First Street access to the Benjamin Franklin Branch Library was restored this Thursday with the opening of a redesigned plaza that creators say pays homage to the “rich multicultural influences of the neighborhood.”
The newly named Todos Juntos plaza features drought-tolerant, sustainable landscaping and three tall, metallic sculptures etched with verses by the late Mexican poet Octavio Paz. The pylons are painted in vibrant colors inspired by neighborhood murals, rooftops and storefronts. Designers envision them as “la familia,” family figures with limbs reaching out as in an embrace.
A project of the nonprofit Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative created with input from local residents and business owners, the plaza opened to the public with a ribbon-cutting event on Thursday attended by, among others, city librarian John Szabo and District 14 councilmember José Huízar.
“Every day we want the library to say this: our arms are open wide,” said Szabo, alluding to the colorful sculptures.
“One thing that made this [project] successful is that community involvement was there,” added Huízar.
Todos Juntos is intended to create both a landmark and informal gathering spot at a major Boyle Heights intersection. The library shares the corner of First and Chicago Streets with Ross Valencia Park, the Hollenbeck Police Station and the Council District 14 District Office (known to locals as Boyle Heights City Hall).
According to a press release, “the reconfigured library plaza combines visually appealing gateway sculptures with an inviting outdoor space to mark the civic crossroads of Boyle Heights. The space is designed to serve and support everyday activities along the active First Street corridor as well as special events such as community meetings, book readings, and performances.”
The plaza was created by Lyric Design & Planning and Berry and Linné, two Los Angeles based architectural firms that specialize in public space projects. The collaborative team reviewed issues and ideas expressed in a bilingual questionnaire distributed at nearby Mariachi Plaza. Design concepts were presented to a steering committee that included representatives from a wide range of businesses and community organizations, including CASA 0101, the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council, East LA Community Corporation, Proyecto Pastoral and Self-Help Graphics.
The project was approved in August of 2014 by the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and the Library Board of Commissioners. It was funded by a grant from Wells Fargo. First Street access to the library has been closed for several weeks, during the landscaping and installation process.
The redesigned plaza, which aims to provide better visual awareness of the library entrance, also plays tribute to Paz, a Nobel laureate and one of Mexico’s greatest poets. Three stanzas from his poem “Blanco,” in Spanish and English, are etched on the three triangulated pylons made from bent aluminum and standing twelve-feet tall.
At the opening ceremony, Roosevelt High School seniors Susana Celís and Ismael Soto read verses from “Blanco.”
The Benjamin Franklin Branch Library is at 2200 E. 1st Street, Los Angeles.
This post was updated on Dec. 11.