We are a group of Fullerton citizens concerned that the historic Hunt Branch Library building is in imminent danger of being sold by the City of Fullerton. We are exploring viable options for its use to benefit the community rather than allowing this public asset to be sold to a private concern. We invite your ideas and participation. For general information about the Hunt, visit the page "About the Hunt Branch Library" on this site.
The California Historical Resources Commission has approved the California Register landmark nomination for the 1962 Hunt Center and Library. The landmark nomination was one of four nominated properties on the consent calendar of the Commission’s February 1 meeting agenda. The report accompanying the nomination noted that the “district retains a high degree of historic integrity.”
The Hunt Center includes the Hunt office building, the designed landscape, a platform with metal canopy, six modernist benches, and six hexagonal planters. The Hunt Office Building was characterized as exhibiting “all the striking elements of the international style,” including its “rectilinear form and steel structure, glass panels, and repeated modular panels.” The Hunt Office Building and its surrounding grounds are owned by Grace Ministries International, who added a large unrelated structure to the property after purchasing it was Hunt Wesson, Inc. Grace Ministries currently leases the Hunt Library from its owner, the City of Fullerton.
The Hunt Library, conceived as a companion to the Hunt Office Building in style, was described as embodying all the features of a small branch library of the period, designed in the international style, one seldom otherwise used in Fullerton. The nomination also cited the importance of the Hunt Library having been designed by word famous architect William Pereira and commissioned by Norton Simon, a self-made industrialist and art collector.
On November 20 the Fullerton City Council officially added the Hunt Branch Library located at 201 S. Basque Ave., to the list of the city’s Local Landmarks. The designation is meant both to recognize significant structures in the city and to prevent them from being inappropriately remodeled or destroyed. The addition to the list was unanimously recommended by the six members of Fullerton’s Planning Commission present for their October 24 meeting.
According to the staff report given by the Community Development Department’s Joan Wolff, “This designation is given to a building, structure or natural or manmade feature having a historic character or historic, cultural, architectural or aesthetic value with respect to the heritage of Fullerton, which merits preservation, restoration and/or protection.”
The report cited three of the ten criteria under which buildings can be designated Local Landmarks, including its significant style and outstanding design, as well as the importance and influence of its architect William Pereira. The presentation included images of the library dating to 1963, just a year after it opened, along contemporary views, noting that the building looked very much the same as it did over half a century ago. Ms. Wolff described the Hunt’s style as International, although its roofline incorporates elements of the more Brutalist style employed by Pereira in his later works, some of which, like San Francisco’s Transamerica building and UC San Diego’s Geisel Library were also shown in the presentation.
The City of Fullerton owns the Hunt Branch Library and surrounding grounds, although the building is currently leased out to Grace Ministries International (GMI), who, in 2000 purchased the adjacent property that once served as the headquarters of Hunt Wesson/ConAgra. The library’s architecture echoes that of the GMI-owned four story office building, also designed by William Pereira. Together, the two structures and the surrounding park were conceived as a unified campus by Mr. Pereira and his client, Norton Simon, although GMI has since added other large buildings to it. Norton Simon commissioned the Hunt Branch as gift to the city in 1962, but the Fullerton City Council has not to allocated the necessary funds to operate it as a library branch since 2013.
No members of the council had any questions for Ms. Wolff. Public comments began with Bob Linnell, representing Fullerton Heritage, who had submitted the lengthy, well-researched application to the city. Mr. Linnell thanked the staff for the presentation and noted that Fullerton Heritage has also submitted an application to California’s State Historical Resources Commission “requesting that the Hunt Library and the former Hunt Administration Building and the surrounding campus be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.” The application is expected to be heard by the state panel in February next year, and the state’s recommendation passed to the federal government in early summer for a final decision. Noting that a Landmark status adopted by the city was important to the National Register decision, he nonetheless observed that it would be Fullerton’s Local Landmark designation itself that would “better protect the building from any future threat of demolition or mistreatment or some compromise of the building’s architecture.”
Jane Reifer expressed the community group Save The Hunt’s support for listing the property as a Landmark, and thanked Fullerton Heritage for their years-long effort to that end. Fullerton Heritage’s application to the National Register includes all of the original Hunt Library and Office Building campus, but City Council changes to the Local Landmark process made within the last two years now make it more difficult to list privately held properties without the cooperation of owners, so only the city-owned Hunt Library was included in the local application.
Councilmember Greg Sebourn called it “an honor” to move the item. Mayor Chaffee, who has in the recent past supported selling the building, called the Hunt an “architectural gem” before voting along with the other four members of the council to unanimously designate it as Fullerton’s most recent addition to its list of Local Landmarks.
Over a hundred people turned out Monday night, Sept. 24 to hear renowned architect and historian Alan Hess lead tours through Fullerton’s Hunt Branch Library before his evening presentation about the building and its architect next door at Pacific Drive Elementary School. The free program was organized by SaveTheHunt, a community group dedicated to keeping the currently closed library in public hands. The library is normally closed to visitors because the building and grounds are leased to neighboring Grace Ministries International (GMI), but access was arranged through the Fullerton Public Library. The large number of attendees necessitated two successive tours led by Mr. Hess, who spoke about the structure’s integration of indoor and outdoor spaces and other mid-century modernist design strategies employed by the library’s architect William Pereira.
Mr. Hess is a co-founder of Preserve OC a non-profit dedicated to preserving Orange County’s architectural and cultural heritage. He is the author of more than twenty architecture books, the latest entitled The Ranch House, copies of which he later signed for the public.
The program continued next door in Pacific Drive’s Multipurpose Room, where SaveTheHunt organizer Jane Reifer welcomed the audience to the presentation. Following brief remarks about the history of the Hunt Branch, Fullerton Public Library Director Judy Booth spoke about the Library Ad Hoc Committee, of which she is an ex-officio member, charged with formulating a recommendation for the facility’s ultimate use to Fullerton’s City Council. (The Ad Hoc meets next at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center on October 10 at 5:30 p.m.).
The presentation by Alan Hess traced the varied career of William Pereira from architecture school days in Illinois to Hollywood, where he became an art director who won an Oscar for Best Special Effects in the early 1940’s. Eventually returning to architecture, Pereira formed a partnership with classmate Charles Luckman. Mr. Hess noted that the team’s landmark 1953 CBS Television City in Los Angeles was the first studio designed specifically for television production, and, thanks to good planning, is still operation today. The prolific team also designed the original Disneyland Hotel and the iconic “Theme Building” in the center of Los Angeles International Airport.
Later, Pereira’s own firm designed San Francisco’s Transamerica Tower and the original buildings of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Mr. Hess emphasized that good planning and individual architectural character were the keys to Pereira’s success in designing not only buildings, but entire campuses, like the University of California, Irvine, and the master plan for the City of Irvine itself. He cautioned that, although Pereira’s 1973 wing of the L.A. Times complex just received Landmark status, many of William Pereira’s buildings have been lost, and that the LACMA buildings are threatened by that museum’s new master plan.Mr. Hess stressed the importance of protecting buildings like the former Hunt headquarters building, now own outright by GMI, and its companion Hunt Branch Library both as important local structures and internationally significant buildings to serve future generations.