I began my incursion into Los Angles in search of the eleven Carnegies in its environs from Malibu after camping in a patch of bushes below Highway One across from Pepperdine University. It was a last-minute discovery just before I was about to begin a climb up to Santa Monica State Park for the night, as the coast line up until then had been thoroughly built up or too rugged for camping. Though I knew the park would be nice, I wasn’t looking forward to the effort to get to it, as for the first time my legs were feeling drained after the long, hard rides into the night the past few days. Being able to camp a little early and being spared the climb was a much-appreciated reprieve.
I got an early 6:30 start the next morning hoping to be ahead of the rush hour traffic, but it was already thick and furious, as if every motorist was late for being on the set by seven. The ride was made even more perilous by the blinding sun rising directly into my face. After 45 minutes I had the great relief of a bicycle path along the wide beaches of Santa Monica. When I reached the legendary pier I ventured over to Main Street that led to the day’s first Carnegie, the pleasingly blue Ocean Park Branch. It was closed and undergoing a nearly completed renovation.
It joins the ranks of California Carnegies with a plaque dispensing false information, stating, “Although small Carnegie Libraries were once found in small towns across the United States, this is one of the last remaining in California.” It was impressive enough in its own right, not to have to further inflate its significance with the extreme exaggeration of being among the few surviving in the state, considering there are 86 of them, of which I had already seen 73.
It was a few blocks over to Santa Monica Boulevard, my route for the next fifteen miles to the first of three still standing Los Angeles Branch Libraries funded by Carnegie. Three others are no more. There was plenty of traffic, but it was quite tame compared to Highway One. I had the luxury of a bike lane from time to time. It took me through Beverley Hills and past countless over-sized billboards promoting movies. And there were regular reminders that this was Historic Route 66, something I am accustomed to as the route I ride into Chicago from Countryside, where I’m presently residing, is dotted with similar signs.
The Cahuenga Branch right on Santa Monica was strikingly majestic. It’s architect, Clarence Russell, was one of the designers of the canals of the Venice section of Los Angeles . Hollywood recognized its appeal, as it posed as a police station in “A Nightmare on Elm Street” from 1984. Its not the only Carnegie to be embraced by cinema. The demolished Santa Rosa Carnegie plays a role in Alfred Hitchcock’s “A Shadow of a Doubt.”
I slipped out of Los Angeles to the north for Carnegies in Eagle Rock and South Pasadena. Eagle Rock’s had been transformed into an Art Center. The Carnegie in the affluent suburb of South Pasadena was on a large parcel of park land allowing it to be expanded and still function as a library. As I was locking up, Tim, last seen in Gilroy over a week ago, materialized. I knew he was back on my trail, but I thought I’d see him at one of the upcoming urban Carnegies. But he chose this one for our rendezvous as he well knew its charms, as it is within range of one of his favored encampments in the region.
He had a duffle and a backpack for me, replacing those that had been stolen in San Francisco. He knew the duffle wasn’t quite as big as my other, but it would accommodate most of my gear for my train trip back to Chicago, and what it couldn't hold, the larger backpack might have room for. It was a great relief to have that concern addressed. I had stopped at several resale stores looking for duffles and had been told they are a very popular item and don’t last long. Tim was fortunate to have found what he had.
Tim reported there was a statue of President Obama at nearby Occidental College that he attended for two years before going on to Harvard. It was out of my way, as was the Rose Bowl, and I didn’t have time for any detours with two more Carnegies to get to then a 35-mile ride out to Yorba Linda, where I would be spending the night. I’d be arriving well after dark as it was. I also had a meeting at my last Carnegie with Matt of Landmark Theaters, a long-time friend whose office that I very much would have liked to have visited didn’t fit Into my library circuit. I had actually biked past his apartment on Stoner near Wiltshire and Santa Monica, but it had been too early for a hello.
It was five miles back into the city to its Lincoln Heights Branch recessed on a corner lot. Its entrance was flanked by two wings that curved outward, lending a majestorial luster to the building. It’s high ceilings and spaciousness made it all the more inviting for a prolonged stay, but there was none of that on this day.
It was ten miles past the train station and to the west of downtown LA to the Vermont Square Branch. I had been warned to be wary as it hugged Compton, but there was nothing to give me alarm, unlike my rides through the West Side of Chicago. The neighborhood around the library was quiet residential with well-kept small homes and tidy yards. The library was equally pleasing. Matt was awaiting me. He had never been to this neighborhood, but felt no concerns, and he had reason to be wary as he’d had his bike stolen the day before outside of a Ralph’s where he lives.
Matt was wearing a jacket bearing the Landmark logo. He’s been in charge of the payroll of it’s nationwide operation for over twenty years and very much enjoys his work, especially the perk of having a pass to all the Landmark theaters and being able to share such a pass with me, for which I am truly grateful. It was a shame I didn’t have time to take him to dinner at the finest restaurant in town. We often see each other at the Telluride Film Festival where we met years ago. Like Barry Jenkins he’s a graduate of its student program. Rather than making films he writes about them when the opportunity arises. Writing runs in the family as his father was the featured columnist of the Durango daily newspaper, where Matt grew up.
It was 4:30, less than two hours until dark, when we parted. My 35 mile ride to Harold in Yorba Linda was due east beyond Anaheim and Disneyland to Yorba Linda. I was hoping to stop off at Anaheim’s Carnegie, but had to put it off until the next day as it was slightly south of my route and it would be after dark by the time I reached it.
The traffic was thick and slow out of the city on not the best maintained of roads. There was no beating the dark, so I didn’t need to feel rushed, just take the miles as they came. After eight miles when I reached the beginning of the suburbs the road improved and the traffic thinned and my speed increased. There was no bike lane, but the traffic gave me space. I could at last speed up to fifteen miles per hour, but with regular lights couldn’t maintain that average.
By seven I needed to stop for a hit of chocolate milk and to let Harold know I was still over an hour away and not to wait on me for dinner. I had been hoping that this might be my first 100-mile day of the trip, but I fell seven miles short. I was fully energized by my evening ride when I arrived at Harold’s house and would have been happy to keep riding. I semi-jestingly suggested that we bike over to the Anaheim Carnegie so I could register a century. Fortunately he wasn’t in favor of that, especially since it was thirteen miles away.
My first image when he opened the door was of a small wooden bike from an art fair under a table. There was another mini-replica bike outside by the entrance. They were among many bicycle artifacts on the premises, as many as his wife would allow, including a cracked frame mounted in his garden and an arrangement of old tires and tubes and chains adorning a light fixture by the side door to his garage, which continued eight bikes and a workstand. His WiFi password summed it up—bikrheaven. Though we had never met, I knew he would be a kindred spirit based on all I’d heard about him from his sister Kitty in Chicago. She did not exaggerate in the least his devotion to the bike.
He and his wife had moved to this very house 27 years ago from LaGrange, a suburb neighboring Countryside, partially for the more amenable biking weather. He had just retired from his life as a physician to have even more time for biking. We chatted away as I savored a bowl of homemade thick pea soup, just the two of us as his wife was visiting her brother in Florida. He hasn’t undertaken any long bicycle tours, but he’s had his share of adventures. One was climbing Kilimanjaro with his daughter, who requested the trip as a present for earning her PhD at USC. I had actually seen a slide show of his climb presented by his brother-in-law Bobbie at the Lincoln Belmont Library where I’ve given a few slide shows, not remembering if Bobbie had mentioned that he’d been a part of it.
Harold couldn’t have been a finer host. He led the way the next day to Anaheim, partially on a bike path along a river he’d never seen so full of water. I’d miswrote the address of the Carnegie as 2401 S. Anaheim, when it was actually 241, but that gave me more a flavor of the environs passing Disney Way and Gene Autry Way and catching a glimpse of a towering pinnacle that was part of a mega-church. Any number of miles would have been worth the effort to see the beauty of the Carnegie, now a museum, letting all know with giant letters out front.
Harold accompanied me for nearly another hour making sure I was on the right road up to Claremont for a series of four more Carnegies within the never-ending LA sprawl. He and his wife still have enough of a connection to Chicago to have acquired a townhouse in Arlington Heights and to come for visits for a month or more. He keeps two bikes there. We’ll have plenty of biking together in the years to come.