Ideas That Matter

The Los Angeles Central Library (aka Maguire Gardens)

Lisa Gimmy
Los Angeles Library aka Maguire Gardens

It’s hard to imagine the beautiful public park, adjacent to Central Library in downtown Los Angeles, with its fountains, pools and overlooks, public art and generous lawns, restaurant and outdoor dining terrace…as a former parking lot, however, that’s what it once was. Had it not been for public advocacy and the foresight of developer Robert Maguire, this beautiful public space would not be what it is today.


Lawrence Halprin's vision of the Los Angeles Central Library courtesy of University of Pennsylvania Architecture Archives.

In this blog, the last of our four-part series on Lawrence Halprin’s Los Angeles works, we focus on the most notable, the Central Library. We’ll discuss elements that went into its creation and the collaborative efforts of the creative team.

During the ‘70s it was evident that the library - constructed in 1928 - was not adequate for contemporary use and some truly dreadful ideas emerged. The library’s 40th anniversary year report recommended the demolition of the building and replacing it with a facility twice its size. Luckily this didn’t come to pass. Instead, after a long period of public advocacy, developer Maguire Thomas was brought in and formed a team to create the gardens we know today.

As part of the recent Halprin event, Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre created a special performance at Maguire Gardens. The dancers moved in, through and around the fountains, redefining the relationship between audience and art in this well-loved public space.

Associate architects Campbell & Campbell collaborated with Halprin on the design for the two-and-one half-acre Maguire Garden. Although Halprin had a long-standing relationship with Campbell & Campbell, the parties did not always see eye to eye. When Regula Campbell suggested to Halprin that this Art Deco garden needed an axis, Halprin didn’t initially spark to the idea. Douglas Campbell explained that their disagreements often had to do with Halprin being a true modernist, who believed that modern design demanded dynamic asymmetry. Campbell & Campbell prevailed in re-establishing the three pools of the original central axis, re-envisioned Bertram Goodhue’s original Egyptian design and thematic concept for the library, “The Light of Learning.”

Los Angeles Central Library fountain.

The articulation of the paving and walls extends the original vocabulary of the architecture into the garden. The planting consists of Italian Cypress and evergreens that create layers, in varying hues and textures, to complement the massing of the building. The forecourt is planted with olives and lined with low walls to provide shaded places for casual gatherings, market festivals and a setting for the outdoor café.

Douglas Campbell said, “Maguire was a tremendous risk taker—he was 'all in.' When they were going to build the parking garage underneath the library, he sunk everything down, which is very expensive to do. Somebody visiting the project wouldn’t know that there was a parking garage underneath.” Maguire was insistent on the highest quality and standards, and that the facilities would be well-maintained.


Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre dancer performs in the fountain of the Los Angeles Central Library. 

The postmodern design we see today is a hybrid of Halprin’s ideas and the Campbells’ ideas. The final design creates a lively civic setting for the iconic Egyptian Revival library building. Our recent day tour and symposium, Landscape As Catalyst: Lawrence Halprin’s Legacy and Los Angeles, illuminated some of the fascinating history of this garden and also focused on its need for continuing care. Stay tuned for continued details!

The Landscape Architecture of Lawrence Halprin - L.A. exhibition runs through December 31, 2017 at the A+D Museum.

Halprin Exhibition

Campbell & Campbell

A+D Museum

Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre


Writer and Media Management Consultant Taylor Van Arsdale provided research and contributed to this article.

Lisa Gimmy Landscape Architecture
Helms Bakery Building
8800 Venice Blvd., Suite 216
Los Angeles, CA 90034

Phone: (310) 202-8320
Fax: (310) 202-8350

Creating landscapes for California living






Lisa Gimmy Landscape Architecture is a professional consulting firm offering master planning, site planning, and landscape design. Since its founding in 1992, LGLA has designed landscapes for schools, campuses, boutique hotels, buildings, public parks, estates, and private residences. At LGLA each project is viewed as an opportunity to explore a series of relationships: between the site and the region, architecture and landscape, and most importantly, between the landscape and the people who will use and enjoy it.

Recent Posts




    Los Angeles Central Library Photography by Marion Brenner Craig Elwood Pasadena Craftsman Jon and Liliane Lovelace Don Chadwick downtown Los Angeles Landscape as Catalyst Gere Kavanaugh Palm Springs Modernism Nasher Sculpture Garden Desert Courtyard House Floating Teehouse Wendell Burnette Denise Scott Brown Rose N' Palm Soils Solutions Florence Knoll First Point Construction fabrics mid century architecture Artecho 9-11 Memorial Hindry House John Lautner Native Mow Free furniture Los Angeles Times Bunker Hill Steps Landscaping Flowermaid Ira Keller Fountain Leslie Cozzi Garden Conservancy Allegra Fuller Snyder Thomas D. Church graphic design Barbara Lamprecht Virginia Robinson Gardens Transforming Small Spaces, Intimate Courtyards, Custom Steel Gates, Velvet Elephant Ear, Kalanchoe Beharensis, Bluestone Pavers, Bourget Brothers, Moroccan Motif Lawrence Halprin Dominus Winery grasses Albert Frey Ralph Bacerra Max Palevsky House landscape architecture in los angeles Kun II TCLF granite mid century landscapes Ruth Adler Schnee Stinson Beach Frank Lloyd Wright tablescape Nord Eriksson Jack Coyier Heather Scott Peterson Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency Delta Bluegrass pool landscaping Grace Miller House Oller & Pejic Kitchen for Exploring Foods Mission Revival Eugene Kinn Choy, Garden Dialogues, The Cultural Landscape Foundation Garden Dialogues Frank Gehry Lina Loos Villa Pisani Italy Grand Hope Park Lisa Boone Maguire Gardens Japanese gardens Kaufman House toys Wells Fargo Plaza Lovelace Pool Cranbrook Academy of Art Carl Andre Julius Shulman Peter Walker interiors LIght/Breeze House FIDM Bolinas Andre Le Notre George Hargreaves tropical planting Opera on the Great Lawn Open Days Howard Rosen Kelly Sutherlin McLeod Architecture Koffka/Phakos Design Craftsman Martin Garden Landscape Architecture Hafley House Cleo Baldon King Palm forest Landscape Sequence Richard Neutra Edris House poppies Heineman and Heineman California natives Grand Eclair Vaux le Vicomte Queer Eye for the Straight Guy Isabelle Green, FASLA Native Bentgrass, Hafley House, Hindry House, Artificial Turf EPT Design Loewy House Deborah Sussman Los Angeles Conservancy Kengo Kuma Pamela Palmer Virginia Robinson Herzog and de Meuron California Preservation Foundation Architect's Garden Garden of Sculpture Friends of Robinson Gardens multidisciplinary designer Annie Chu Marin Jeffrey Dahl, John Wooden, Dustin Dorr, Rosemarie Allaire, Yoshikawa Ralph Cornell, Malcolm Leland, Howard Troller, UCLA, Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden garden color exhibition design TheBlack Desert House Adolf Loos garden restoration garden design Ray Eames Courtney Coffman David Collins Paulette Singley Charles Waldheim Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre New York landscape architecture Docomomo Award Elrod House MoMA, Museum of Modern Art Darin Marten rock E. Stewart Williams Lisa Gimmy