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New York Public Library Main Reading Room Officially Enters Designation Process

New York Public Library Reading Room. Image Credit: NYPL.

If designated, reading and catalog rooms would join New York Public Library Building exterior, and Main Lobby and other interiors, as City landmarks. On June 6, 2016, Landmarks voted to add the Main Reading and Catalog Room of the at 476 Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan to its calendar, officially commencing the process for designation as a potential interior City landmark. The exterior of the building, as well as the Main Lobby, third floor central hall, and two staircases, are individual and interior landmarks already. The firm of Carrere & Hastings won an architectural competition to design the Library in 1897, with a Beaux-Arts plan. The library opened to the public in 1911.

The calendared interiors, on the Library’s third floor, are the New York Public Library’s principal public research spaces. The two rooms occupy one large volume, which they share with the previously designated rotunda, between two light courts. They possess 52-foor-high molded- plaster ceilings, decorated with murals of clouds. Carved oak woodwork, iron railings, electric chandeliers, and high arch windows providing maximum natural light characterize the spaces. A delivery desk at the center of the reading space serves to divide the room into two sections without disturbing views of the whole.

Landmarks’ Research Department’s Matt Postal said that designation, along with the previously designated interiors, would complete the “ceremonial route” to the “primary public space.” He noted that the two rooms proposed for calendaring shared a functional relationship in “the process of searching for, retrieving, and studying” Library materials. Postal said the rooms were among the “grandest interiors in all of New York City,” on par with those of Grand Central Terminal, and held “indisputable, architectural, civic, and cultural significance.”

The rooms were reopened in 2016, after having been closed for two years for repair and restoration.

Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said the spaces were among the “most deserving rooms” in the City, and that she was “thrilled” to see them being brought forward for potential designation. She urged Commissioners to take advantage of the “opportune moment.” Commissioners voted unanimously to add the interiors to the agency’s designation calendar. Srinivasan said that a hearing on designation would be held within a couple of months.

New York Public Library Main Reading Room and Catalog Room, 476 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan (LP-2592) (June 6, 2017).

By:Jesse Denno (Jesse is a full-time staff writer at the Center for NYC Law).