Preservation Issues

Seeking Designation for Interior Public Spaces within 42nd Street Library

Rose Main Reading Room (photo by Paul Lowry)

42nd Street Library

Click below to read Conservancy letter to LPC Chair Robert Tierney

Robert Tierney letter.pdf

The Conservancy has asked the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to designate the interior public spaces within the 42nd Street Library.

The controversial $300 million proposal for major alternations to the New York Public Library’s main building at 42nd Street, an individual landmark, has focused attention on how relatively little of the spectacular interior is designated.

The rooms, stairways and halls, which feature fine materials and exquisite craftsmanship, are some of the most beautiful in the country. Yet only the main lobby, known as Astor Hall, the adjacent north and south staircases, and the third floor Central Hall are designated.

In its 1974 report on the designations, the Landmarks Commission noted that “the interior of this great building is as magnificent as its exterior.” It is time to protect the other great spaces.

These include the Rose Main Reading Room, Bill Blass Catalog Room, Celeste Bartos Forum, Gottesman Exhibition Hall, Princess Firyal Map Room and the Brooke Astor Reading Room for Rare Books.

The Rose Main Reading Room, beloved by generations, was wonderfully restored in the late 1990s. The vast hall has a splendid ceiling with large canvas paintings and highly decorated surrounds. While the ceiling is the focal point, the room also has elaborate woodworking on the doors, walls and tables.

Our letter to LPC Chair Robert B. Tierney said: “It is the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s obligation to safeguard outstanding public interiors like these. Although the library has been good stewards up to now, one never knows what the future will bring.”

The Library plans to remove seven levels of book stacks beneath the Rose Main Reading room and create a Norman Foster-designed lending library in that space. The stacks were integral to the original Carrère and Hastings design. The Library plans to bring the collections at its Mid-Manhattan Branch and its Science Industry and Business Library into the new space. Sales of these two heavily used branches would help finance the alterations. The City is has pledged $150 million to the project.

The Conservancy’s Public Policy Committee was very disappointed with initial design plans shown for the renovation and is reserving judgment until a promised new design is available.

For the complete letter and list of suggested designations click here.