The opening ceremonies started at 11 a.m. and lasted for about an hour. All sorts of dignitaries were seated on the platform, and many of them spoke. The event was presided over by Mayor pro tem Todd Gloria.
The gay men’s chorus warmed up the crowd as if they needed any warming on such a beautiful sunny San Diego day. The navy band did their John Philip Sousa thing and the children’s choir sang the national anthem.
It was announced that the new library was totally paid for after the funding came down to the wire. A few months ago they were $20 million short. Joan and Irwin Jacobs, having given $20 million previously to get the ball rolling, came up with another $10 million in the form of a challenge grant. In other words they challenged their rich friends to come up with the remaining $10 million. That they almost did until a day or so before the opening festivities when they realized they were still $1.2 million short. Finally, at the last minute, Darlene Shiley donated the last $1.2 million. She received a nice ovation from the crowd as did Dr. Irwin Jacobs.
All in all 40 percent of the costs were donated from more than 3,000 private individuals, certainly a record for a public project of this kind. This historic level of private support means the library was built with no new taxes, bonds or even one cent of San Diego’s General Fund money.
Turner Construction Project Manager Carmen Vann, the woman overseeing construction of the new library, spoke of the remarkable safety record for this project. There was not one accident that caused a time delay, and all 1100 workers returned intact and safely to their families. Carmen is the only female construction project executive in San Diego County.
Architect Rob Quigley spoke as well. It was mentioned that an award had been received just the day before for the structural engineering of the dome which was certainly a feat in and of itself.
At nearly 500,000 square feet and nine stories, the library includes a 350 seat auditorium, a three story domed reading room, a 9100 square foot children’s room, a teen center, a technology center and a multi-purpose room. It also features an outdoor garden courtyard, a cafe and 250 parking spaces on two levels. A charter high school will occupy 76,000 square feet on the sixth and seventh floors of the building.
The last speaker was Dr. Irwin Jacobs without whose donations this new library, a project 30 years in the making, would not have been possible. He explained that his wife Joan could not attend the event due to the fact that she had had recent back surgery and was not feeling up to snuff.
He explained the naming of the new library as “The San Diego Public Library” with a subtitle of sorts: @ the Joan (upside down “V”) Irwin Jacobs Common. The @ everybody who has email is familiar with by now, but the upside down “V” probably makes sense to no one but a few math majors. In logic the upside down “V” means “and,” while the right side up “V” means “or”. This use of symbols is probably too clever by half. If you get it wrong and since nobody has an upside down “V” on their keyboard, it could be taken to mean “at the Joan or Irwin Jacobs Common.”
Well, comedians will have fun with this one. Jacobs explained that he was from Boston and the use of the word “Common” was akin to the Boston Common, a meeting place for the people. He hoped that this new central library would be a meeting place for the people of San Diego.
A word about Joan and Irwin Jacobs. They are San Diego’s foremost benefactors having saved or contributed to many local institutions and enterprises. For instance, they are responsible for saving the San Diego symphony with a $100 million donation. Note that even though he made most of the money as the founder of Qualcomm, San Diego’s largest employer, his wife’s name always goes first on all the naming rights, a gentlemanly gesture to be sure.
Dr. Jacobs has gotten some bad press lately due to the Plaza de Panama project which would have removed vehicular traffic from Balboa Park and converted thousands of acres of asphalt to parkland. San Diego mayoral candidate and preservationist Bruce Coons was his chief antagonist. Full disclosure: Jacobs was my graduate advisor over 40 years ago at UCSD where he started out in San Diego as a professor, and I remain a fan of his, something I may not share with some of my San Diego Free Press colleagues.
While I don’t agree with Jacobs on everything, I have a lot of admiration for someone that has created employment for many San Diegans, started a Fortune 400 company, and given back to the citizens of San Diego as a prolific philanthropist. The guy is brilliant, a hard worker and very sociable. He doesn’t take himself too seriously and has retained his sense of humor.
While I don’t envy him for his money, I am somewhat envious of the ball he’s having giving much of it away. Nobody seemed to enjoy the goings on at the opening festivities for the new San Diego Central Library more than Dr. Irwin Jacobs. We wish his wife Joan a speedy recovery.