25 Things about the Torrance Public Library

April 8, 2009 at 7:33 am 5 comments

Mrs. Isabel Henderson, first librarian in Torrance

Mrs. Isabel Henderson, first librarian in Torrance

1. The first book bought for the library was The Turn of the Road. The book cost $1.50 and according to the reviews was “the story of a singer, of her absorption in her art, and the strong-willed, self-reliant man who would marry her.”  The book was bought in 1913.

2. Early hours of operation for the first library, the parlor of Mrs. Henderson’s home, were Tuesdays and Thursdays from two to four and every evening from seven to nine.

3. There are only two Torrance libraries named after people. The Henderson Branch Library is named after Isabel Henderson, the first Torrance Librarian. The Katy Geissert Civic Center Library is named after (you guessed it!) Katy Geissert, first female Torrance city councilperson, first female mayor, and dedicated library supporter.

4. The first international language books in the Torrance Public Library were written in French.

5. The Torrance Public Library was an independent library for less than a year before it joined the new Los Angeles County Public Library System in 1914. The library again became independent after a vote in 1967.

6. Mrs. Henderson’s daughter, Mrs. Dorothy Jamison, followed in her mother’s footsteps, becoming the second Torrance librarian after the retirement of her mother.

7. The Torrance Public Library never had a card catalog (except briefly in Mrs. Henderson’s time). One found books by looking in catalog books, the  catalog information was migrated to microfilm, then to “dumb” terminals, and finally to the web-based catalog we have today.

8. The first Torrance library was built on the corner of Cravens and Post in 1936. The building was part of a new civic center and was a WPA project. The building survives today as the Torrance Historical Society Museum.

9. In 1937, the first branch library to open was in Walteria. The branch began with 500 books to “meet the reading interest of the community.”

10. Torrance had an unique relationship with Los Angeles County. While the city was responsible for building and maintaining the libraries, the County was responsible for runnng, staffing, and stocking the libraries.

11. The people of Torrance voted on a bond of $2,350,000 to create an independent library system in 1967. That bond covered the cost of building the Katy Geissert Civic Center Library, the Southeast Library, and furnishing all the libraries with books. Compare that with the remodel of the first floor of the Katy Geissert Civic Center Library, which cost $1.8 million.

12. At one time you could borrow art work from the library for three weeks just like books!

13. The cost to run the Torrance Library in 1935 was $4,189.62. Today’s library budget is approximately $7.2 million!

14. There are only two pieces of public art in the Torrance libraries. One is the mural on the front of the North Torrance Library depicting literacy and writing. The other is the 356 pound copper sculpture on the main staircase in the Katy Geissert Civic Center Library. The Friends of the Torrance Public Library sponsored a contest to “design an art object specifically for the library.” After screening by art professors at California State University – Long Beach, four finalists submitted models. The winner, LuAnn Boylan, received $2,000 for her work.

15. The first branch of the new Torrance Public Library to open after the 1967 bond measure was, appropriately enough, the Henderson Branch, on April 15, 1968. All branches were closed that year while the county moved out and the city moved in.

16. In 1948, the Walteria Branch Library was moved to Walteria Park and housed in a World War II surplus dispensary the city acquired for $500.

17. A 1914 headline from the Torrance Herald screamed, “Library Well Underway for its Imposing $30,000 Home.” A permanent home for the library was not built for another 22 years.

18. In 1924, after ten years as a county library, the Torrance branch had grown to 1,440 card members and 3,096 books. Today the library has over half a million books and 142,000 registered card members.

19. In 1935, Councilman William T. Klusman made the motion to adopt city ordinance #267, establishing a “free municipal library.” Klusman was the only socialist mayor of Torrance but was removed after less than a year in office for “lack of dignity, secretiveness, untruthfulness, harboring destructive policies, creating class prejudice, and undermining the morale of city employees.”

20. 1935 also saw the establishment of the Library Board of Trustees. Not one of the most active city committees, there are no records of actions or recommendations from 1935 to 1958.

21. The Henderson Branch and Walteria Branch libraries are built on the same plan. The city saved architectural fees by using the Henderson plans to replace the Walteria library.

22. In 1967, Russell West became the first City Librarian of the independent Torrance Public Library. Russell West not only had to plan the main library and organize a new city department, but he also had to buy all the books in the system. Remember that while Torrance owned the buildings and furniture, the county owned the books, which they took with them. Russell West was such a good “bookman” he saved over $18,000. When Mayor Isen asked how he saved so much of the book budget, Mr. West responded “Savvy shopping, your Honor.”

23. The Katy Geissert Civic Center Library faces Torrance Boulevard and not the parking lot because the city wanted to make sure the library had a Torrance Boulevard address and “should be compatible with the growth and development of City Hall and other buildings facing Torrance Boulevard.”

24. Original plans for the Katy Geissert Civic Center Library did not call for a basement. The basement was added by the intersession of Mr. West and the Friends of the Torrance Public Library. The library was built to hold about 225,000 books. There are approximately 353,500 material items in the library today. The recently completed remodel of all three floors added much additional space.

25. One of the more unusual programs to entice young people into the library was to check out a kitten. Children could check out and play with a kitten for twenty minutes on the library lawn.

NOTE: Content for this post was contributed by Michael George, Reference Librarian.


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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Judi Gerber  |  April 12, 2009 at 1:07 am

    So glad to see your new blog and I learned so much from these 25 things. I especially find #20 very interesting, “1935 also saw the establishment of the Library Board of Trustees. Not one of the most active city committees, there are no records of actions or recommendations from 1935 to 1958.”

    Hmm, that sure would make meetings go shorter! But, it doesn’t seem right to me somehow.

    Love that we are moving into social networking!

  • 2. fuddyduddy  |  April 15, 2009 at 2:51 am

    Loved this post, especially:
    “In 1935, Councilman William T. Klusman made the motion to adopt city ordinance #267, establishing a “free municipal library.” Klusman was the only socialist mayor of Torrance but was removed after less than a year in office for “lack of dignity, secretiveness, untruthfulness, harboring destructive policies, creating class prejudice, and undermining the morale of city employees.”

    Do you have more photos of the original library and what did this Klusman fellow do that got everyone so upset?

    • 3. torrancepubliclibrary  |  July 14, 2009 at 1:15 am

      Librarian Michael George further researched Klusman and provides some information in his July 12, 2009 blog posting Mayor Klusman – “Forgotten Man”

  • 4. Mayor Klusman – “Forgotten Man” « LINK Logs  |  July 12, 2009 at 3:30 am

    […] while doing some research for a lecture on Torrance city history. A subsequent LINK Logs posting, 25 Things about the Torrance Public Library, contained a Klusman factoid which generated some interest in this colorful local politician. […]

  • 5. christine  |  November 21, 2009 at 11:25 pm

    This is incredibly interesting!!


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