetrically framing the entryway door,”  explains the staff report.

Winning monument status for the library requires three actions by the Cultural Heritage Commission.  The first was today’s hearing, which was to review the application and decide whether or not to take the property under consideration.  After the Commission agreed the application merited further exploration, a visual inspection tour will scheduled to allow the Commission to see and experience the proposed property first hand.  Then a final hearing is scheduled where the Commission will officially determine whether or not monument status will be recommended for adoption by the City Council.

Nicole Possert is a contributor writing about home and history. Questions or ideas? just email her at hello@theEastsiderLA.com


  1. This is great news. This building is so beautiful and deserves a new life and pristine restoration.

  2. Esther Marie Versch

    I have great memories of working at that library part time in the early 60’s so glad it has been nominated as a Historical building! My parents lived on Romulo corner of Pepper and we lived on Vista Gloriosa . My children were at the library to study or borrow books it was the time when you had to whisper so you wouldn’t disturb others!
    Esther Marie Versch formerly Esther Fraelich

  3. Richard E. Miller

    We lived up the mountain from the Richard Henry Dana Library, on Beech St. We had a special path all worked out, down the mountain, across fields,
    between houses, to make our way to the library on Pepper St.
    I remember getting my first library card, in the 5th grade at Loreto St Elementary School, (probably around 1955) and as I recall, our class had a field trip to the Library.
    I learned the Dewey Decimal system of book classification, and felt so at home in that little library. It’s ironic that I ended up reading “Two Years Before The Mast” after I had served in the U.S. Marine Corps….. I guess it was all in the cards, so to speak, or I might have joined the U.S.Navy, hoping to sail on a four masted schooner. Richard Henry Dana’s work kept me totally involved, quite similar to all of the Jack London books I had read, and also checked out at the Richard Henry Dana Library on Pepper St.
    I think the Los Angeles Public Library System picked a winner when they
    decided to name it after Mr Dana.
    Thank you,
    Richard E. Miller

  4. The library should have been taken care of years ago. It has been vandalized by garfetti. And, historical items like signs from outside the library have been stolen for metal and they are irreplaceable. And, the weeds are overgrown. And, the windows are ALL broken. And, who know what damage is inside.

    All that could have been prevented if the old library had been taken care of and used as a new Senior Citizen Center when the new library opened.

    Money has been approved now for the revitilization of the library. And, hopefully it does get done. But some damage has been done that will never be the same. And, it is a real shame that those old signs went for a few dollars in someone’s pocket for some scrap metal.

  5. oh how i miss going to that library!!

  6. I grew up on Romulo (’54-’71). Loved that library. I think I read every book in it. I love to read and all due to that place. I’m glad it’s being recognized and I hope to visit when it’s remodeled. What a Treasure!

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