New Main Library could be named after tennis legend Billie Jean King

When the new main library opens in Downtown Long Beach this September, it could have one of the most recognizable woman athletes in history’s name on it.

Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce announced Wednesday that she would be submitting a proposal to name the new library after tennis star Billie Jean King.

Pearce said that nearly 1,000 community members had signed onto the idea of having King’s name on the new library, including 27 LGBTQ community leaders and the Century Club, which helped finance King’s trip to Wimbledon in 1961.

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“She is more than an athlete,” Pearce said in a statement. “She is a woman with determination, a graduate of Poly High School, an author, and a woman that changed the world of sports for everyone. I can think of no better opportunity to support our community and our library system than this.”

King is not only regarded as one of the best tennis players in the history of the sport but she’s also a hometown hero. She attended Long Beach Poly before going onto a career that included 39 Grand Slam titles and an infamous Battle of the Sexes tennis match against Bobby Riggs which drew tens of millions of spectators. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1987.

Outside of sport, King has also fought for gender equality and she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014 by President Barack Obama, the highest civilian honor, for her advocacy for women and the rights of the LGBTQ community.

King already has a tennis center at Recreation Park named after her. The city can only facilities after people who are living if they have contributed significantly to the nation, state or city of Long Beach. In 2015 officials named the Center Theatre after former Mayor Beverly O’Neill, and the council recently approved the naming of the new civic chambers after former Mayor Bob Foster.

In a letter addressed to the mayor and City Council, King wrote about her experiences going to the neighborhood libraries while living in the Wrigley Heights area as a child. She said that she is constantly grateful for her experiences growing up in Long Beach and credited much of her success to those in the community that helped her as a young tennis player.

She called the nomination humbling and that having her name would represent her life coming full circle.

“Long Beach fostered my dreams,” King wrote. “I hope to help foster the dreams of many more in Long Beach, by giving back to the library and engaging many in learning about courage and equality.”

The proposal would first have to go through the city’s Housing and Neighborhoods Committee before being advanced to the City Council for a vote.  The new 93,000 square foot main library is scheduled to open Sept. 21.

 

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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