Z. J. Loussac Library was named after Zachariah Joshua Loussac, an early resident of Anchorage who fled Tsarist Russia to start a drugstore in the Territory of Alaska. Loussac turned to philanthropy in the early 1940s and served two terms as mayor of Anchorage. His foundation, the Loussac Foundation, provided the money for a public library, which was located the 500 block of West Fifth Avenue in downtown Anchorage from 1952 to 1981, when it was demolished for the construction of the William A. Egan Civic and Convention Center.
A new Loussac library opened in 1986 in midtown Anchorage at Denali Street and 36th Avenue, about three miles from its former downtown location. Built as part of the Project 80s buildings, the library was one of the Project 80s buildings and provided Anchorage with a new and much larger space. The Loussac library is mostly light brown brick with concrete trim. It has a glass-roofed entrance at the second level and defines its important spaces with massive cylinders. The building consists of three cylinders linked together and with a square block at one end. What could have been an attractive and functional building was severely harmed by cost-cutting measures taken to maintain the $41 million budget of this capital improvement fund project.
Environmental Concern, Inc. (ECI), of Spokane won a two-phase design competition for the library in the early 1980s. The firm originally designed the building with a parking garage to have second-level access to the library. When the garage was eliminated in order to cut costs, the architects proposed a raised parking lot so that entrance would still be at the second level. That too was abandoned, and as a result the library has no obvious entrance except an exterior stairway to the second-level entrance that is hazardous in winter. However, between 2017 and 2018 the library underwent a renovation to make the entrance more accessible and redesign the circulation area.
On the first floor, the Anchorage Assembly Chambers occupy one of the cylinders, and a public auditorium another; each is two stories tall. Entrance is underneath the stairway, off a service road. Between the three cylinders, the second and third floors of the library are open, appealing spaces, with part of the third overlooking the second, while the fourth is mostly restricted to staff. At the third level, there used to be an Alaska Room, a space that housed rare manuscript collections, maps, and ephemera related to the history of Southcentral Alaska; this also served as a quiet reading room. It was reached by a skybridge that is wide enough to accommodate a lounge. Since it occupied the third cylinder, the Alaska Room profited from controlled access. The third floor consists of a balcony; the reference section of the Alaska Room was on the second floor, while the first, mostly underground, was restricted to staff. But as of 2019, the Alaska Room has been repurposed to a more general public gathering space, and the artifacts and material formerly held in the Alaska room have been integrated into the library’s general collections.
Although the library has a spacious site, it faces south toward the parking lot and away from the main thoroughfare of 36th Avenue. While this ensures more direct sunlight, the building is not easily reached by pedestrians and is confusing to motorists. Due to its lack of an accessible entrance, the library was initially resented by taxpayers who felt that too much money was spent on an ill-designed building and not enough on its book collection. The cost of the renovations and the decision to close the Alaska Room in the more recent years have also drawn controversy. Still the library serves as a public gathering space, hosts lectures and performances, and provides internet access for underserved members of the community.
Wohlforth, Charles. From the Shores of Ship Creek: Stories of Anchorage's First Hundred Years. Anchorage, AK: Todd Communications, 2015.