The Brooklyn Carnegie Libraries:Flatbush Branch
BROOKLYN PUBLIC LIBRARY, FLATBUSH BRANCH
22 Linden Boulevard
Brooklyn, NY 11226
Block: 5086 Lot: 15
Lot Area: 19,000 sq ft (160’ x 120.67’)
Number of floors: 2
Building Area: 7,800 sq ft (estimated)
Year(s) built: 1905
Year opened: 1905
Architect(s): R.L. Daus, renovated by Jack C. Street and John R. Petter
Builder(s): John Thatcher & Son
Status: Library, no designation
Classical Revival, Moderne
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 Flatbush Branch has played this civic role in Prospect Lefferts Gardens 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 builder, John Thatcher & Son, also constructed the Carroll Gardens Branch (designed by William B. Tubby).
The original two-story, three-bay Classical Revival library was completely altered to the WPA Moderne style in 1937 with flanking one-story wings added. The building is light brick with stone trim and features a one-story projecting entrance. Ornamental details in the window spandrel and door trim all express the simple, flat design of the Moderne style. The building underwent more rehabilitations and repairs in 1953, 1957, 1966-69 and 1978.
1905 elements remain including round plaster columns and balcony above the first floor, wooden stairs with turned balusters, and a second floor with original oak sliding doors, woodwork and stacks. The marble and nickel steel vestibule from the 1930’s has also been retained.
Two parcels of land and from William Brown in 1904 ($1 and $16,000). Cost of
Structure with equipment 70,315.88. (Prendergast, 149)
Round plaster columns—no columns of any type on balcony level, no round columns on main floor (boxed maybe?)
[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.