Santa Monica Mayor Pam O'Connor and City Councilmember Bob Holbrook, Terry O'Day, and Kevin McKeown join other City officials to cut the ribbon during the grand opening ceremony of the Pico Branch library at Virginia Avenue Park on Saturday, June 28. (Photos by Saul Rubin)
Santa Monica Mayor Pam O’Connor and City Councilmembers Bob Holbrook, Terry O’Day, and Kevin McKeown join other City officials to cut the ribbon during the grand opening ceremony of the Pico Branch library at Virginia Avenue Park on Saturday, June 28. (Photos by Saul Rubin)

Saturday’s event at the Pico Branch Library in Santa Monica was billed as a Grand Opening. So there were civic speeches, a ribbon-cutting moment, and appropriate fanfare, including taiko drummers.

All of this, though, was mostly for show. The new facility in Virginia Avenue Park has been open for two months, and no longer needs any introduction to the community.

[pullquote align=left]
“This makes such a big difference because it means that parents can walk out of their house and right into the library.” – Florence Benjamin, Pico Neighborhood resident
[/pullquote]

More than 25,000 visitors have already stopped by, and they haven’t just been admiring the building’s sleek, airy design. They’ve already checked out more than 30,000 items, including books, videos and music CDs.

But when a community resource is more than three decades in the making, and it’s the first new library branch in Santa Monica in more than 50 years, you can’t blame the city for wanting to throw a party.

Next Sponsor

So as young soccer players drilled on the nearby field, and the park’s Saturday Farmers Market was in full swing, community leaders gathered on a grassy section outside the new library to reflect on the long, collaborative effort that made the facility possible.

“It’s important to recognize the hard work and journey that it took to get this library open,” Oscar de la Torre told the small crowd. Torre, co-chair of the Pico Neighborhood Association, said that the need for a library in the Pico community was first identified back in 1983.

Pico resident Jorge Diaz, 10, catches us on some important reading during opening ceremonies of the Pico Branch library on Saturday.
Pico resident Jorge Diaz, 10, catches us on some important reading during opening ceremonies of the Pico Branch library on Saturday.

He praised the facility as a resource that would help neighborhood youth “move their lives forward and have a better life.”

Florence Benjamin, a member of the park’s advisory board and a Pico resident for more than five decades, said that the opening of the library was yet another sign that the park is erasing the stigma of years past that it wasn’t safe to visit.

“Someone had to break that chain,” she said in an interview before the event. “This makes such a big difference because it means that parents can walk out of their house and right into the library.”

The design of the new facility, by Koning Eizenberg Architecture of Santa Monica, reflects a modern, digital sensibility. The focus here isn’t just on books. With reading tables, group study rooms, 20 computer stations and seating areas throughout, the new branch is a place that promotes just hanging out.

Gene Oppenheim, a member of Santa Monica’s Library Board, returns books at the Pico Branch’s automated system on Saturday.
Gene Oppenheim, a member of Santa Monica’s Library Board, returns books at the Pico Branch’s automated system on Saturday.

Visitors on Saturday, kids especially, took right away to the concept, grabbing magazines and books and settling easily into the many comfy chairs throughout to catch up on their reading.

When patrons want to take a break from exploring library resources, the facility’s glass exteriors offer expansive views of the park to sit back and enjoy. The library’s pervasive glass provides plenty of natural lighting, one of the elements that earned the building high ratings for its sustainable features.

The library still functions as a traditional library in that is has plenty of resources that visitors can check out and explore at home.

The collection features 25,000 items and includes a Spanish language section. And when patrons are ready to return those items, electronic, do-it-yourself checkout stations that resemble ATMs will transform the normally mundane task into an experience that is more adventurous and fun.

Even though the paint has barely dried on the 7,800-foot-facility, there are a host of activities planned for this summer, including author events, film screenings, children and teen reading programs, and book group meetings.

Santa Monica’s new Director of Library Services, Maria Taesil Hudson Carpenter, barely three weeks on the job, helped preside over the opening ceremony.

The new Pico Branch library at Virginia Park has been open for two months and already has attracted more than 25,000 visitors.
The new Pico Branch library at Virginia Park has been open for two months and already has attracted more than 25,000 visitors.

We need libraries now more than ever,” she said, beaming, as she prepared to enter the facility after helping cut the ribbon. “We have to be flexible and accommodate all sorts of users. We want to have the physical space and digital resources available.”

The project budget of $10.8 million actually includes two buildings: the branch facility and The Annex, an 818-square-foot community room that will be used to host library events and be available for rental for community events.

Nestled in between the Thelma Terry Building, teen center, the Farmers Market Zone and the park’s popular splash pad, the new library is further evidence that Virginia Avenue Park is emerging as one of the city’s most vibrant public resources.

“There is more to come,” says park advisory board member Benjamin. “I say look out and hold on to your seat.”