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 (redesigned 1937)
Architect(s): R.L. Daus, redesigned by Jack C. Street and John R. Petter
Builder(s): John Thatcher & Son
Status: Library, no designation
Walls: Brick, Stone
Other: Entire building redesigned in a Moderne style, decorative geometric carvings, glass brick windows, turn-of-the-century double-tiered book stacks with scalloped screens, wooden stairs with turned balusters, and oak sliding doors
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 construction 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 original building, designed by R.L. Daus and built by John Thatcher & Son (who also constructed the Carroll Gardens Branch designed by William B. Tubby) had several characteristics of the suburban Carnegie library type. Located 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. Frequently, the libraries feature brick walls with limestone ornamentation. Typically built in a Classical Revival style, the buildings have a symmetrical layout, large windows to allow an abundance of light into the reading rooms, and a prominent, decorative entrance.
The first Flatbush library, which opened on October 7, 1905[ii] on Linden Boulevard between Flatbush and Bedford Avenues, was a two story, three bay Classical Revival structure with brick walls and a thick stone water table. A staircase flanked by two stone plinths with globe lights led to the front entrance, which was framed by two stone Ionic columns, a frieze and a triangular pediment. Directly above the entrance was a tripartite window with thick stone mullions. The slightly projecting central bay was anchored by two brick piers with cartouches. Each of the side bays contained paired rectangular windows with a large solid spandrel separating the first and second floors. A stone frieze, denticulated cornice and brick parapet crowned the building on all sides. The elaborate interior contained a central circulation room with flanking reading rooms. Two Corinthian (or Composite) columns separated the main space from the rear section, which contained double-tiered book stacks with metal scalloped screens. Other original features included bronze light fixtures suspended from the ceiling, square columns, Roman Doric pilasters, a frieze with coronae civicae above each column, dentils, windows with Roman lattice, and arched openings.
In 1937 with the use of WPA funds, Brooklyn Public Works totally altered and expanded the Flatbush Branch to more than 22,000 square feet. John R. Petter, the supervising architect, and Jack C. Street, the designer and delineator, designed the new facade in the 1930s Moderne style. New features included another projecting entrance bay, decorative window spandrels, and single-story side wings on the building’s east and west ends. During a 1953 renovation, an auditorium was constructed in the basement. After a fire in 1957, the structure was rehabilitated in 1966-69. The roof and electrical systems received an upgrade in 1978. The front door and transom window are non-historic, and some exterior brickwork has been replaced. Some windows contain non-historic security grilles. The Flatbush Branch continues to serve as a branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.[iii]
Construction and Layout:
The Flatbush Branch is a rectangular structure situated in a large lot with a small lawn in the front facing Linden Boulevard. A non-historic fence borders the lawn. In its present condition, the library has a central two story, three bay section with one story side wings to the west and east. The building is topped by a flat roof.
The building’s walls are clad in cream-colored bricks arranged in a running bond. The entire structure rests on a severe stone base. The central section of the front facade contains a projecting main entrance, which is flanked by two-story side bays. The non-historic glass and metal doors and transom window are framed by two brick piers. At the bottom and towards the top of each pier are courses of bricks arranged vertically. There is a thin vertical recession in the middle of each pier. At the bottom of each recessed panel is a 1930s (or later) vertical light, and crowning the panels are vegetal stone carvings. On each side of the projecting bay is an additional vertical recession with a vegetal carving at the top. This brickwork lends a distinguishing texture to the entrance bay, which was typically the most ornamental component of most Brooklyn branches. Framing the glass doors and transom are stone pilasters with abstracted capitals, and a simple lintel. Above the lintel is a stone panel with the carved words “FLATBUSH BRANCH.” Crowning the projecting entrance bay is a segmented (or floral) Art Deco stone carving. The second-story central bay contains a tripartite window, which is bordered by abstracted fluted pilasters and has stone mullions and a stone door head.
The two side bays contain the first and second-story windows, all of which have double hung, one over one sash. An emphasis is placed on verticality, with the spandrels recessed to the same degree as the windows, and stone mullions that run continuously from the top to the bottom of each bay. The library’s side bays could easily be placed on a Jazz Age skyscraper. The sills beneath the first-floor windows have a central flat rectangular section with triangular forms on either side. The Art Deco spandrels between the floors each have two thin vertical bands with both zig-zag and geometric floral patterns. The contrast of the flat central section with only four vertical incisions and the highly decorative bands creates a rich, varied surface.
A simple band course with small round carvings separates the two stories from the solid brick parapet. Directly beneath the band and directly above the stone base are additional courses of vertically-arranged bricks. Within the parapet above each side bay are horizontal geometric stone carvings with open books. This is a common decorative feature used at several Carnegie branches, including Chatham Square in Manhattan, Poppenhusen in Queens, and Stone Avenue in Brooklyn. In the center of the parapet, in mounted metal lettering are the words “BROOKLYN PUBLIC LIBRARY.”
On the front facade of the single-story side wings, each wing features a paired window with a stone border and mullion, and with sill carvings identical to those beneath the central first-floor windows. A band course with small round carvings separates the first floor from the solid brick parapet, which contains a central geometric stone carving. As on the main section’s facade, directly beneath the band and directly above the stone base are courses of vertically-arranged bricks. The first floor’s east and west facades feature tripartite windows, while the second-story east and west walls each contain a central paired window flanked by single windows.
A selection of interior features from 1905 are still extant, including the two-tiered book stacks with metal scalloped screens, wooden stairs with turned balusters, and oak sliding doors. The 1937 Moderne vestibule, with its nickel steel railing and marble paneling, is also intact. The interior consists of a large, full-height central space with an arched, ribbed ceiling. On the second level there are balconies to the north and south and arched glass windows to the east and west. Located in the center of the room is the circulation desk. To the east and west are the single-story wings that contain windows with 1930s (or later) glass brick, and to the south is the rear section with the original stacks.
[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] Dierickx, 75; William A. Prendergast, Comptroller, Record of Real Estate Owned by the City of New York, December 31, 1914 (NYC: Department of Finance, Bureau of Municipal Investigation and Statistics), 149. Two parcels of land for the site were purchased from William Brown in 1904 for $16,000. Construction and equipment cost $70,315.88 for a total of $86,315.88.
[iii] Dierickx, 75.