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NYC – Midtown: New York Public Library Main Building
The New York Public Library’s (NYPL) main building on Fifth Avenue, is a Beaux-Arts masterpiece designed by architects Carrère & Hastings, also known for the Manhattan Bridge Plaza. One of the world’s leading libraries, it is famed for its possession of a Gutenberg Bible and a Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica.
In the late 19th century, New york had two public reference libraries: the Astor Library, founded in 1849 by a 0k bequest of John Jacob Astor; and the Lenox Library, founded in 1871 by James Lenox on the site now occupied by the Frick Collection. In 1886, Samuel J. Tilden made a bequest of about .4MM to establish a library in New York City. John Bigelow, a New York attorney, was a trustee of the Tilden will, and combined the resources of the financially-strapped Astor and Lenox libraries with the Tilden bequest to form "The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations" in 1895. The library consolidated with The New York Free Circulating Library in February, 1901, and Andrew Carnegie donated .2MM to construct branch libraries, with the provison that the City fund their maintenance and operations. The main Research Library (now known as the Humanities and Social Science Library) was built on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan between 40th and 42nd Streets on the former site of the Croton Resevoir, and was dedicated on May 23, 1911, opening the next day.
On either side of the monumental stairway, two stone lions, sculpted by Edward Clark Potter, guard the main entrance to one of the world’s great research institutions. They were originally named Leo Astor and Leo Lenox, in honor of the library’s founders. These names were transformed into Lord Astor and Lady Lenox and Leo and Lenora. These names, however, are anatomically incorrect as both lions are male. In the 1930s they were nicknamed "Patience" (on the south) and "Fortitude" (on the north) by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. He chose these names because he felt that the citizens of New York would need to possess these qualities to see themselves through the Great Depression.
The famous main reading room of the Research Library, room 315, is a majestic 78’x297′ with 52/ high ceilings. It is lined with thousands of reference books; lit by massive windows and grand chandeliers; furnished with sturdy wood tables, comfortable chairs and brass lamps; and equipped with computers with access to library collections. Readers study books brought to them from the library’s closed stacks. There are special rooms for notable authors and scholars.
In the 1980s the library added more than 125,000 square feet (12,000 m²) of space to its storage capacity. This expansion required a major construction project in which Bryant Park, directly west of the library, was closed to the public and excavated. The new library facilities were built below ground level. The park was then restored on top of the underground facilities and re-opened to the public.
The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations, was designated a landmark by the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1967.
In 2007, the New York Public Library was ranked #47 on the AIA 150 America’s Favorite Architecture list.
National Register #66000546 (1966)