Wednesday, November 10, 2010

From the Archives: The New York Public Library, Central Building

On this day, November 10, 1902, a hundred and eight years ago, the first cornerstone of the New York Public Library's Central Building was laid. One of New York City's architectural treasures, the NYPL borders Bryant Park on the east, along Fifth Avenue between 42nd and 40th Streets. It is also the former location of the Croton Distributing Reservoir.

Croton reservoir : 42nd Street... Digital ID: 465503. New York Public Library
                A pedestrian level view of the Croton Distributing Reservoir at the corner of 42nd Street and Fifth Ave.                        Photo: NYPL Digital Gallery

Croton reservoir in 1900, in p... Digital ID: 465501. New York Public Library
Overview of the reservoir, seen from the corner of Fifth Ave. and 42nd Street, 1900. Photo: NYPL Digital Gallery

Plans for the formation of a grand public library began in the late 1800s, when a group of prominent New York citizens agreed that the city, growing rapidly in population and international importance, needed a library. The site of the Croton Reservoir was chosen as the location, and a competition was announced for the building's design. The winning architects, John Merven Carrere and Thomas Hastings of architecture firm Carrere and Hastings, submitted a Beaux-Arts proposal, with a raised terrace at the rear of the building, and two comfort stations along the east end of neighboring Bryant Park (then called Reservoir Square).


[Exterior marble work : west f... Digital ID: 489442. New York Public Library
View of the west facade of the library during construction, 1903. Photo: NYPL Digital Collection


View from the construction site of the NYPL. Bryant Park, then called Reservoir Square, can be seen on the left, 1906. Photo: NYPL Digital Collection
It was the largest marble structure ever attempted in the United States, and took nine years to complete, with a cost totaling over nine million dollars. In 1906, the roof of the building was completed, and designers set to work for five additional years on the interior. Dr. John Shaw Billings, the first director of the New York Public Library, created a plan for an enormous reading room, seven floors of stacks, and an efficient retrieval system.

Interior construction, 1909. Photo: NYPL Digital Gallery


Carrere and Hastings furniture plans. Image: NYPL Digital Gallery

The main branch of the New York Public Library opened to the public on May 23, 1911.


Postcard of the NYPL showing the north and east facades. Postcard: Bryant Park Corporation / 34th Street Partnership

To read more about the history of the NYPL and its buildings, click here, and to search though historic photos on the NYPL's digital gallery, look here.


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