Tragic history for sale at downtown library auction

Mid-century chairs and homeless tables go on the block

Librarian Clara Breed said the internment of Japanese Americans was wrong while the San Diego Union said the incarcerated citizens would enjoy "plenty of food" and "quiet scenic surroundings."
  • Librarian Clara Breed said the internment of Japanese Americans was wrong while the San Diego Union said the incarcerated citizens would enjoy "plenty of food" and "quiet scenic surroundings."

Thousands of items of San Diego bibliophilic history are headed for the auction block this coming Saturday, June 11, at the old downtown library at 820 E St.

"The Historic San Diego Central Library — 3 Floors Of Merchandise!!" says the online flier by AAA Public Auction.

Auction flier

Auction flier

"Mid Century Office Furniture — Shelving — Bookcases — Book Carts — Desks — Chairs — Showcases — HUGE Movie Collection — Cabinets — Waiting Room Furniture — Electronics — Flag Poles — Tanker Desks — Display Cabinets — File Cabinets — Card Files — Stacking Chairs — And Much More."

Not everyone has been a fan of the furniture.

"What is a library without chairs?" one patron observed in January 2012.

"And what warm infectious chairs are offered here. A chair after having been couched in by a man who, by the nose, has not showered in a week, is no longer an innocent chair. It offends the imagination, and brings to mind horrible images of disease, lice, and parasitic worms."

Another library regular expressed a different point of view that October:

"Since becoming homeless I've developed some health problems. The Central Library was a place of refuge for me, where I could lose myself in the writings of my literary heroes Dostoevsky, Hamsun, Chekov, Tolstoy and Conrad. Recently I was told that I could no longer enter the library because I had too many things. I had the same amount of possessions that I've always had; it was just condensed into a rolling duffel bag — a gift from a dear friend down at the harbor who was just trying to make life a little easier for me.

He concluded, "Now I'm learning to do without books and internet access, along with not enough food or sleep."

George Lincoln Rockwell

George Lincoln Rockwell

Contrary to legend, George Lincoln Rockwell, the assassinated mid-20th century American Nazi leader once billeted at Coronado during the Korean War, did not discover Hitler's Mein Kampf in one of the stacks soon to go up for bid.

"I hunted around the San Diego book shops and finally found a copy of Mein Kampf, hidden away in the rear. I bought it, took it home and sat down to read. And that was the end of Lincoln Rockwell as the 'nice guy', the dumb 'Goy' and the beginning of an entirely different person," wrote Rockwell in his autobiography, This Time the World.”

Rockwell did visit San Diego's main public library of the era, its temporary headquarters in the Casa del Prado Building.

"I went over to the San Diego Public Library in Balboa Park and dug around in the volumes mentioned in Common Sense. Down there in the dark stacks of the library, I got awakening from thirty years of stupid political sleep, the same deadly sleep now closing the eyes of our people and making them cooperate with their enemies in their own destruction — all in the name of ‘good citizenship.’”

The old central library opened in 1954, replacing the Carnegie grant-funded library built on the same spot in 1909. Clara Breed, city librarian from 1946 to 1970, played a key role in planning the new building and choosing its furnishings.

Breed was a hero to Japanese-Americans for speaking out against their World War II internment by the U.S. government at a time when widespread local sentiment favored their forced removal.

The San Diego Union wrote in March 1942 that the internees were "merely a large group of tourists journeying from one part of the country to another."

The camps, said the report, would “give their new residents an opportunity to develop their talents. Comfortable living quarters, plenty of food...quiet scenic surroundings, place many of them in a far better location...than the ones which they are leaving.”

Wrote Breed, "Bombs have not yet fallen on San Diego, but the war has touched us just the same. On April 7, four months to the day from Pearl Harbor, our 2,500 Japanese residents were evacuated.”

She continued, “In fourteen years of children’s library work in one community, you make close friendships, and watch seven-year-old boys grow up to twenty-one and five-year-old girls become nineteen, and you take an undeserved personal pride in their strength and youth and courage. December 7 was a blow to everyone, but to the young Japanese-Americans ‘it was as if the world fell about our ears.’”

On departure day for the internees, Breed went to the Santa Fe Depot. "The station was packed, the platform overflowing," she told Library Journal in June 1942.

"There was no confusion, not a baby cried, not a child whined, not a voice was lifted in complaint. The Japanese do not dramatize emotion, but grief was there, not less genuine because it was hidden. It was home they were leaving and it is not easy to surrender one’s liberty. There were so many tiny children there. It was a heartbreaking experience just to see them.”

Breed, who died in 1994 at the age of 88, rallied librarians across the country to provide books to internment-camp libraries. She was inducted into the California Library Hall of Fame in 2014.

Doors open at 9 a.m. Saturday for a two-hour library-sale preview before the auction begins at 11, according to the announcement.

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Thanks Matt Potter, for this important segue from San Diego Library furniture auction to the remembrance of San Diego's distinguished children's librarian Clara Breed who worked to help Japanese-Americans who were interned by the government and unconstitutionally deprived of their property, their livelihoods, their liberty and the "pursuit of happiness" guaranteed us all by the Bill of Rights. Executive Order 9066 in 1942 was a dark period in our history for which reparations were paid to victims' families only years later. I am glad to know about Clara Breed.

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