With independent bookstores dropping like proverbial flies, it was welcome news that Arcana — long the go-to purveyor in Los Angeles for rare and out-of-print books on art, photography, architecture, design, fashion and music, among other subjects — was not only thriving but moving from its cramped space on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica to much larger quarters in the Helms Bakery complex in Culver City. The new Arcana Books on the Arts shop opened its doors quietly a couple of weeks ago as the more than 100,000 books in stock were being shelved and the finishing touches were being put on its airy, open space.
Lee Kaplan, who founded Arcana in 1984, and who owns and runs it with his wife, Whitney, has always worked with local architects. For this incarnation of the store, he turned to Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee of Johnston Marklee. Kaplan knew Mark Lee well, since the architect, a passionate book lover, has been a regular customer for years. Johnston Marklee, with Katrin Terstegen serving as the project architect, worked closely on the build-out of the new store with Brock Mayeux of Landlocd, a design/build firm, filling the 4,500-square-foot space with rows of tall black powder-coated metal shelves that create what Lee calls a “forest of books.” “We basically took a bright, light-filled space and inserted several black boxes into it,” he explains. Two of the black boxes bridge the space between the entrance — where books and current, hard-to-find magazines are on display — and the bookshelves, with one serving as the checkout area and the other as Kaplan’s office. Cutout windows at their corners maintain the openness of the space. Since it was important to Johnston Marklee to retain some of the store’s history, they reused pieces by previous Arcana architects, including plywood bookshelves by Gary Paige and a table by Robert Mangurian and Mary Ann Ray, creating what Lee describes as “a palimpsest of the former store designs.”
Kaplan, who considers himself a caretaker of books, couldn’t be happier with the new shop. “The books can breathe and, in some ways,” he says, “it’s like starting over. With limited time and resources but unlimited creativity.” Arcana is located at 8675 Washington Boulevard in the heart of Culver City’s lively Arts District, near galleries, restaurants and theaters. On June 17, the store will host a reception for “Notes From a Revolution: Com/co, the Diggers & the Haight,” a new release from Foggy Notion Press.