The Landa Branch Library celebrated its 70th birthday with a recent face-lift. The book repository, located in a stately old mansion on lush grounds in the Monte Vista Historic District, reopened in September after being closed three months for extensive renovations.

The job cost about $825,000, and included a complete exterior restoration of the landmark building at 233 Bushnell Ave., as well new furniture, upgrades and paint inside.

“With this renovation, we brought the library back to great shape and stayed with the historical aspects of the building and the area,” said Kiyanna Stephens, manager of the Landa, which is part of the San Antonio Public Library system.

The library has become a community gathering site, not just for the neighborhood but for folks from across the city.

“It is such a special place,” said Melody Hull, president-elect of the Monte Vista Historical Association, a neighborhood group dedicated to preserving the area’s architectural integrity.

“You see people from all walks of life,” she added. “That diversity is one of the greatest things about Monte Vista – there are huge, big, gracious residences, and little bitty homes and (government-subsidized) housing. And everybody is welcome at the Landa.”

The history of the Landa is rooted in a very personal love story.

The first chapters are told by the man who built the home, Harry Landa, in his memoir, “This I Remember.” Library patrons, neighbors and volunteers have continued the story through the years. Stephens documented some of it in a special video scrapbook she created for the library’s anniversary.

The saga started 90 years ago, when San Antonio rancher and businessman Harry Landa built the home on 5 acres at Shook Avenue and Bushnell, for the love of his life – his wife, Hannah Mansfield Landa. When it opened in 1929, according to the Sunday San Antonio Light of that year, the home was a showcase, inside and out.

Designed by prominent architect Robert B. Kelly, it cost more than $500,000, and featured custom-built Italian marble and tile elements, crystal chandeliers and European fine art. The 4 acres of landscaped gardens were the setting for magnificent soirees.

When his wife died in 1942, Harry Landa could not bear to live in the house alone, according to Stephens.

In 1946, he deeded the grand estate to the city as the Hannah Landa Memorial Library and Children’s Playground. In April 1947, the doors of the new library opened.

In 1995, the MVHA and the city signed an agreement to establish the organization’s office in an annex building.

But while the city maintained the building and grounds, the elaborate playground Landa envisioned never quite materialized, until a group of neighbors formed the Landa Library Alliance in the early 1990s.

After six years of fundraising, a playground with slides, swings and separate areas for children and toddlers was complete.

In 2001, the Alliance and the MVHA formed a Landa Gardens Committee, which became the nonprofit Landa Gardens Conservancy.

An ambitious landscaping plan was drawn up, including the faux bois Valero Pavilion by concrete artist Carlo Cortes. In 2008, after raising more than $1.5 million the gardens were formally opened, with more than 7,000 new plants and a beautiful community garden.

One comment on “Landa library: A love story for the books

  • This was a most interesting and informative article. I visited the library over 20 years ago; memorabilia was still being organized, I think. I visited the library as a little boy, accompanied by my even younger sister, and mother, and met ” Uncle Harry”. My mother’s maiden name was Mansfeld, and was a niece, or grand-niece, of Hanna (Mansfeld) Landa. The City is fortunate in having both Mansion and Park in the midst of the city.

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