Construction on $592M Long Beach Civic Center Moves Forward as New Library Comes to Life

Photo above courtesy of the City of Long Beach. Photo below by Brian Addison. Renderings courtesy of PECP.

We have an extensive series on how the new Long Beach Civic Center has come to be. For Part I, which explored the two proposals and the history of the civic center rebuild, click here. For Part II, which explored the option of possibly keeping the current civic center intact, click here. For Part III, which explores the City’s developer/design choice, click here. For full renderings of the project, click here.

With at least another year-and-a-half of construction left, tangible results on the new $592M Civic Center in DTLB are coming about, including new steel work for the Main Library and the rising of the new City Hall and Port of Long Beach (POLB) headquarters.

Led by Plenary/Edgemoor Civic Partnership (PECP)—the developing group who has been spearheading the creation of Long Beach’s new Civic Center—the SOM-designed library will be an impressive expanse of natural lighting, wood, and several levels while being connected to what could be one of the city’s largest parks.

The design’s civic style—a mixture of classic Greek, mid-mod, and contemporary architecture—is largely focused on the park and library space. (And quite possibly the reason PECP’s design was ultimately chosen.)

From bringing in a plethora of native plants to creating a park space that is customizable for events, PECP understands the reason why Golden Gate and Central Parks are essential to urban environments (and why their design is just as important). The fact that the PECP’s Lincoln Park design can host an event with 200 people or 11,000 people—yeah, you read that right: eleven-thousand people, making Long Beach’s Civic Center the possible home of massive regional events—remains impressive.

Add to that over 93,000 sq. ft. of library space and you have one of the most progressive public projects in the region.

On top of it all, the City Hall/POLB headquarters—whose construction can be seen in the picture above—bring the power of the port in direct connection with the City’s representatives, with its style harkening to the democratic centers of Greek society—which can be seen in the renderings below of the ultimate results of the two buildings.

The City Hall building on the left will be more Grecian in aesthetic, representing democracy and philosophical advancement, while the POLB headquarters on the right will have colorful pieces of glass and metal, reflecting the shipping containers that connect us with goods worldwide.

There are a lot of naysayers about the project—and rightfully so. But the 1978 Civic Center, designed by a supergroup of Long Beach architects that included Edward Killingsworth and Don Gibbs, currently sits in the heart of DTLB with many issues: structural analyses deem the City Hall building subpar, many elements remain unused (like the closed-off library rooftop that was once a garden) or unwanted, and the space’s late modern/brutalist style are what some—Lowenthal included—consider the opposite of inviting. Large slabs and blocks of concrete create wind tunnels that in turn create a place devoid of activity.

For former Councilmember and Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal—arguably the project’s most staunch defender and leader—the Civic Center plays one of the most important roles in the lives of the public.

“It’s the public’s living room,” Lowenthal said. “It takes me back to the quad in front of my church and school in India. What I remember about that quad was that it was a theatrical space—that function was provided by the church. Because in a dense space like Madras, you don’t have space like that—so where else are people going to congregate? Rich, not-so-rich, the homeless… They sat together and watched theatre together. That’s what the public living room is.”

Commonality and a sharing of the same experience defines a civic space for Lowenthal—and hopefully, the new Civic Center will achieve just that.

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Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 16 nominations and two additional wins for Best Political Commentary for his work at KCET and Best Blog for Longbeachize, a section of the Long Beach Post. Brian currently serves as a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post.