Los Angeles Public Library System, Helen Hunt Jackson Branch, Los Angeles, California

Pre-1944 Los Angeles Public Library System, Helen Hunt Jackson Branch, Library Card No. 4H 3669 issued to Mrs. Clara M. Cota

Pre-1944 Los Angeles Public Library System, Helen Hunt Jackson Branch, Library Card No. 4H 3669 issued to Mrs. Clara M. Cota (front)
Pre-1944 Los Angeles Public Library System, Helen Hunt Jackson Branch, Library Card No. 4H 3669 issued to Mrs. Clara M. Cota (back)

Los Angeles Public Library, Helen Hunt Jackson Branch

In the mid 1920s, community growth began to strain the existing Central Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library System.  Accordingly, the Helen Hunt Jackson Branch opened to the public on November 1, 1925 at Naomi Avenue and 25th Street in Los Angeles.  Named after the 19th Century American writer, Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885), who penned the classic novel, Ramona, which told the story of a romance between Ramona, a Scottish-Native American orphan girl and Alessandro, a Native American sheep herder, set during the days of the California missions. The novel had significant positive impact on the cultural image of Southern California. The Spanish Colonial Revival building was designed by C. E. Noerenberg and boasted a 25’ x 26’ main reading room, a separate 22’ x 23’ children’s reading room, and a community room and kitchen. 

In 1940, the Helen Hunt Jackson Branch ceased operations as a fully staffed branch library and was converted to a station with a shortened, weekly 21-hour operating schedule.  Eventually, the Helen Hunt Jackson Branch ceased operating as a library and was eventually converted into a church building (Rock of Salvation Church).

In 1987, the Helen Hunt Jackson Branch and several other branch libraries in Los Angeles were added to the National Register of Historic Places.  

1925 photo of Los Angeles Public Library System, Helen Hunt Jackson Branch, at Naomi Avenue and 25th Street in Los Angeles, California (Photo from the SPNB Collection – Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection and used in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 and the Doctrine of Fair Use)

Miriam Matthews

Miriam Matthews (1905-2002) was the first African American Librarian for the Los Angeles Public Library System, and the state of California.  Called the “Dean of California Black History,” Matthews was instrumental in the creation of Black History Month.  During her tenure at the Helen Hunt Jackson Branch, Matthews found a small cache of books devoted to black history in California.  She then began researching and preserving the contributions of African Americans to California history and created the Los Angeles Public Library System’s first research collection on Black History.  

In 1926, Miriam Matthews earned a Bachelor’s degree, followed by a Certificate in Librarianship in 1927 from UC Berkeley.  After graduating, Matthews passed California’s civil service exam despite attempts by civil service administrators to sabotage her efforts.  In July 1927, Matthews began working  as a Substitute Librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library System’s Robert Louis Stevenson Branch, and within three months, became a full-time Librarian.  Matthews remained a branch librarian until taking a leave of absence to earn a Master’s degree in Library Science from the University of Chicago in 1945.  After returning to Los Angeles, she was promoted to regional librarian and supervised a dozen branch libraries.  Matthews worked with the Los Angeles Public Library System from 1927 until her retirement in 1960. 

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