Landmarking the NYPL

New York Public Library. (therehereandback.com)

The New York Landmarks Preservation Commission has spoken. May we strive to decipher its garbled voice? Who can deny the good sense of protecting the glorious interiors of the New York Public Library – from the likes of its own board of directors, who tapped modernist Norman Foster to poop up the interior. The famous stacks were not designated today along with the Rose Reading Room and the Bill Blass Catalogue Room, even though it was the planned purge of the stacks that got this whole thing started. The stacks were to be moved off-campus and replaced by a sort of Starbuck’s-style “library cafe.”

Fortunately, public outrage put the kibbosh on that. The building’s exterior was landmarked in 1967 and, in 1974, the city’s first landmarked interiors were designated to protect primary circulation spaces, including Astor Hall, the central stairs and the McGraw Rotunda. What about the stacks?

I am writing this post on a new iPod, so it is destined not to be encyclopedic. But I must wonder whether, if the NYPL had, either in this its main branch or in another, a room as exquisite as the Rose, would the commission have ruled instead that the latter was expendable?

That is how it ruled when it turned down pleas to protect a delightful pair of cast-iron buildings at 827 and 831 Broadway. It said there were other cast-iron buildings of the same period on Broadway. So why give a hoot for these? As if Manhattan already has enough beauty!

I haven’t the foggiest idea how to place an image atop this post, so I may have to retreat to my iMac to finish things off. But at any rate I suppose a pertinent question or two have been raised. Still, as we will be visiting the Adirondacks next week, the question (about images, not about the sanity of the landmarks commission) must be resolved or I’ll have to rent a laptop.

[Note: The original of this post incorrectly labeled the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission, leaving out the P, and it erroneously named the stacks rather than the Bill Blass Catalogue Room as the space designated along with the Rose Reading Room. These errors were corrected within a few hours of publication.]

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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