Saturday, February 5, 2011

New York Public Library (5th Avenue and 42nd Street)

Earlier this week (February 2, 2011) the New York Public Library commemorated the completion of the 3 year, $50 million renovation of the main Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, just in time for the May 23, 2011 centennial birthday celebrations (for a detailed article and to watch a 30 minute video, see  And for better picture details of the restoration (yes, I realize that the picture above still looks dark--it was grey and rainy today), please see

After living in this City for about 9 years (off and on), I finally made it into this main library for a tour.  They have free, docent-led tours of the building (which meet in the main lobby, Astor Hall (see right) M-Sat 11 and 2, and Sun at 2) and of the exhibitions (which meet at Gottesman Hall just beyond Astor Hall, M-Sat 12:30 and 2:30, and Sun at 3:30).  As an architecture and history buff, I chose the building tour and was not disappointed.

The docent described the history and structure of the museum.  He showed us the various marbles from Vermont (which is the marble on the facade and most of the interior), Tennessee (which is what the two lions Patience and Fortitude are made of), and Greece (see the walls in the photo at left, which is marble from the same quarry that supplied the building of the Parthenon).  He also explained that the plaster cast ceilings stained to resemble intricate wood carvings (see left) was the style of the day versus the sole real wood-carved coffered ceiling of Gottesman Hall (where the current exhibit of the Three Faiths is shown, which includes a Gutenberg bible from 1455).  Both types of ceilings were stunning, but I will say that the wood ceiling in the exhibition room took my breath away.

We also received a good overview of the various departments within the library such as the maps room in the north end of the main floor, the periodicals room in the south end of the main floor (they get over 15,000 from around the world), the fully functional digital classrooms in what was once the south courtyard, and the children's library (where the original Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Kanga, and Tigger are on display, see right).
We went up to the 3rd floor where we also learned how to call books up from the stacks (which apparently only takes about 25 minutes!) for review in the beautiful Rose Reading Room (which when first opened was the largest open room without support posts, and spans the distance of a football field, see left for a view of half the length of the room); it is a non-circulating library so you can't take the books out of this library.  The library is one of the 5 largest in the world and is the only one that is truly open to the public (you don't have to be a New Yorker or even a U.S. resident).  As the docent led us around the library, it was clear from his tones and the care with which he spoke about the place, that he truly loved this place and was proud of its history and philosophy.  I agree.  It is a real treasure and one that should not be missed.

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