NYPL Rose Reading Room (photo by Paul Lowry)

Noted architectural historian Francis Morrone delivered a beautifully illustrated slide lecture on the architecture and decoration of the 42nd Street Library to LANDMARK WEST! guests and fellow advocates for the 42nd Street Library last week. Co-authored with the late great Henry Hope Reed, Francis Morrone’s book, The New York Public Library: The Architecture and Decoration of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, presents the fascinating history of the library building and its many exquisitely-detailed architectural ornaments. With lush photography and his characteristically engaging style, Francis drew our attention to the details that make the 42nd Street Library a rich Beaux Arts treasure, of which the sumptuous marble-clad Astor Hall,  the intricately carved wooden ceiling of Gottesman Hall by master carver Maurice Grieve, and the monumental bronze flagpole bases are just a few examples.

A sectional view of the New York Public Library.
A sectional view of the New York Public Library (1911)
via NYPL

A New York City Individual Landmark and widely regarded as a masterpiece designed by the firm Carrère and Hastings in 1911, this careful study of the library’s significance is newly relevant in the context of the Central Library Plan. In addition to closing and selling off two branch libraries, a major component of the plan threatens to demolish the historic book stacks and install a new circulating library. The book stacks, which sit directly below the main reading room and provide structural support for the expansive space above, were an innovative feature of the library’s original program as conceived by the library’s first director, John Shaw Billings. The placement of the stacks below the reading room allowed for the swift delivery of materials to library patrons. 

With the destructive plans to alter the library looming, Francis Morrone’s discussion of the library’s features made the value of the building’s integrity explicitly clear. As Ada Louise Huxtable said in the Wall Street Journal in December 2012, “You don’t ‘update’ a masterpiece.” 

For more information on the Central Library Plan and to get involved in efforts to save the library, get in touch with the Committee to Save the New York Public Library and Citizens Defending Libraries. If you’d like a copy of Francis Morrone’s book for $10 off the list price, contact the LW! office at 212-496-8110 or landmarkwest@landmarkwest.org.

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