Flagship facility melds past with future
Dave Schwab | Downtown News
Bands played and children sang while politicians and dignitaries extolled the virtues of the new high-tech library at an all-day festival of food, entertainment and fun for the official public dedication of San Diego’s new Downtown Central Library on Saturday, Sept. 28.
Following an 11 a.m. ceremony marked by speeches, choirs and a color guard, several hundred celebrants stood in long lines to get a “sneak peek” of the new nine-story, 504,000-square-foot, $196.7-million library.
Afterwards, guests were treated to a family-friendly street festival from 12 noon to 6 p.m. in Downtown San Diego’s East Village near Petco Park.
The fest included food, arts and crafts, interactive children’s activities and a parade, as well as live band performances from Steve Poltz, Hullabaloo, The Heroes, and The Paul Cannon Band, among others.
With its gleaming silver dome as a backdrop, City Librarian Deborah Barrow described the towering structure as “luminous, inspiring and iconic,” while characterizing the new “flagship” of the municipal library system with its 35 neighborhood branches as “a beacon of knowledge.”
“Thirty years in the making, it is a dream come true,” Barrow said, adding that the new facility, which is more than double the size of its predecessor, is centrally located as well, with easy access by freeway, trolley, bus and air.
“The San Diego Central Library is poised to nourish hungry minds, connect people to one another and provide a wealth of knowledge,” Barrow said. “This new library is exactly what San Diego needs.”
“As a teacher I know the importance of literacy and libraries can change lives,” said Cindy Marten, San Diego’s superintendent of schools. “This really is a dream come true for many, many children and their families to see the conditions created where all children become actively literate, contributing members of society. We need you – and we need this library.”
San Diego Public Library Foundation chair Mel Katz and Foundation members Katie Sullivan, Judith Harris and Jim Dawe were honored for the role they played in making the dream a reality.
“We represent so many people who have worked, talked and dreamed about a central library for the people of San Diego for more than 30 years,” Katz said. “This truly is a public-private partnership … Thirty-eight percent of the dollars are here because of 3,000 San Diegans … For all of San Diego, this is your building.”
Katz also credited Qualcomm co-founder and philanthropist Irwin Jacobs for his multi-million dollar contributions to the new library, which is now “100 percent paid for,” something that will allow it to operate at the same cost as the previous facility, though double its size.
While introducing Jacobs, Interim Mayor Todd Gloria also introduced the full name of the new facility, “The San Diego Central Library @ Joan ^ Irwin Jacobs Common.”
“When you see the name spelled out it merges the old with the new,” Gloria said, adding the name is apropos since common means “a communal gathering place.”
The nearly 80-year-old Jacobs, who grew up in the Boston area, recalled one of his fondest memories as “my mother taking me on the trolley to the central library and allowing me to take out a stack of books.” Jacobs admitted to looking through the new first floor children’s library to see if he still “recognized any of the books,” and said the real payoff for the facility will be “seeing it well used.”
The library has something else no similar facility has – career development assistance – thanks to the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Career Center in Room 555. Made possible through a $400,000 donation, the career center will provide counseling services, resource materials, computer and resume assistance, and training workshops to help San Diegans meet the needs of regional employers. Additional tailored resources and specialized veteran services will also be available.
The building’s design reflects the input of hundreds of people who participated in a yearlong series of public workshops. Based on this input, the joint-venture team of Rob Wellington Quigley FAIA and Tucker Sadler Architects collaborated on the structure, which offers flexible spaces with diverse and accessible public amenities, including bay-view terraces, roof gardens and a public reading room under the landmark lattice dome.
Characterizing the design as “uniquely San Diegan,” Quigley said its dome recently won a structural engineering award and that in 30 years the building “won’t be out of date, but beginning to achieve the dignity of a patina.”
The new library replaces the former facility at 820 E. St., which was built 57 years ago to serve about 15,000 patrons when the city’s population was less than 500,000. Today, the city’s population is 1.25 million and more than 480,000 people use the central library alone.
Gloria, who emceed the dedication event, characterized the library as “not only a community unifier but a great equalizer.” He implored citizens to enjoy the new library’s art work in its galleries, its state-of-the-art theater and the incredible views of the city viewable from the reading room at the top of the building.
“You’re going to love it,” Gloria said.
Dave Schwab came to San Diego 30 years ago with a journalism degree from Michigan State. He has worked for numerous publications and enjoys freelancing in his spare time. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.