Thursday, May 31, 2012

20th Anniversary: The Reading Room Appears in 2003

When we last left the history of Bryant Park, the original “Open Air Library” had closed in 1942, a victim of the nation’s growing prosperity and involvement in World War II. Remember, the original concept had been to give unemployed workers and intellectuals a place to go during the day. Once the nation had ramped up for war and achieved full employment, it was decided that the need for the al fresco facility had passed.

Fast forward 60 eventful years, through which the fortunes of Bryant Park gradually ebbed, hit rock bottom in the late 1970’s, began to recover in 1980 with the formation of the Bryant Park Corporation, and ascended to new heights with the 1992 reopening of the park after a complete renovation.

In 2003, BPC decided to bring back the concept of a place where people could come and read al fresco for no charge. The motivation was somewhat different than in the 1930’s. The birth of the Bryant Park Reading Room sponsored by HSBC was due to the success of the park, not to the failure of the economy. Paul Romero, Director of Tourism and Visitor Services, was charged with running the Reading Room, and HBSC Bank provided sponsorship that has lasted until present day. The grand opening ceremony, at which NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe spoke (see photo), drew the attention of the New York Times.  

The Reading Room was originally just about books and periodicals, with a collection of 300 volumes and 100 magazines and newspapers. In its second year, though, BPC introduced the three original Word for Word series, including Author, StoryTime, and Kids. Authors appearing that year included Candace Bushnell (Sex in the City), Simon Winchester, and Penn Gillette. In 2005, the Reading Room hosted Poem in Your Pocket for the first time, and ever since, this celebration of verse has kicked off the Word for Word season each April. After eight years of growth and adjustments, Word for Word is now the city’s premiere outdoor literary series, with 10 categories including Author, BookClub, Kids, Non-Fiction, Poetry, Reel Talks, StoryTelling, StoryTime, Writers, and Writers Teens. There are 85 Word for Word events scheduled at the Reading Room in 2012.

Along with being an instant hit with the public, the Reading Room was honored with a 2004 Neighborhood Achievement Award from the International Downtown Association (IDA), and a 2004 Neighborhood Development Achievement Award from the NYC Department of Small Business Services. In 2008, IDA added a Downtown Achievement Award for the Word for Word series.          

It’s difficult now to imagine Bryant Park without The Reading Room, but we by no means take its success for granted. Its success is due to dedicated management by BPC’s Paul Romero, Quentin Robbins, Susie Sigel, and Nancy Ng, and the hard work performed by our energetic and friendly operating staff. We also have the generous support of an amazing array of sponsors to thank, including HSBC Bank USA, Oxford University Press, Scholastic, Mitchell’s NY, our retail partner Kinokuniya, the Gotham Writers Workshop, the New-York Historical Society, Conde Nast, Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S., Time Inc., and Rodale.

For more information on the park's transformation, read posts from our 20th Anniversary Series

This is an excerpt from a series of articles on the transformation of Bryant Park from our weekly newsletter, MidCity Newswritten by Terry Benoit. MidCity News keeps park enthusiasts informed about our events, milestones, operations, and all of the detailed maintenance work that goes into caring for the park. Weekly updates are sent with our sister organizations 34th Street Partnership and Chelsea Improvement Company

You can view this most recent edition of MidCity News online, or sign up to receive it in your inbox. 

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