The final chapter in Palo Alto's epic debate over a new name for the Main Library concluded Monday night when city leaders agreed to rechristen the Newell Road facility the Rinconada Library.
In choosing the new name by a 7-2 vote, with Larry Klein and Gail Price dissenting, the City Council accepted on Monday the recommendations from the Library Advisory Commission, the Palo Alto Historical Association and roughly half of the speakers who attended the final hearing in the long, complex and divisive renaming process. Proponents of the name change have consistently argued that the name "Main Library" is a misnomer because it is neither the largest branch (that would be Mitchell Park, which is being renovated) nor the administrative center (the Downtown Library).
Rinconada, which is Spanish for "elbow" or "inside corner," was adopted for both historical and geographical reasons. The land on which Palo Alto was developed was part of the Rancho Rinconada del Arroyo de San Francisquito land grant, a historical detail that the city commemorated in the mid-1920s when it gave the name Rinconada Park to what was once known as "City Waterworks Park," according to a report from the Library Department.
Library staff has argued since last fall that with the library now undergoing renovations, which include a new program room, new study rooms and upgraded electrical and mechanical systems, the time is ripe to change the name. In addition, the city recently renovated the Palo Alto Art Center and is pursuing a master plan for Rinconada Park. Giving the library the name Rinconada would link the branch with the other changes in the area, proponents of the change said.
Yet Rinconada proved to be a tough sell with the council, who in September sent the renaming proposal back to the drawing board. Some, including Klein, Price and Pat Burt, argued last year that the library should be named after a notable local person rather than a place. After more meetings, a reaffirmation by the library commission of its original choice and a deadlock by the council's Policy and Services Committee, the council found itself without a clear front-runner Monday aside from the initial proposal.
Price and Klein both lobbied for Birge Clark, the distinguished local architect who designed about 450 buildings in Palo Alto and Stanford University, including the 400 block of Ramona Street, the 300 block of Hamilton Avenue and the historic downtown post office. Klein argued that architecture is an art that "influences us the most" and said it was appropriate to recognize the city's beloved architect by naming the library after him.
"Architecture is always there," Klein said. "If you live in Palo Alto, it's pretty hard for you to go through a day without passing a Birge Clark structure. ... He helped create a very significant part of the community with which we relate day in and day out."
Price agreed, calling Clark Palo Alto's "pre-eminent architect in the last century" who worked in many different styles and who "had a significant impact on the architectural character of Palo Alto."
While other council members shared Klein's and Price's admiration for Clark, they were puzzled by the proposal to rename the Main Library after him. Though his Spanish Colonial style was deeply influential, Clark didn't have any special connections to local libraries. Furthermore, the Main Library building was designed by Edward Durell Stone, an architect with more modern leanings. For several council members, including Karen Holman, Liz Kniss and Greg Scharff, the idea of naming a building designed by one prominent architect after a different prominent architect would foster confusion.
"I don't think you can get further apart in terms of what these things look like," Scharff said, referring to the two styles.
Several members of the public agreed. Architect Martin Bernstein said he "cannot imagine that Birge Clark would want a building designed by another famous architect to have his name on it." He was one of several people who suggested naming a different facility after Clark -- ideally the downtown post office, which the council is in the process of trying to purchase from the United States Postal Service.
The city's leading library volunteers also came out against naming the building after Birge Clark. Susie Thom, a former library commissioner who helped spearhead the successful 2008 campaign to raise a $76 million bond for library renovations, was among them. She wondered aloud why a modern building should be called after an architect best known for Spanish Colonial style. Allison Cormack, who also led the Measure N campaign to renovate the Main, Mitchell Park and Downtown branches, argued that it would make sense to give the library a name based on its geographical location, akin to most other branches (the Children's Library is the lone exception). She urged the council to wrap up its discussion and get on with the more critical task of completing the renovations.
"I see no compelling reason for Main Library to be named after a person, especially one not connected with (the) services provided," Cormack said.
Though the council voted to adopt Rinconada, there was little enthusiasm among members for this choice. Holman said she'd be happy with leaving it as Main Library, though quickly added that that's "not where the votes are." Of the options on the table, she said Rinconada is the best because of its historical significance. Burt, who last year supported naming the building after a person, concluded on Monday that no front-runner had emerged and that Rinconada is the only name that appears to have community support.
"It should be somewhat of a consensus in the community over that naming," Burt said. "The only consensus I'm hearing is around Rinconada."
The only other name featured in Monday's discussion was Doris Richmond, a longtime librarian at the branch and the first black employee hired by the City of Palo Alto's library system, according to Loretta Green, a retired journalist who frequently patronized the library in the pre-Internet days. Green was one of three speakers who lobbied for naming the branch after Richmond.
"She was hugely popular, deeply loved and respected by her co-workers," Green said.
The council didn't preclude the possibility of naming another facility for Richmond or another distinguished Palo Altan. Burt, for instance, raised the prospect of attaching a person's name to a building while retaining its geographical name. He cited as an example the Pearson-Arastradero Preserve, which the council had changed to recognize conservationist Enid Pearson.
"In the future, if the community coalesces around a particular person we want to recognize, I'd be open to that," Burt said.