The Brooklyn Carnegie Libraries:Bushwick Branch
BROOKLYN PUBLIC LIBRARY, BUSHWICK BRANCH
340 Bushwick Avenue
New York, NY 11206
Block: 3098 Lot: 19
Lot Area: 10,835 sq ft (100’ x 100’)
Number of floors: 2
Building Area: 5,342 sq ft (estimated)
Year(s) built: 1908
Year opened: 1908
Architect(s): Raymond F. Almiral
Builder(s): John W. Schaefer, Jr. & 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. 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.
Bushwick, an area originally settled in 1660 by Governor Peter Stuyvesant with the name Boswijk, or “heavy woods,” was incorporated into the city of Brooklyn in 1855. As a result of the completion of an elevated railway in 1889, the once predominantly rural area experienced rapid development in the form of row houses and tenements, home to mostly German immigrants. Bushwick’s population growth in the 1890s led to a demand for numerous civic institutions such as public libraries.
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 Avenue, Broadway, Myrtle, and Central Avenues). The Sites Committee requested that the Board of Estimate obtain lots with an area of at least 100 square feet, which would be large enough to allow sufficient light and air on at least three sides of the library.
The Bushwick Branch 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 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 Bushwick Branch has played this civic role in Bushwick for over a century.[i]
The entrance to this two-story, seven-bay brick library is marked by a projecting bay with fluted Ionic columns with foliate carving framed by banded brick pilasters. The columns and pilasters support a frieze inscribed “Brooklyn Public Library” and are topped by an elaborate arched pediment. The building has a simple stone band below the roofline, with a stringcourse of decorative brickwork below. Each window is framed by decorative brickwork also, and each corner of the façade has a banded pattern of bricks. The transom window above the entrance has been filled in with cement. Each side of the building has a slightly arched roofline with a stone garland and cartouche ornament.
The windows have been replaced and metal security grates added, but a wooden entry door and transom recalling the originals have recently been installed. There is a relatively recent two-story addition in the rear. While the interior’s ceiling has been dropped, the branch’s wood and glass vestibule has been retained.
Land from Condemnation in 1906 (53,802.90). Cost of Structure with equipment 58,473.57 (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.