Too Late for Fickett's West Hollywood Library
late. Between the moment when I first
wrote this post and posting it, the City of West Hollywood, of which I once was
a proud citizen, has torn down a fine example of modernist architecture. Edward
Fickett’s West Hollywood Library is no more.
gets no respect. For many years, he was a prolific builder of apartment
buildings, commercial structures, and homes throughout Southern California. His
widow claims he once had the Guinness record for the most amount of building
permits issued to one architect. For all
that, nobody noticed his work. Now one
of his few civic buildings has been torn down, and people are finally noticing,
with a few activists organizing a last-ditch effort to preserve the West
Hollywood Library before it was torn down to make way for a park.
I have a special
affinity with Fickett because I once owned a unit in a condo building he
designed. It was a marvel of
interlocking volumes grouped around partially sunken parking and a swimming
pool, with the front building bar rising up to a steep roof where our unit
seemed to sail out over the L.A. Plains. You have seen it in movies like LA
Story and the second Bill and Ted episode.
Fickett was not
the most refined architect, nor the most original, but he had a clear
understanding of how to adapt a modernist aesthetic of interlocking geometries,
thin planes, abstract forms and a lot of glass to the realities of standard
building technology and financing. He
managed to wring a great deal of expression out of minimal means.
So it was with
the West Hollywood library. A single-story structure, it hid beneath a thin
screen that separated it from the large scale of the adjacent boulevard. Brick
and glass walls alternated to define its rectangular volume. Beyond that, there
was only a roof that consisted of folded plates, their origami forms resting
lightly on what was already a thin structure. There was little complexity to its spaces, and there was certainly nothing
that communicated its civic nature in any kind of monumental manner. It was a service building that for many years
no longer adequately served its community, and it will be replaced by a much
larger and more dramatic structure, designed by Johnson/Favaro, that just
opened next door.
There was a
delicacy to this design that came from the modesty of its means and forms. I am afraid that there was not much rightness
for its place or function any more, and many renovations had leeched some of
the delicate delight out of the Library. Open civic space, moreover, is always at a premium, and we should
delight at the new park. Having said
that, I was hoping that this little gem would be preserved, if for no other
reason than to remind us of the hope architecture and government together
represented that they could create an efficient and beautiful place for us to
gather and learn. I also believed that new function and attention could
preserve what is a very well-designed and essentially flexible little
structure. Now we will get a pleasantly
designed collection of civic functions next to a large library that, too me at
least, says little about what West Hollywood was, is, or wants to be.