Sunday, October 21, 2012


"Diagnosis" - installation by Jena Priebe and David Lovejoy
Book lovers, rejoice. Here is your Mecca.

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
This part of the store is called "The Labyrinth" and it offers over 100,000 used books, all priced at just one dollar each. It's a narrow but twisting space, so as you explore it, it unfolds before you and gets more and more surreal.

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"
In the Labyrinth, it's a total treasure hunt - you may find a used Sidney Sheldon potboiler next to a scholarly tome about Lewis and Clark. There are forgotten women's novels from the 1920s - a kind of "chick-lit" almost a century old now. There are science fiction classics. There are outdated travel books and recent best-selling paperbacks.

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.
Upstairs, the eccentric quirks and unsettling discoveries made browsing for books an adventure, but downstairs is much more like a conventional bookstore, with sections for various topics and genres, and new issue books as well as the old ones. And downstairs, the books are arranged by author so you can easily find what you want.

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.


smalltownme said...

Oh, OH OOHHH!!!! I am so going there. My husband offered me a day in L.A. after a certain concert in a few weeks...and I was going to say, no, we should save the money and go home that night, but now! Let's just say BARBRA plus BOOKS equals BLISS.

M. Bouffant said...

I'm sold. Next time I'm downtown, I'm there.

jenn said...

I could spend days and days in there!

Claudia from Idiot's Kitchen said...

Add this to my ever growing list of cool things to do when I finally visit Los Angeles.

Sheila said...

How great is this? I'm so happy that someone saw fit to open a new bookstore,and a very cool one at that.

Catherine said...

Aunt Snow, Each time I think you've surely reached the top of all your entertaining, interesting and beautiful scenes and photography you come up with something like the! Thank you.

M. Bouffant said...

Sheesh, look at these Johnny-Come-Latelys!

Gilly said...

What a wonderful place! Pity its so far away!

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

I think I want to live in this store... do they have shower and laundry options?

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

Oh my!!! I DEFINITELY want to go there!!

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I might go JUST for that.