The last work of the major American architect Bertram G. Goodhue, the Central Library blends the past with the modern age. Its simple massed expanses of unadorned concrete and skyscraper-like profile herald modern architecture. At the same time, it alludes to ancient cultures including Egypt, Rome, Byzantium and various Islamic civilizations, as well as to Spanish Colonial and other revival styles.
Ornamental and symbolic artworks are integral to the library's design. The limestone sculptures on the building's exterior are by artist Lee Lawrie, and represent various disciplines and literary figures. The brilliantly colored tile pyramid at the building's summit features a sunburst and is topped by a hand-held torch symbolizing the light of knowledge.
The second floor of the Library includes a high-domed rotunda exploding with light and color. At the center of the dome is a stylized sunburst and an illuminated globe chandelier with the signs of the zodiac. On the surrounding walls, twelve murals painted by Dean Cornwall in 1933 depict the history of California.
The Library was proposed for demolition in the mid-1970s. Concerned citizens formed the Los Angeles Conservancy to save the Library and prevent similar crisis in the future through an on-going program to promote historic preservation. In 1983, after several years of public discussion and debate, the City Council directed the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) to preserve the Library.
Before restoration work could begin, however, two fires in 1986 destroyed portions of the library's vast collections and damaged many of the building's interior decorations. Despite this extensive damage, the CRA went ahead with a major rehabilitation and expansion plan for the Library. The firm of Hardy, Holzman and Pfeiffer served as the lead architects for this project, which included both a restoration of the original building and the addition of a new wing on the library's east side. In October 1993 - more than 15 years after the building was first threatened with demolition - the Library was re-opened in a grand community celebration.