New York Public Library Main Branch
New York Public Library Main Branch
|Location||Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street, New York, NY|
|Architect||Carrère and Hastings|
|Architectural style||Beaux Arts|
|NRHP Reference #||66000546|
|Added to NRHP||October 15, 1966|
|Designated NHL||December 21, 1965|
|Designated NYCL||January 11, 1967|
The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of the New York Public Library, more widely known as the Main Branch or simply as "the New York Public Library," is the flagship building in the New York Public Library system and a prominent historic landmark in Midtown Manhattan. The branch, opened in 1911, is one of four research libraries in the library system. It currently contains area of 646,680 square feet (60,079 m2) and 4 stories open to public. The main entrance steps are on Fifth Avenue opposite East 41st Street.
The Library's famous Rose Main Reading Room (Room 315) is a majestic 78 by 297 feet (24 by 91 m), with 52-foot (16 m)-high ceilings. The room is lined with thousands of reference works on open shelves along the floor level and along the balcony, lit by massive windows and grand chandeliers, and furnished with sturdy wood tables, comfortable chairs, and brass lamps. It is also equipped with computers providing access to library collections and the Internet as well as docking facilities for laptops. Readers study books brought to them from the library's closed stacks. There are special rooms named for notable authors and scholars, many of whom have done important research and writing at the Library. But the Library has always been about more than scholars; during the Great Depression, many members of the general public, out of work, used the Library to improve their lot in life, as they still do.
The building was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966, and designated a New York City Landmark in 1967. It was renamed in 2008 after businessman Stephan A. Schwarzman.
Marble on the library building is about three feet thick, and the building is Vermont marble and brick all the way through. The exterior is 20,000 blocks of stone, each one numbered in preparation for a renovation announced in 2007. It stretches 390 feet along Fifth Avenue.
Two stone lions (made of Tennessee marble) lie at either side of the stairway to the entrance. The famous pair guarding the entrance were sculpted by Edward Clark Potter. Their original names, "Leo Astor" and "Leo Lenox" (in honor of the library's founders) were transformed into Lord Astor and Lady Lenox (although both lions are male), and in the 1930s they were nicknamed "Patience" and "Fortitude" by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, who chose the names because he felt that the citizens of New York would need to possess these qualities to see themselves through the Great Depression. Patience is on the south side (the left as one faces the main entrance) and Fortitude on the north.
Before the end pavilions are flagpoles, whose sculpted bronze bases designed by Thomas Hastings in 1912 were realized by the sculptor Raffaele Menconi, who often worked closely with New York architects of the Beaux-Arts generation and had a deft command of the 16th-century Italian Mannerist classical idiom that was required by Hasting's design. The bronzes were cast at Tiffany Studios in Long Island City. They were rededicated to New York's former Reform mayor, John Purroy Mitchell.
The consolidation of several libraries into the New York Public Library in 1901, along with the large Tilden bequest and the Carnegie donation, allowed for the creation of an enormous library system befitting the nation's largest city, but the founders also wanted an imposing main branch. A prominent, central site for it was available at the two-block section of Fifth avenue between 40th and 42nd streets, then occupied by the Croton Reservoir, which was obsolete and no longer needed; traces of the old reservoir still exist on the library floor, though. Dr. John Shaw Billings who was named first director of the New York Public Library seized the opportunity. He knew exactly what he wanted there. His design for the new library became the basis of the landmark building that became the central Research Library (now known as the Humanities and Social Science Library) on Fifth Avenue.
Billings's plan called for a huge reading room on top of seven floors of bookstacks combined with the fastest system for getting books into the hands of those who requested to read them. Following a competition among the city's most famous architects, the relatively unknown firm of Carrère and Hastings was selected to design and construct the new library. The result, regarded as the apex of Beaux-Arts design, was the largest marble structure up to that time in the United States. The cornerstone was laid in May 1902.
Work progressed slowly but steadily on the library, which eventually cost $9 million to build. During the summer of 1905, huge columns were put into place and work on the roof was begun. By the end of 1906, the roof was finished and the designers commenced five years of interior work. In 1910, 75 miles of shelves were installed to house the collections that were set to make their home there, with plenty of space left for future acquisitions. It took a whole year to move and install the books that were in the Astor and Lenox libraries.
On May 23, 1911, the main branch of the New York Public Library was officially opened. The ceremony was presided over by President William Howard Taft and was attended by Governor John Alden Dix and Mayor William Jay Gaynor.
The following day, May 24, the public was invited. The response was sensational. Tens of thousands thronged to the Library's "jewel in the crown." The opening day collection consisted of more than 1,000,000 volumes. The New York Public Library instantly became one of the nation's largest libraries and a vital part of the intellectual life of America. True to Dr. Billings' plan, library records for that day show that one of the very first items called for was N. I. Grot's Nravstvennye idealy nashego vremeni ("Ethical Ideas of Our Time") a study of Friedrich Nietzsche and Leo Tolstoy. The reader filed his slip at 9:08 a.m. and received his book just six minutes later.
Growth and renovation
Over the decades, the research collection grew until, by the 1970s, it was clear that eventually the collection would outgrow the existing structure. So, it was decided to make the library bigger by burrowing under the west side of Bryant Park. In the 1980s the central research library added more than 125,000 square feet (11,600 m2) of space and literally miles of bookshelf space to its already vast storage capacity to make room for future acquisitions. This expansion required a major construction project in which Bryant Park, directly west of the library, was closed to the public and excavated. The new library facilities were built below ground level. The park was then restored on top of the underground facilities and re-opened to the public.
In the three decades before 2007, the building's interior was gradually renovated. In December 2005, the Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division space, with richly carved wood, marble, and metalwork, was restored.
On December 20, 2007, the library announced that it would undertake a three-year, $50 million renovation of the building exterior, which has suffered damage from weathering and automobile exhaust. The Vermont marble structure and the sculpture elements on it were to be cleaned, 3,000 cracks were to be repaired, and restoration work would also be done on the roof, stairs, and plazas. All of the work was scheduled to be completed by the centennial in 2011. New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, on behalf of the library, asked the mayor of Paris to lend to New York the services of François Jousse, the city engineer responsible for lighting Paris' monuments, structures and official buildings. Library director Paul LeClerc said in 2007 that "my ambition is for this to be the building you simply must see in New York at nighttime because it is so beautiful and it is so important."
As of 2004, streaks were already blackening the white marble and pollution and moisture were corroding the ornamental statuary, causing architectural details to erode, including the edges of cornices and features on carved faces. "Tiny particles of rubber scattered by passing car tires have accumulated on the building, mixing gradually with water to turn the marble into gypsum, which causes the outer layer to crumble in a sugaring effect," according to an article in The New York Times.
By late 2007, library officials had not yet decided whether to try to restore damaged sculptural elements or just clean and "stabilize" them. Cleaning would be done either with lasers or by applying poultices and peeling them off.
In 2008, the library announced that the main branch building would be renamed in honor of Stephen A. Schwarzman, in recognition of his agreement to donate $100 million toward the renovation and expansion of the building.
In May 2014, one of the "gilded-plaster rosettes" in the ceiling of the Rose Main Reading Room fell to the floor 50 feet below. The NYPL closed the Rose Main Reading Room and the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room for renovations. The $12 million restoration project included "recreating and replacing the rosette that fell, reinforcing each rosette with steel cables, and installing LED lighting." The NYPL commissioned EverGreene Architectural Arts to recreate the mural in the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room, which had "suffered irreparable discoloration, overpainting and water damage" during its 105-year history. The NYPL also installed a $2.6 million book delivery system, using a conveyor belt and 24 book carts that could each carry up to 30 pounds through the library's 11 levels. The restored Rose Main Reading Room and Bill Blass Public Catalog Room reopened October 5, 2016.
Leading up to the Main Branch, on 41st Street between Park and Fifth Avenues, is a series of plaques known as Library Way. Library Way comprises a series of illustrated bronze sidewalk plaques featuring quotes from famous authors, poets, and other notables. It features 48 unique plaques in all, duplicated (to thus total 96 plaques) embedded along the north and the south sides of 41st Street The Wall Street Journal reports: "The quotes were selected during the 1990s by a panel that included representatives from the library; the Grand Central Partnership, which manages the Grand Central Business Improvement District; and the New Yorker magazine. And the plaques, which are graphically intriguing in their own right, were designed by Gregg LeFevre." Brochures are available at the Friends of the Library counter on the first floor of the New York Public Library (41st Street and Fifth Avenue). 
Library Way is one block north of the Mid-Manhattan Library, located at 455 Fifth Avenue (at 40th Street). Granite plaques have also been placed in the sidewalks of lower Broadway in honor of ticker-tape parades held there in the past. In the garment district from 39th to 41st Street on Broadway, plaques commemorate fashion designers including Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and Geoffrey Beene.
In popular culture
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The building has frequently appeared or been referenced in artistic, literary, and cultural works.
It was featured in the 1978 film The Wiz when Dorothy and Toto stumble across it, one of its lions comes to life, and joins them on their journey out of Oz. It was a major location in the 2004 apocalyptic science fiction film The Day After Tomorrow. It is also featured prominently in the 1984 film Ghostbusters, when a librarian in the basement reports seeing a ghost which becomes violent when approached. Additionally, the building is featured as a wedding venue in the 2008 film Sex and the City. It was also prominently featured in the 2011 film The Adjustment Bureau.
Other films in which the library appears include 42nd Street (1933), Portrait of Jennie (1948), Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), You're a Big Boy Now (1966), A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969), Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), Chapter Two (1979), Escape from New York (1981), Regarding Henry (1991), The Thomas Crown Affair (1999), and The Time Machine (2002).
In television, the library was featured in the "The Library" episode of Seinfeld, in which Cosmo Kramer dates a librarian there, Jerry Seinfeld is accosted by a library cop named Mr. Bookman for late fees, and George Costanza encounters his high school gym teacher living homeless on its stairs. It is the setting for much of "The Persistence of Memory," the eleventh part of Carl Sagan's Cosmos TV series.
The Library also appears in literature. Lynne Sharon Schwartz's Writing on the Wall (2005) features a language researcher at NYPL who grapples with her past following the September 11 attacks. Cynthia Ozick's novel Heir to the Glimmering World (2004) set just prior to World War II, involves a scholar who has fled from Nazi Germany researching the Karaite Jews at NYPL. Matthew Reilly's novel Contest (1996) sets an intergalactic gladiatorial fight in the NYPL, resulting in the building's total destruction.
Lawrence Blochman's Death Walks in Marble Halls (1942) features a murder committed using a brass spindle from a catalog drawer. Jane Smiley's Duplicate Keys (1984), also a murder mystery, featured an NYPL librarian who stumbles upon two bodies of people who died in 1930. Allen Kurzweil's novel The Grand Complication (2001) is the story of an NYPL librarian whose research skills are put to work finding a missing museum object.
Several poems involve the Library, including E. B. White's "A Library Lion Speaks" and "Reading Room" in Poems and Sketches of E.B. White (1981); Richard Eberhart's "Reading Room, The New York Public Library," in Collected Poems, 1930-1986 (1988); and Lawrence Ferlinghetti's "Library Scene, Manhattan," in How to Paint Sunlight (2001). Excerpts from several of the many memoirs and essays mentioning the New York Public Library are included in the anthology Reading Rooms (1991), including reminiscences by Alfred Kazin, Henry Miller, and Kate Simon.
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- Robin Pogrebin (23 October 2008). "British Architect to Redesign City Library". New York Times.
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- Norman Oder (22 December 2011). "'Upheaval at the New York Public Library'? At the Least, Some Clouds Over Transformation Plan". Library Journal website.
- Robin Pogrebin (16 February 2012). "Ambitions Rekindled at Public Library". New York Times.
- "Controversy at the New York Public Library". The Leonard Lopate Show. WNYC. 12 March 2012.
- Caleb Crain (15 March 2012). "Build More Deliberately". Steamboats Are Ruining Everything.
- Scott McLemee (28 March 2012). "Stop Cultural Vandalism". Inside Higher Ed.
- Anthony Grafton (2 April 2012). "A Tale of Two Libraries and a Revolution". The Daily Princetonian.
- Christopher Shea (4 April 2012). "The Changing Culture of the New York Public Library". Ideas Market, a blog of the Wall Street Journal.
- Brian Braiker (6 April 2012). "New York Public Library's plan to take books off shelves worries scholars". The Guardian.
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- Jennifer Maloney (9 April 2012). "Libraries Rethink Their Role in City". Wall Street Journal.
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- Robin Pogrebin (15 April 2012). "Library Chief Defends Plan to Renovate". New York Times.
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