Henry Miller Library Needs Help for Upgrades

Jun 22, 2012

For more than thirty years, the Henry Miller library has been a living memorial to the late author, artist and Big Sur resident.  Today the Library needs some structural improvements, and the public’s help. 

At a bend in the road along Highway One in Big Sur, the Henry Miller Library sits behind redwood trees and a wooden gate.  The house turned bookstore and cultural center once belonged to Emil White.  Thirty years ago, he made it a living memorial to his longtime friend Henry Miller.  Today the Library has the same mission, and a motto.  “Fundamentally nothing happens at the library,” said Magnus Toren, the Library’s Executive Director.  “It’s kind of a mindset.  I think in a sense the most important thing about the library, in a way and the most important thing about Big Sur as an area, is actually the nothing.  The sense of getting away from the hustle bustle of the outside world,” he continued.   So on the average day you can sit on the patio, sip coffee and listen to birds chirp.

And then there are days where a lot actually does happen at library.    Film screenings on the front lawn, author book signings in the store, and live music.  This cultural center has become a destination for artists in search of an intimate venue,  including some big names like Philip Glass, Marianne Faithful and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.   The Library also recently caught the attention of Monterey County.  It turns out the non-profit does not have enough restrooms for the crowds its attracting.  It has two, but needs “four seats and a urinal.  It’s the reality.  That would accommodate 200 people capacity,” said Toren.  So in order to make sure the Library doesn’t truly become a place where nothing happens,  Toren has to raise $140,000 by this Fall for the bathroom and water system remodel. “Once that’s done we are going to have a nice carrying capacity.  And we are going to be able to continue and establish the place as a cultural center here in Big Sur that’s going to be sustainable. And that’s kind of my dream,” said Toren.  

For the first time in its thirty year history, the library has launched a capital improvement fundraising campaign to raise that money.   And it’s also turned to some of those big name artists.  This Monday (June 25th) Philip Glass and Joanna Newsom will perform a benefit concert at the Warfield  in San Francisco.  To alleviate the problem in the short term, one of the Library’s signature events is being held  in town.  This summer the Big Sur International Short Film Screening Series has been taking place at on Wednesdays at Carmel’s Forest Theater and will finish the summer at the Monterey Museum.  Screenings continue Thursdays in Big Sur.  “So that the people who usually came all the way down to Big Sur on Thursday night theoretically won’t come down, so we lessen the amount of people that are at the screenings on Thursday nights,” said Toren.  It’s worked out for regulars like Penny Slater of Monterey.  “I had mixed feelings. It’s like I wasn’t going to be going down to Big Sur, but it was close by.  I was like what am I talking about.  It’s here in my own backyard,” said Slater.

Drew Carlson and Diana Ballantyne of Big Sur’s Fernwood Resort drove up for the Wednesday screening.  They plan to hold their own fundraiser to support the library.  “We’re going to do a poker and ping pong tournament to raise money for the library.  And hopefully get the whole community involved with giving donations to a raffle, and see how much money we can raise,” said Ballantyne.  Carlson added, “it’s an important part of the community.  I mean one of the great things that they did fairly recent was a fundraiser for the Gazebo School for the preschool.  You know that’s one of the only places you can take your toddler in Big Sur if you need childcare.  And they did a great fundraiser there.”   

So far, the Henry Miller Library’s own fundraiser  has raised $15,000 of the $140,000 needed.  The remodel has to be done by 2013.