Oh, that building: New York Public Library, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

Schwarzman Building, New York Public Library

Schwarzman Building, New York Public Library

Although we’re book lovers through and through, we don’t make it a habit to visit libraries wherever we travel.  But maybe we should.  Now that we’ve seen the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, we’re curious to know what’s inside other libraries.  Or perhaps it just doesn’t get any better than this.  After all, the Schwarzman Building seems to have it all: Beaux Arts architecture filled with museum quality artwork, detailed frescoes, marble stairwells, and much, much more.

Marble stairwell, Stephan A. Schwarzman Building, New York Public Library

Marble stairwell, Stephan A. Schwarzman Building, New York Public Library

Greeting us on our December 2015 tour were the iconic, loved-by-everyone lions known as Patience and Fortitude, named in the 1930s by Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia who said they represent qualities that all New Yorkers needed to endure the economic trials of the Depression.  Now these lions sculpted from pink Tennessee marble (See?  We knew there was another reason to love ’em!) are mascots of the library, their trademark likenesses emblazoned on everything from t-shirts to tote bags.

Patience (or is this Fortitude?) in front of Schwarzman Building, New York Public Library

Patience (or is this Fortitude?) in front of Schwarzman Building, New York Public Library

Beginning with a bequest from one-time governor Samuel J. Tilden (1814-1886) of $2.4 million, the idea of a place to “establish and maintain a free library and reading room in the city of New York” began to take shape.  After his death, two other libraries, the Aston and Lenox libraries were experiencing financial difficulties, so a revamping of their missions and a combination of assets formed the basis for a new organization: the Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations. (Source: NYPL website.)

Second floor landing with painted ceiling, Schwarzman Building, New York Public Library

Second floor landing with painted ceiling, Schwarzman Building, New York Public Library

With the vision of Dr. John Shaw Billings, a noted librarian, and the engagement of a new architectural firm (Carrére and Hastings), the largest marble structure in the U. S. to date (and costing over $9 million upon completion) broke ground in 1902. And then on May 24, 1911, one day after President Taft dedicated the library on May 23rd,  30,000 to 50,000 visitors streamed into this new building, no doubt as impressed as we still are many years later! (Click here for more of the history of the New York Public Library.)

And lucky us — on exhibit while we were there (ending May 27, 2016) was a collection of prints, etchings, woodcuts, etc., belonging to Henrietta Louisa Koenen (1830 – 1881): “Printing Women: Three Centuries of Female Printmakers, 1570-1900.” Quite the collection.  Beautifully showcased.

An upstairs reading room holds portraits — some familiar, some new to us.

Filled with portraits: 2nd floor Reading Room, Schwarzman Building, New York Public Library

Filled with portraits: 2nd floor Reading Room, Schwarzman Building, New York Public Library

I stood and stared a while at native New Yorker Washington Irving since I had seen this very portrait in numerous 11th grade lit books from which I taught students (hopefully) to appreciate “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle.”

"Washington Irving" by Charles Robert Leslie

“Washington Irving” by Charles Robert Leslie (1820)

We were rather surprised, however, to see this portrait of Truman Capote by John Whitney Fosburgh among the “older” notables on the wall.

"Truman Capote" by James Whitney Fosburgh

“Truman Capote” by James Whitney Fosburgh (Oil on canvas, 1971)

Lest you think the New York Public Library is strictly for bibliophiles of a “certain age,” take a look at this area designed to hook kids on the joy of reading.  What fun to see Patience (or is this Fortitude?) fashioned out of today’s “it” building material:  Legos!

At the end of our visit, we grabbed one of the free postcards that any guest can have for the taking.

Free for the taking -- but just one of each per customer: postcards from the New York Public Library!

Free for the taking — but just one of each per customer: postcards from the New York Public Library!

Then we made our purchases at the bookstore.  Armed with pins imprinted with a Patti Smith quote — “Long Live the Library” — and tote bags for folks back home, we reluctantly left the building.

A return trip to NYC will warrant a return to NYPL.  After all, there’s always something new going on at a library.  And, with a building like the Schwarzman . . . Wow! what a place this is to see again and again!

For more information:

New York Public Library, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, 330 W. 38th Street, New York, NY 10018; (917) 275-6975; http://www.nypl.org/locations/schwarzman 

Hours, directions, activitieshttp://www.nypl.org/locations/schwarzman

What you can do for free at NYPLhttp://www.nypl.org/checkusout

Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/nypl

Twitter: @nypl

Instagram: nypl

To read more posts from our Christmas Holiday NYC tour, click here.

 

About Oh, the Places We See

Met at University of Tennessee, been married for 47 years, and still passionate about travel whether we're volunteering with Habitat Global Village, combining work at Discovery with pleasure, or just seeing the world. Hope you'll join us as we try to see it all while we can!
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27 Responses to Oh, that building: New York Public Library, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

  1. Isn’t this place wonderful. I have spent hours here and could spend many more. NYC has so much character and history.

  2. loravenkova13 says:

    Beautiful library, with nice architecture!

  3. infodreamall says:

    Wow! Awesome colosseum..

  4. Such a beautiful building!! I Love New York and cant wait to go and explore it again some day!

  5. tappjeanne says:

    just finished a new one purchased at Southern Festival of Books last fall: Pursuit in Provence by Phyllis Gobbell – reminds me of Louise Penny murder mysteries!

  6. Sherry Galey says:

    I just adore this place. Such an amazing building. I’ve taken some of my favourite pictures here. Great writeup nicely illustrated with images.

  7. jolynnpowers says:

    love Libraries of all kinds and this would be a great place to visit on a trip… It is funny how everyone thinks of a library in their imagenation with those two lions they are icons of the whole library system.

    • Please forgive me for not replying to this comment. I’m just now seeing it, but I’m wondering now how I missed it. You are so right — those lions are iconic for this fabulous library. Hope you get to visit the building — it’s beautiful inside and out.

  8. dawnkinster says:

    I went back to grad school when I was 50…library school to be exact…and the first ‘spring break’ a bunch of us went to NYC to work in the libraries there…I LOVE the NYC public library! (I didn’t work there, I worked in another borough, but I visited it)!!!! Beautiful photographs…

    • What a lovely place to work! We met one volunteer who had been there for 35 years. Said she couldn’t imagine spending her days anywhere else. And we agree — it was calming and beautiful. What a great building with super initiatives going on all the time.

  9. This is a perfect time of year to curl up with a good book. America’s free public libraries are such gems and this one is the crown jewel!

  10. Amy says:

    A special and magnificent library! Love the architecture. Thank you for the tour, Rusha!

    • You are so right, Amy. This is a treasure of a building. At first, I wasn’t sure if enough space were actually dedicated to reading and research, but many rooms were closed for repair. Guess we’ll just have to go back!! 🙂

  11. prior2001 says:

    Really great pictures of the art and structures! Thx – and my fav photo is the portraits one with all the kids on Apple laptops! That so artsy too!

  12. I always have two mysteries going – one on the table and one on the treadmill. I just finished a great Michael Connelly book, The Crossing.

    • Aren’t you the reader!!!! I can only keep one straight at a time, but I’ve heard of folks who can do a lot better — you’re one of them. Thanks for the Connelly recommendation. I’m on the board of our local Friends of the Library, and we’re featuring A Lesson Before Dying by Gaines as our Big Read this year. Read it years ago, but want to return to it again. We have snow today with school closings. May get my chance all this week! 🙂

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