Thursday, January 28, 2021

The Story of the Texas Twin to the Old Lancaster Branch of the Los Angeles County Library

 In 1950, three siblings from Texas paid a visit to the Pasadena Public Library. John, Louemma and Winnie May Reber sought the advice of Doris Hoit, City Librarian of Pasadena. Could she recommend any small library buildings for them to tour? The siblings wanted to donate a library to their community of Raymondville in Willacy County, Texas and were looking for inspiration. 

        The Reber siblings (left to right): Louemma, John and Winnie May Reber [n.d]
Screenshot from Reber Memorial Library, Raymondville, Texas YouTube video [2014]

The Rebers grew up working on their family's 260-acre farm in Illinois. Those early lessons of hard work stuck with them throughout life. As an adult in his early 40s, John Reber moved to Texas for health reasons and purchased land and cattle. With the help of his sisters who also moved, they soon had a "model ranch," according to local newspaper reports. The Reber sisters helped organize a woman's club in Raymondville (Texas) and that's when the need for a library was most keenly felt. Club meetings involved presentations based on essays that members were assigned to write on a variety of topics. Without a library nearby, club members used the Reber family's set of Encyclopedia Brittanica to conduct research for their essays. The Reber siblings talked it over and offered the county $50,000 to build a library, if the county would finance the book collection, fund the personnel and run the library. County officials agreed. Fast forward to the Rebers on their library exploratory trip in Southern California during the summer of 1950.

Ms. Hoit suggested they visit the newly dedicated Los Angeles County Branch Library in Lancaster on Fig Avenue. This library was in service from April 1950 until a new Lancaster Library (on Avenue J at Kingtree) was built in 1964. The Rebers were impressed with the Lancaster Library. They contacted the County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors for permission to use the library's plans and specifications in order to build the Reber Memorial Library in Texas. The architects of the library, [Robert Farquhar] Train and [Robert George] Smith, were also consulted.

Los Angeles County Library, Lancaster Branch 
opened April 1950 on Fig Avenue
(Photo: County of Los Angeles Public Library History/LA County Library Digital Collections)

A plaque that once graced the front entrance of the Lancaster Library, also known as the Antelope Valley Regional Library, attests to the determination of women's clubs to champion libraries.
(Photo: County of Los Angeles Public Library History/LA County Library Digital Collections)

The Reber siblings were in luck, the consulted parties said yes. Soon they were back in Raymondville to begin library construction. While I could not find an exact date, I believe the library opened in July 1951. The Rebers were happy that the community took so quickly to the library. For example, individuals and organizations in the area donated books to fill the library's shelves. The Rebers also praised Mrs. J.S. Robinson, the librarian, for her wonderful work as evidenced by "the happy youngsters [at the library] for one of the story teller's hours." The Rebers saw the library as their legacy. Not only does the building's cornerstone announce their gift 'Given to the people of Willacy County and their children,' but a newspaper article in 1955 describes a large cherry wood grandfather clock made by Jacob Reber, the sibling's grandfather, that would also be left to the library.

Reber Memorial Library at 193 N. 4th Street, Raymondville, Texas
Built in 1951 using the same plans as the Fig Avenue location of the 
Los Angeles County (CA) Public  Library,  Lancaster Branch. Train and Smith, architects.

Cornerstone of the Reber Memorial Library in Raymondville, Texas

The folks in Los Angeles seemed pleased as well, according to the October/November 1951 Los Angeles County Library staff newsletter. The Los Angeles County Librarian, John D. Henderson, flew out to Texas on November 2 to tour the new library building in Raymondville. "The full day November 3 was spent with the Librarian, the special trustees appointed to oversee the construction of the building, and the Library Advisory Board discussing procedures and policies, as well as budget, that should provide an adequate public library service for the 10,000 residents of Raymondville and the additional 10,000 residences of Willacy County." Mr. Henderson was impressed with Texas hospitality and the "splendid building which the Reber family provided for their community." It seems that a segment of the flight home was a high point as well--- as the only passenger Mr. Henderson was allowed to ride in the cockpit and enjoyed a good cigar with the co-pilot.

Los Angeles County Librarian John D. Henderson (3rd from left) visits the Reber Memorial Library.
Valley Morning Star [Harlingen, TX], November 7, 1951

So many questions! Why did the Rebers travel to Southern California to look at small libraries? Who did they speak to besides Doris Hoit? What other libraries did Ms. Hoit suggest besides Lancaster? Did the library receive the Reber's grandfather clock and do they still have it? I've called the Reber Memorial Library several times to find out but a message says their hours are reduced due to the pandemic and to call back later. 


"County Librarian Flies Again." News Letter Los Angeles County Library, October-November 1951, p. 3.

Hendry, A.B. "Reber Family 'Builds' Library in Raymondville." Valley Morning Star [Harlingen, TX], 7 Jan 1955, p. 13.

News Letter Los Angeles County Library, January 1951, p. 4.

"Visits Reber Memorial Library." Valley Morning Star [Harlingen, TX], 7 JNov 1951, p. 3.

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