December 2013 Library Agenda Welcome to A.K. Smiley Public Library and its museum, the Lincoln Memorial ShrineServing the City of Redlands, California since 1894 – Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, 1976 – Designated as a State Historic Landmark, 1990
125 W. Vine Street
Redlands, CA 92373
Library Board of Trustees
William T. Hardy, President
One Visitor’s Letter of Recommendation
"One Whispers – If nothing else, I can say that I have lived through a most significant era in the history of American public libraries: The transition away from the silence rule which was the mark and sign of every library in every community, though it seems long ago now.
The rule was so generally known and so well enforced that it came to constitute the main element of the librarian stereotype: the lady with a finger to her mouth became our trademark, like it or no. The moderns can say what they will, the image was based in truth, and the rule persisted through my own childhood, though it hung on a bit later in some places, enforced or otherwise. After the change became general there remained islands of tradition here and there; places where, though unenforced, a general quiet prevailed, a maintenance of the old atmosphere.
You can still find these libraries, just as you can find Catholic churches that yet offer the Latin Mass. If you are looking, I can suggest at least one that will take the visitor back to the old days as soon as she passes the threshold.
If you have time on your next visit to southern California, head east from Los Angeles for about an hour and make a lunch stop in Redlands. If you don’t know where that is, the freeway signs will direct you. Redlands is an old town by the standards of the area, settled as a farming community before the Twentieth Century. Redlands grew Washington Navel oranges for the rest of the country, and the town grew prosperous enough to decide it needed a decent library.
What they built is still there, with some additions. The A.K. Smiley Library is a regular stop for students of architecture and of course for the sort of people who haunt old libraries. If you want to haunt this one, I recommend you give yourself at least an hour; the place isn’t huge, but it merits at least that much attention.
The Smiley library was opened in 1898. Entering through the front doors, the visitor is immediately transported a century backward in time; this part of the library is also part of an America which doesn’t exist anymore – most of this sort of architecture is long gone and it is too bad for all of us. This beautiful little library is part of the world wherein the librarian was the keeper of a temple, and of course, temples are not to be defiled by vulgar noise. As you walk about the Smiley, you will notice – or not notice – that the patrons are still; conversation is almost nil, even among the patrons of the children’s room. This is not because anybody is rushing around, finger to lips, but because the atmosphere seems too elevated to ruin with mere conversation.
A stroll through the Smiley is like a tour of a cloister, albeit one with some rather comfortable appointments. The place gives the impressions of a very finely furnished country home; witness the curved staircase with its carved banister in the computer room, or rest yourself in one of the padded wicker chairs for a look at a magazine; this might be Roosevelt’s Springwood in Hyde Park on a summer afternoon. The sunlight filters through the Venetian blinds and the patrons, who seem more like guests, take their ease in a scene that might have been painted by Sargent.
There is a classical statuary worthy of a museum, and tiny, cozy hardwood nooks, each with its own fire grate to warm the feet of nineteenth-century readers. The Smiley has a reading room of the old style, long, high-ceilinged like an abbey chapel with a rose window and graceful timber arches overhead. One almost expects to hear vespers, but there is no sound but my own soft footfalls.
The children’s library is a miniature of the main room; built in 1920, it is almost heartbreakingly charming, with its own stained-glass windows, each a tiny treasure: there is John Tenniel’s Alice and the Cheshire Cat and Mock Turtle; Frank Baum’s Dorothy, Toto, her famous trio of fellow travelers and even the flying monkeys, all aglow from the afternoon sun. Near me a young father leafs through a picture book with a little girl who might have been Dodgson’s Alice Liddell; their voices are hardly a dormouse squeak, because of course in a place like this, one whispers.
Later I find myself in what used to be the basement, in a Friends bookstore that could pass for a library in its own right. I know better than to browse, but I do anyhow.
The Smiley is not only a library but an repository of local history. The newest wing houses an small museum of various fascinations; my eye catches a picture that is part of the mental architecture of my youth; it is a study in oils, ‘The Era of Discovery’ by Dean Cornwell, whose finished version grandly furnishes the Rotunda of the Los Angeles Public Library. I grew up staring at this picture in another library where one didn’t make a lot of noise, and not because anybody was watching but because it was the era when One Didn’t, for the sake of the place as much or more than the convenience of its patrons. If anyone had a mind to blurt something to a friend, Cornwell’s goodly friar and the helmeted Conquistador put him off. At least they did me.
I was about to conclude my visit when the very pleasant archivist with whom I had been sharing a conversation about Civil War musketry convinced me to come with him to the nearby Lincoln Memorial Shrine, not a hundred paces away. This too was a throwback, a museum like they used to be, in stone and arches and with a seriousness of intent that says to the visitor: Here are special things. Indeed they are; artifacts of Lincoln’s life and presidency, war relics, and, lining the octagonal rotunda, nothing less than Dean Cornwell’s stylized depictions of Lincoln’s character in its various aspects – at least his “better angels,” in that phrase from the First Inaugural. And a most fitting modern touch: Norman Rockwell’s ‘Thoughts on Peace on Lincoln’s Birthday,’ a striking work of allegory which my guide informs me contains a surprise: while being cleaned, the restorer revealed a significant change from the original, an over-painted limb which, deleted in the final version changes the somber veteran to an amputee. You can see for yourself, and judge also whether the figure in the background is Rockwell or as some would have it, Lincoln himself.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that the staff of the Smiley Library were, to a one, fine, helpful and quite pleasant. Working in a place like the Smiley must do that to a person. Go on out and see for yourself when you can spare an afternoon."