Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Jack Smith at the Friends of Whittier Library Bookstore, A Former Greyhound Bus Depot

Over last summer I picked up a first-edition, hardback, dust-jacketed copy of columnist Jack Smith's 1980 book Jack Smith's L.A. at the bookstore in Uptown Whittier which is run by the Friends of the Library.  Smith (1916-1996) was a daily reading habit for many, as he wrote for over 40 years at the Los Angeles Times, and this book is a compilation of some of his past essays.  His column's popularity swelled with syndication to nearly 600 papers worldwide -- he surely was an unintended or intended city booster who convinced many to move to Los Angeles.

He contemplated about life in his city and in his gentle writing style defended against negative generalizations by novelists and movie-makers about a shallow city.  In his early career as a reporter, he was the first to use the phrase "The Black Dahlia" for the infamous crime victim.

A California native, born in Long Beach, Smith lived in Whittier as a boy in 1930.  He wrote about his memory of the Whittier Library, where he was allowed to go on school nights - with a pretense to study but actually to meet girls.

Jack Smith left us when the World Wide Web was just surfacing.  It is humorous to read one of his passages and realize our information-finding tools are so advanced today.  Smith wrote on pages 154-155 that he was curious about the background of an author whose story line included a bit about how terrible Los Angeles was.  Smith continue to say "So I bought a copy of Domino Principle and found what I was looking for at the back of the book."

Friends of the Whittier Library Bookstore

Thousands of libraries throughout the world are supported by community volunteers who form a "Friends" group to raise money for their local library.  Whittier's was founded in 1964.  The use of the word "Friends" in Whittier also has a second, unrelated meaning:  the city's founders were Quakers, whose members are called Friends.

6703 Comstock Avenue

The Friends of the Whittier Library has accomplished an unusual and rare feat among city governments - they operate a free-standing bookstore many, many blocks away from the library.  Current volunteer manager Francis Minerd told me that a bookstore was in existence in the mid-1950s in the basement of the library.  The current store materialized about 1987.   Minerd says that the city only has two bookstores left:  the retail Half Off Books on Greenleaf Avenue, and the store he runs.

Bob and Francis

I asked him and volunteer Bob Zubillaga whether the trend of electronic book readers has affected their business - not yet, they say.

A Greyhound Bus Depot

My visit to the store last week gleaned some building history -- Bob explained that the bookstore was formerly a bus depot.  He pointed out that original bathroom fixtures are still there.  He pointed to marks on the floor left by the stool seats from the diner in the depot.