Literary Lodgings

Historic Hollywood library converted into emergency homeless shelter

The Will & Ariel Durant Branch Library, by Honnold & Rex (Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection)

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has treated the city’s homeless crisis as a high priority since he first took office in 2013. A Bridge Home, one of Garcetti projects developed in collaboration with City Councilmember David Ryu, was launched in April of last year in response to a new state law that enables cities to construct a relatively expedient building type known as “bridge housing” to provide shelters for the region’s homeless female population. For its planners, this has meant applying a $20 million budget to the construction of an additional 222 units of bridge housing across the city’s 15 City Council districts within the first two years of the program.

Photo of a man at a press conference in front of a brick wall in Hollywood

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti opening the Gardner Street Women’s Bridge Housing Center. (David Ryu)

After 10 months of construction, the Gardner Street Women’s Bridge Housing Center, the seventh bridge housing project to date, opened in Hollywood inside a former library on September 16. Originally built in 1958, the Honnold & Rex-designed Will & Ariel Durant Branch Library required very little transformation to become the permanent home of a housing center. The main space was divided to provide the majority of the building’s services, including beds for 30 women, bathrooms, a communal kitchen, and support services, while the original front desk and central clock were left in place. “The fact we were able to salvage this building, keep its historic integrity and help meet the crisis of our time is beautiful,” commented Ryu.

To ensure that its occupants feel safe, the original outdoor spaces are now gated, the entire facility is staffed by licensed clinical social workers, all of whom are women, and many of its public spaces will soon host various skill training services. While some of the other shelters completed through the program have more beds and amenities—The Bread Yard St. Andrew’s offers 100 beds in the nearby Chesterfield Square of South Los Angeles—the Gardner Street Center demonstrates the benefits of repurposing a building as opposed to constructing anew.

Eighteen additional shelters are in the works throughout the city, and statistics suggest they can’t come soon enough; an estimated 18,000 women are currently experiencing homelessness citywide, with 2,500 in Hollywood alone. Critics of A Bridge Home have drawn a connection between the program and the restrictions the city council is currently reviewing that would limit where the city’s homeless population can live and sleep. One proposal being considered at the moment would disallow the homeless from sleeping with 500 feet of most public spaces.

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