The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 10, Number 5
Oct 1986


"Nightmare II" in LA

On Wednesday evening, September 3, shortly after library staff had left for the day and right after a sweep of the area by a security team, someone set a fire in the Art and Music Department of the Los Angeles Public Library, the sane building that had lost 20%. of its collection to fire only four months ago. Although the fire department was there four or five minutes after they were called and was able to extinguish the fire in about half an hour, most (one report says all) of the 25,000 to 27,000 books in the Music Reading Room were lost. The 50,000-volume collection had been the largest music collection in the western United States. In what LAPL Director Wyman Jones called 'Nightmare II," the Library sustained an estimated damage of $2M, including $100,000 to $200,000 structural damage to the landmark building. There was smoke damage in the adjoining art department.

Fortunately, the Library's prized collection of 2400 orchestral scores had been moved to another location only the day before the fire.

Water from fire hoses flowed from the music reading room into an adjoining ball, soaking the bottom row of a number of boxes of books stored there. About 4000 books were affected. The boxes were quickly placed on pallets without repacking the contents or separating books with wax paper, and transported to a cold storage facility already holding thousands of such boxes from the previous fire.

Fire Department investigators have determined that both fires were set using combustible materials at hand, rather than a volatile liquid brought in from outside. They have not ruled out the possibility that the arsonist (or arsonists) may be a member of the staff or security force.

The Library has been closed since the April fire. At the time of the most recent fire, staff had nearly completed the job of inventorying and cleaning smoke and soot from about 400,000 volumes which escaped serious damage earlier.

Since the April fire, the Library staff has been busy handling four jobs at once: 1) deciding on remodeling the burned-out part of the old building, 2) finding a new temporary building, 3) continuing to function as a working library in the building and support the 56 branch libraries, and 4) dealing with cleanup, drying, relocation and cataloging of about a million salvaged books, most of which are now in freezer storage.

The City Library Commission has chosen the old Bullocks Department Store, a few blocks from the present site, as the Library's temporary quarters for the next 4½ years.

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