The Brooklyn Carnegie Libraries:Brownsville
BROOKLYN PUBLIC LIBRARY, BROWNSVILLE BRANCH
61 Glenmore Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11212
Block: 3489 Lot: 150
Lot Area: 10,000 sq ft (100’ x 100’)
Number of floors: 2
Building Area: 3,125 sq ft (estimated)
Year(s) built: 1908
Year opened: 1908
Architect(s): Lord & Hewlett
Builder(s): John T. Brady & Company
Status: Library, no designation
Late 19th & 20th Century Revivals
Walls: Brick, Stone
The Brooklyn Public Library was created through state legislation in 1892 and began functioning five years later. In 1901, Andrew Carnegie signed a contract guaranteeing the erection of new public libraries in Brooklyn. In November of that year, the Sites Committee posited the five areas in Brooklyn with the greatest need for Carnegie branches. The locations were Williamsburg, Fulton, Carroll Park, Bedford, and Stuyvesant (which included Bushwick).
The formerly private Brooklyn Library collection, in addition to several small independent libraries, formed the core of the Brooklyn Public Library by 1902. These independent facilities, including Brownsville, Bedford, Fort Hamilton, Washington Irving, and Flatbush, were soon housed in Carnegie buildings. Although the Brooklyn system was an independent corporation, the New York City mayor, comptroller and borough president were on the board of trustees ex-officio, and its staff was in the civil service. The Brooklyn Public Library’s main central building was not completed until 1941.
The New York City Carnegie branch libraries were designed to be distinct structures, a new concept at the turn of the Twentieth Century when most branches were simply located in other buildings. They were intended to be important fixtures in the community and centrally located in a neighborhood. The Carnegie Committee had a policy to locate branches in close proximity to public buildings such as schools, social service centers, public baths, or YM/YWCA’s. The Brownsville Branch has played this civic role in Brownsville for over a century.[i]
The building has several characteristics of the suburban Carnegie library type. Located mostly in the less densely populated areas of the Bronx, Brooklyn, Staten Island and Queens, these branches are most often freestanding structures within a larger lot (most often they are surrounded by a lawn). Frequently, the libraries feature brick walls accented with a minimum of limestone ornamentation. The buildings most often have a symmetrical layout, large windows to allow an abundance of light into the reading rooms, and a prominent, decorative entrance.
The Brownsville Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library was designed by Lord & Hewlett, Architects, who were also responsible for the following Carnegie Libraries: Far Rockaway (1904, burned down 1966), Bedford (1905), South (1905, demolished 1970), Elmhurst (1906), Flushing (1906, demolished mid-1950s), and Fort Hamilton (1907).
James Monroe Hewlett graduated from Columbia University in 1890, after which he joined the architecture firm McKim, Mead & White, and studied in Paris. In 1894, Hewlett came back to New York to help found an architecture firm with James Brown Lord.[ii]
Before and after he helped form the group, J. B. Lord completed numerous individual projects, including 153-159 West 74th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues (1887), the Delmonico’s building on 56 Beaver Street (1891), 202-250 West 138th Street and 2350-2354 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard (1891-93), the Beaux-Arts New York Free Circulating Library (now the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences) (1898), the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court (1900-02) on Madison Avenue, and the Yorkville Branch (1902), the first Carnegie Library built in New York City, which was under construction the year he died.[iii]
The firm of Lord & Hewlett continued to design projects such as the City Club (c.1902-04),[iv] The Brooklyn Masonic Temple, 317 Claremont Ave (1906) (built along with Pell & Corbett, Architects),[v] the Smith College Library (1909), the Senator Clark mansion on Fifth Avenue, the Danbury (Connecticut) Hospital, St. John’s Hospital (now the site of the Citicorp office building) in Long Island City,[vi] and the initial branch of the Brooklyn Hospital (1920).[vii]
This simple, 2-story, 5-bay, brick building features a projecting dentilated cornice with a dog tooth course of brickwork beneath. The projecting entrance has Ionic columns and a frieze above that reads “Brooklyn Public Library.” An unusually small window, now covered over in tile, can be seen underneath each main window. In between each set of windows is a row of mosaics and copper tiles. This branch suffered a fire in 1922 and went through two other major rehabilitations in 1960-63 and 1986-89.
The interior maintains the original layout of a large, open reading room with a mezzanine. The reading room contains two original fireplaces with mantels.
Land from Louis Power and wife 1908 (28,000). Cost of structure 58,578.93 (Prendergast, 149)
[i] “The Trustees are of the opinion that in establishing branch libraries it is of great importance to establish them, as far as possible, in conspicuous positions on well frequented streets. In some measure the same principles should be applied that would govern in the selection of a site for a retail store. The fact that a branch library is constantly before the eyes of the neighboring residents so that all are familiar with its location will undoubtedly tend to increase its usefulness.” George L. Rives, Secretary of The New York Public Library (1901). From the NYPL Executive Committee Minutes as quoted in Phyllis Dain, The New York Public Library (New York: New York Public Library, 1972), 237, in Mary B. Dierickx, The Architecture of Literacy: The Carnegie Libraries of New York City (New York: The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art and The New York City Department of General Services, 1996), 27.
[ii] Lehman College Art Gallery: http://www.lehman.edu/vpadvance/artgallery/publicart/bio/hewlett.html
[iii] Norval White & Elliot Willensky, AIA Guide to New York City, 4th ed. (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2000), 16-17, 199, 343, 353, 447, 509.
[iv] “The City Club, by the way, is soon to move into new quarters. Organized in 1892, it has grown and prospered beyond expectation. Its first home was at 677 Fifth Avenue. At present it is in temporary headquarters. The new club-house, designed by Lord & Hewlett, is quite a model in its way. The interior decorations and furnishings are being done by the Coventry Blue Company, which I believe consists of Mrs. Mason Davidge (Bishop Potter’s daughter), with Mr. Everett Shinn as art adviser” (The Critic: An Illustrated Monthly Review of Literature, Art and Life (Vol. XLII, No. 3, March 1903), 202).
[v] “They took the word “temple” literally in 1909. Some of the vigorous polychromy that archaeologists believe was painted onto 5th century B.C. Greek temples is recalled here in fired terra-cotta” (White and Willensky, AIA Guide, 700).
[vi] Lehman College Art Gallery.
[vii] White and Willensky, AIA Guide, 699.