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Commentary: Put Lucille Kuehn's name somewhere on the library

November 19, 2013|By William Lobdell

An appropriate tribute to the late Lucille Kuehn, one of the most important women in Newport Beach's 106-year history, would be to name something in her honor at the Central Library.

Lucille, who passed away peacefully last week at 89, was the unrelenting force behind the construction of the world-class Central Library. Some part of that building — or a garden area, which she would have loved, being an avid gardener — should bear her name along a brief description of her importance to all Newport library lovers.

A Newport Beach resident since 1959, the bibliophile always felt that her adopted hometown deserved a library that reflected the affluence and sophistication of its community.

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In 1974, she successfully ran for City Council on a platform to improve Newport Beach's decidedly modest libraries. As a council member, she talked the Irvine Co. into donating 2 acres of vacant land in Newport Center to build a 10,000-square-foot main branch library.

The town soon outgrew that facility (now part of the Orange County Art Museum). Lucille — tough and feisty and used to getting her way — took the city's inferior main branch as an insult to all of Newport. She again approached the Irvine Co. and asked that it donate a larger piece of land for a central library worthy of Newport Beach. Irvine Co. Chairman Donald Bren gave the city a large chunk of land on Avocado Avenue.

Lucille continued to work with like-minded volunteers — really a dream team of Newport Beach movers and shakers — to make the new Central Library a reality during a time when the country was still recession-shocked, and critics wondered why Newport Beach should spend $10 million ($2 million was raised privately) on a library that featured marble imported from Italian quarries.

Now, the $10-million price tag seems like a bargain for one of Newport's most beloved and well-used institutions.

In 1994, at the grand opening of the 54,000-square-foot Central Library, I kept glancing over at Lucille, who repeatedly dabbed at the tears welling up in her eyes. She was a proud momma.

Lucille contributed much more to our community than just the Central Library. Her intelligence, work ethic, passion and sense of civic duty put her in leadership roles at a variety of local institutions, including UC Irvine, Orange County League of Women Voters, South Coast Repertory, the Orange County Grand Jury and the Orange County Art Museum.

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