Central Library Secrets

The many mysterious and hidden motifs of the Los Angeles Public Library.  

The Los Angeles Central Library is a historic landmark that has been part of the city for almost a century.  Built during the 1920s it is now surrounded by towers of glass and steel. The Library is adorned with a wide range of architectural styles—including Egyptian, Islamic, and Spanish Colonial—that pays homage to ancient cultures. It was the last work ever designed by the American architect Betram Grosvenow Goodhue, whose remarkable works are known throughout the United States. However, Goodhue was not the only one responsible for this remarkable piece of architecture. His collaboration with artist Lee Lawrie and philosopher Hartley Alexander allowed the Central Library to not only be a monumental piece of concrete, but also a temple dedicated to wisdom and learning. Adorned with mysterious sculptures and symbolic artworks, the Central Library is filled with knowledge and secrets that can only understood by a select few. 
When you visit the library through the main door, on Flower Street, you will be met with giant statues and engraved figures hovering over you. The main engraving over the door, Et quasi cursores vitai lampada tradunt, is Latin for, “like runners, they bear on the lamp of life.” These words serve to introduce ancient figures that have played a role in bringing knowledge to the world throughout history. The two monumental sculptures, Phospor and Hesper, represent Venus, the morning and evening star. Each of these figures holds a scroll with names of great writers and thinkers from both the Eastern (Asian and Middle Eastern) and the Western (Classical and European) cultures. The philosopher Hartley Alexander was responsible for incorporating these esoteric concepts into the building’s architecture. The library’s façade incorporates Alexander’s vast knowledge of ancient cultures and tells a story of how ideas spread throughout the world from different societies and epochs. 
On the southern side of the building, a row of statues adorns the top of the library with more Latin inscriptions. Lucerna pedibus meis; lumen semitis meis translates to “a lamp to my feet; a light to my paths.” This allusion to a lamp and its light represents knowledge and understanding. Above each buttress of the building is a sculpture of historic figures who made an impact in world affairs with their ideas. These figures range from Herodotus, Vergil, and Socrates in the realm of thought to Justinian, Leonardo da Vinci, and Copernicus in the realm of art and science. Directly below, a panel with the inscription, In the world of affairs we live in our own age; in books we live in all ages paraphrases a line from the 18th century French essayist Étienne Pivert de Senancour.    
The mysteries continue inside the library with more enigmatic statues and artifacts. Two black marble sphinxes sit within the vestibule of the north staircase and a monumental sculpture in the niche on the opposite side. The sphinxes pay homage to ancient Egyptians, who used similar statues in front of their temples to protect knowledge and to ward off evil. Each sphinx holds a book, which reads, “I am all that was, and is, and is to be, and no man hath lifted my veil” on the left, and, “Therefore the desire of Truth, especially of that which concerns the gods, is itself a yearning after Divinity” on the right. Taking inspiration from classical Greece, the statue of civilization, in the niche,  is made from bronze, copper and marble. Her right hand holds a book with various quotations in five different languages. A copper panel superimposed on the front of the statue represents the history of civilization in pictographic images running from bottom to top.     
Upon entering the rotunda, you will find yourself below a huge bronze chandelier filled with symbols and decorative motifs. In the center is a glass globe surrounded by 48 light bulbs, representing the 48 states in the United States at that time. The signs of the zodiac are represented around the inner rim.  Attached by support chains the chandelier is connected to a sunburst in the center of the dome, which is similar to the shape of the sunburst on the outside pyramid above it. The pyramid itself is an intricate design composed of a tile mosaic showing the sun and its rays spreading out over the city. On top, a hand holding a torch surrounded by a snake functions as a beacon representing knowledge. While the current torch is a replica, the original can be found inside the library where curious visitors can examine the details and motifs of this mysterious icon up close.     

The library symbols are all based on the theme of “illumination” which refers to the idea of gaining knowledge. While it will take more than just one day to meander through the library and recognize all these hidden motifs it is possible to study them one at a time. The designers in charge of orchestrating this concealed storyline were all educated in the art of esoteric thought and engraved their ideas into plain sight. When an average person starts to research these icons, they will soon find themselves going down a journey that will lead them into a mysterious world full of hidden philosophies and ancient customs. There is no better place to start this journey than at the Central Library in Los Angeles where the path towards illumination awaits you.