BY ROUBEN KRIKOURIAN
When you first approach the Brand Library and Art Center in Glendale it’s hard to miss the Art Nouveau glory of the Tiffany leaded glass on its windows, which, until now, were hidden under metal grating. The historic Brand Library and Art Center is under some major remodeling, and with improvements like a seismically retrofitted structure, it’s as striking on the outside as it is inside.
The Brand Library and Art Center consists of two parts. The first building is the original mansion built by Leslie C. Brand in 1904, which the locally famous philanthropist named El Miradero. Built in an architectural style that combines Spanish, Moorish, and Indian influences, the building is characterized by its serene all-white appearance. L.C. Brand gifted El Miradero to the City of Glendale after his death in 1925, although his wife resided there until her death in 1945. In his will, Brand mandated that the mansion be used only as a library and public park.
The second building is an addition that was built in 1969 and added a recital hall, spaces for art exhibitions and studios, more space for library books, among other things.
In the course of the century, the mansion lost its original appearance as walls were covered up, painted over, and the flooring undone.
Talks about remodeling and restoring Brand first started three decades ago in 1984, explains Cindy Cleary, the Director of the Glendale Library, Arts, and Culture Department. In the early 1990’s, with some help from a Getty Foundation grant, the Glendale Public Library was able to make assessments and officially envision plans. But, as other, more pressing projects came to the City’s attention, the Brand Library was continually put on the backburner until, finally, in July of 2012, work on restorations began.
Now, the reconstruction is more than half-way done. The Library and Art Center has received a remarkable face-lift, with a restoration that has managed to preserve and recreate the old, while introducing modern essentials.
First, the newer, 1969 building has been thoroughly remodeled. The recital hall and art exhibition space have been revamped and a new kitchen area has been added, for use by parties who host their events there.
“We hope to have this space used for weddings and other events,” says Cindy Cleary. “With the kitchen and the new plaza downstairs, this will make a great space for hosting guests.”
A state-of-the-art climate control system has been added, with carefully placed components on the roof of the building that are invisible to passers-by, so as not to ruin the building’s appearance. Library Administrator Carolyn Flemming says the climate control system is highly important in preserving the library’s sizable collection of old books and vinyl materials.
Most important, there is a newly remodeled space for the library’s book and CD collection, located at a central area of the building, where all of the library’s materials (except vinyl records, which will be kept safely in storage) will be shelved. Carolyn Flemming, laughing off the inevitable, says that transferring thousands of books back into the library is going to be a huge challenge.
A new corridor now connects the 1969 building with the Brand Mansion, and as you cross over, hints of wood and color are introduced in preparation for entering the historic mansion.
The mansion has been completely restored. The artists and historians who worked on the restoration plans went though great pains to make sure that the new interior would resemble its original appearance as closely as possible.
Luckily, they had some help. As they scraped through wall coverings and layers of paint, they discovered faint remnants of stencils made on the rounded covings of the mansion’s walls. To the artists’ delight, they also discovered remnants of the original paint on the walls, which happily matched exactly what they had predicted the colors would be.
Confidently backed by this evidence, the walls have been painted as Brand had them painted when he lived in the mansion, and a team of artists are recreating the decorative stencils on the walls.
The list of restorations continues with an exact replica of the mansion’s fireplace, which was a unique double-sided construction that provided a fireplace for two adjacent rooms. Once the new wood flooring and period-appropriate rugs are placed, the mansion will be ready to be furnished and used. Carolyn Flemming says the Library’s plan is to have the space be a tourist attraction as well as to serve as a quiet reading are, with tables and chairs placed in each of the several rooms.
For tourists, the library plans on providing self-guided tours of the mansion, with guests’ choice of a mobile app, an audio tour, or simply a brochure.
Since 1984, the project has been provided with $9.5 million in the form of grants and city funds. The city expects the project to be complete and ready for the public by spring of 2014.