|"Diagnosis" - installation by Jena Priebe and David Lovejoy|
We just happened to stumble upon The Last Bookstore when we were taking a post-brunch walk through the historic financial district in downtown Los Angeles.
Installed on the ground floor of the former Citizens National Bank, at the corner of 5th and Spring, The Last Bookstore will make your jaw drop when you walk in the door.
A vast open space yawns before you, rows of massive fluted columns holding up a coffered ceiling. There are bookshelves lining the walls and everywhere, angled here and there - stuffed with books. As you get used to the space, you realize this isn't some ho-hum Borders or Barnes & Noble. The main cashier desk seems to be built of....books! On the wall above, a giant flowing sculpture, upon examination, appears to be made of ....books!
In the center of the vast space is a stage where, on the day we stumbled in, an author was giving a reading to a small audience.
There were racks and racks of books, all helpfully labeled by genre. Any true bibliophile will recognize the feeling I felt, of wanting to browse endlessly through the colorful stacks, but for some reason, we were drawn beyond the nearby offerings by the sight of an open mezzanine above the main floor. We followed the signs to a stairway that led up.
The first indication that this is no ordinary bookstore is in the stairwell, where a sculpture titled "Nuestra Senora la Reina de la Libreria Ultima de Los Angeles" hangs.
At the top of the stairs, you're confronted with a bookcase that has books literally flying off the shelves, and a typewriter furling streamers of paper that coil madly into the air - another art installation
|Another Priebe and Lovejoy work, with sheet music|
Ahead of you, you see a bookcase that - you suddenly realize - is pierced through so you can see on the other side.
Beyond, a tunnel of arched books encloses a wheelchair ramp.
Nearby, an old bank vault is now a repository for a collection of DVDs. Don't worry about passing beyond the heavy, hinged vault door - the old typed instructions for your rescue remain in case you get locked in.
|Click to "embiggen"|
Nothing is organized by author, but the books are somewhat arranged by category - a history section here, an art section there. But the owners have broken through the conventions of library classification in many creative ways not sanctioned by the Dewey Decimal system -
Here, used novels are arranged by color. Why not? I suppose that's as good a method as any, don't you? You could match them to your couch and order them up by the linear foot!
The Labyrinth snakes around the upper mezzanine, and at intervals you can see down into the beautiful and active space below.
Everywhere you look and at each corner you turn, there is something odd that catches your eye.
Books by the pound?
A light switch in the spine of a book - I tested this out by flipping the switch, and yes, it plunged the nearby shelves into darkness before I turned it quickly back on.
When we went, on a Sunday afternoon, there were scores of people in the store, and upstair in the Labyrinth, all kinds of people browsed, took photos, and exclaimed in wonder. At one cosy reading table, a father with two daughters read together. In another dark section of the stacks, a man flipped through old vinyl LPs.
|Mastadon head mounted on the wall above the stacks.|
The building itself includes a gallery, a nightclub that has transformed the former bank's safe-deposit vaults into private dining rooms, and floors of live/work studios for artists to work in. A creative community, all at a single street address!
We spent far more time than we'd intended there, and escaped safely with only three books ($1 each!) in our shopping bag. But it's a place we'll return to, and I hope you will, too, if you are in Los Angeles.