Arts + Culture

With renewed vigor, UCLA’s William Andrews Clark Memorial Library reopens

The building was closed for two years for seismic retrofitting and renovations

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Clark Library
Reed Hutchinson/UCLA

The reopened UCLA William Andrews Clark Memorial Library has undergone an extensive seismic retrofit and brought into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

UCLA’s William Andrews Clark Memorial Library is ready for the future. The archival and architectural treasure is home to the university’s renowned collection of rare books and manuscripts from England’s Tudor period through the 18th century, including the world’s largest repository of materials related to Oscar Wilde. After being closed for more than two years, as of Jan. 21, the Clark is officially reopen to the public and scholars.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony and grand reopening celebration, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block noted that Clark’s gift of the property to UCLA in 1934 was the first major gift to what was then a young university.

“Libraries are critical to the mission of a research university,” Block said. “The Clark is one of the most beautiful libraries in America, but beyond its physical beauty it is hard to overstate the significance of what it provides in scholarship and research.”

Surrounded by the constantly evolving West Adams neighborhood of Los Angeles, the Clark Library underwent a major seismic retrofit and renovations to bring the historic building into compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. The new and improved Clark also boasts a new annex for book storage, a new classroom, expanded WiFi access and new office and lounge spaces for visiting scholars, staff and researchers.

“The Clark is a gem and now we are letting the world know that we have restored this beautiful treasure for the 21st century, and we are going to continue to take care of it,” said Helen Deutsch, the new director of UCLA’s Center for 17th- and 18th-Century Studies and the Clark Library. Deutsch has always considered the Clark her intellectual home, having first arrived there as an Ahmanson-Getty postdoctoral fellow to work on a book about Alexander Pope.

About 400 people from the academic community and West Adams neighborhood visited the Clark’s sprawling grounds to enjoy refreshments, lawn games and music, and to take tours to learn more about the work done to one of Los Angeles’ hidden gems. Deutsch asked UCLA emeritus professor Maximillian Novak, who has been a constant fixture at the Clark since arriving as a graduate student in 1954, to read a selection of poetry from 17th century author John Dryden.

“The Clark is a paradise for scholars,” Novak said before reciting lines from Dryden’s “The Secular Masque”:

‘Tis well an old age is out, and time to begin anew

Culmination of two years of work

Retrofitting a building on the California historic registry was a massive undertaking requiring some creative problem solving. Contractors had to drill down through the roof to reinforce the building with earthquake-safe rebar. For part of the exterior of the new pavilion, they found the original brick maker, who was able to replicate the historic brickwork and unique lavender grout that is a signature of the original building. Much of the electrical system also had to be upgraded.

The project included major reinforcements for earthquake safety, as well as reallocating office spaces and building a new pavilion that allows space for an elevator and ramps that improve access for people with disabilities.

This elevator and pavilion have been added to the UCLA William Andrews Clark Memorial Library.
Reed Hutchinson/UCLA
This elevator and pavilion have been added to the UCLA William Andrews Clark Memorial Library.
 

The space has been sorely missed by scholars in the 17th- and 18th-century studies community, Deutsch said. She is eager to work with faculty to restore the number of fellows who work on site to pre-closure levels.

“The thing that makes the Clark very special and part of UCLA, and unlike a place like the Huntington, is that the Clark is open to the public,” she said. “Anyone can come and work here. We are open to students of any level as well as to amateur scholars, and you don’t have to have a university affiliation. We really are looking forward to welcoming everyone back.”

With the support of generous donors, staff also took the opportunity to undertake a variety of cleaning and restoration projects including the intricately painted ceilings in the Clark’s vestibule, and the two large decorative stone urns and four fountains on the grounds. A 1930s sun dial was also repaired and now hangs prominently on the new building. A new, airier lounge area for visiting scholars will be named in honor of Novak.

Preservation of the collections

Deutsch said she plans to continue prioritizing access, preservation and conservation of the 1926 building as well as its eclectic and prolific collections of artwork, rare books and manuscripts.

“We have so much valuable material at the Clark,” Deutsch said. “The art collection alone has never been fully cataloged, and a grant from the Mellon Foundation will let us begin doing that right away.”

The much-loved Clark events resumed in October with a chamber music performance from the Lincoln Trio. An opera based on Jane Austen’s “Mansfield Park,” specially created for the Clark and directed by Peter Kazaras, director of Opera UCLA, was performed in June. The Clark’s monthly classical performances are back for the 2017-2018 season.

“There was a palpable sense of excitement for people to get back on the property,” Deutsch said. “Every time someone comes to the Clark, they fall in love with it and feel its magic.”

That was the case for Anna Chen, who joined the Clark in August as new head librarian and has been immersing herself in the history and collections of the Clark since her arrival.

“There is something here for everyone, whether you are interested in music, dance, astronomy — owls,” she said. “There are a lot of owls at the Clark.”

Chen said she was eager to meet members of the community, donors, students and scholars at the grand reopening. She recalled recently opening the pages of an 18th-century journal, finding a mirror pasted there. Looking at her own image staring back at her from the pages of the past was a reflective experience, she said.

“Books can connect the past to the present,” she told the gathered crowd. “But books are incomplete without human interaction. We are rethinking the way the library works, who we are, what our purpose is and who our collections are for.”

Chen and Deutsch, along with head of research services Philip Palmer and manuscripts and archives librarian Rebecca Fenning Marschall, are also keen to expand the Clark’s digitization and digital humanities efforts. A recent grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities provided $261,000 to produce digital facsimiles of 279 annotated volumes from the hand-press era (ca. 1455–1830) and make them freely available online.

Deutsch would also like to see more fellowship opportunities for graduate students who are interested in librarianship.

“We have such great examples in Phil and Anna, both of whom hold Ph.D.s in literature, of how librarianship and literary studies energize each other,” she said. “Librarianship itself takes a lot of intellectual creativity and imagination.”

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