Brooklyn Carnegie Libraries: Fort Hamilton Branch

BROOKLYN PUBLIC LIBRARY, FORT HAMILTON BRANCH

Fort Hamilton Branch, east (front) façade, 2011 (HDC)

Fort Hamilton Branch, east (front) façade, 2011 (HDC)

9424 4th Avenue

Brooklyn, NY 11209

Block: 6114          Lot: 37

Lot Area: 10,913 sq ft (103.92’ x 124.5’)

Number of floors: 1

Building Area: 3,725 sq ft (estimated)

 

Year(s) built: 1907

Year opened: 1907

Architect(s): Lord & Hewlett

Builder(s): John T. Brady & Company

Status:  Library, no designation

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DESCRIPTION:

 

Architectural Classification:

Late 19th & 20th Century Revivals

Classical Revival

 

Materials:

Foundation:                          Brick

Walls:                                     Brick, Stone

Roof:                                     Shingle?

Other:                                     Limestone trim, unique brickwork, original tiled fireplace, plaster square                                                columns

 

Summary:

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 Fort Hamilton Branch has played this civic role in Bay Ridge for over a century.[i]

The building, situated on the northwest corner of 4th Avenue and 95th Street, has 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.  Land for the building site was purchased in 1906 for $13,567.20.  The structure’s total cost with construction and equipment was $32,376.48.[ii]

The Fort Hamilton Branch continues to function as a branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.  In 1912 the chimney’s height was increased to improve the draught.  In 1965, the original window mullions were removed and new windows and doors were installed.  The ceiling was lowered, the historic bronze chandelier and modillioned cornice were removed, the skylight was filled in, and fluorescent lighting fixtures were most likely added in the 1960s as well.  In 1975, the heating, ventilation, air conditioning and mechanical systems received an upgrade.  The present lawn and simple iron fence were added in 1996.  The original rear wall contained a row of at least nine narrow windows to provide additional lighting to the interior, all of which were subsequently filled in.

Beginning in March 2008, the building underwent a complete interior and exterior renovation and expansion.  Improved features included new tripartite window mullions that recall the original pattern more than the 1965 remodeling, and a new fiberglass cornice.  AC units were installed on the new roof extension.  New sheetrock walls, a ceiling grid, and a new HVAC duct system were all installed.  The interior received new walls, period-inspired furniture and lights, and a period-inspired vestibule.  There are new sections of the library that adjoin the rear (west) and north walls.

The branch 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 Brownsville (1908).

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.[iii]

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.[iv]

The firm of Lord & Hewlett continued to design projects such as the City Club (c.1902-04),[v] The Brooklyn Masonic Temple, 317 Claremont Ave (1906) (built along with Pell & Corbett, Architects),[vi] 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,[vii] and the initial branch of the Brooklyn Hospital (1920).[viii]

Narrative Description:

 

Construction and Layout:

This square-shaped building is surrounded by a lawn and simple iron fence, which rests on a concrete base.  A set of concrete steps flanked by stone plinths with non-historic lanterns leads to the front entrance.  A handicap accessible ramp with an aluminum railing was installed in the 1990s.  The structure is topped by a hipped roof, which is punctured on the south side by one the library’s brick chimneys.  A second, taller chimney is located at the rear wall.  A mature tree is located on the lot’s southeast corner.

Exterior:

The library’s façade is composed of red brick with a minimal stone trim.  The walls rest on a slightly projecting brick plinth.  The bricks are laid in an unusual variation of the Common (American) Bond.  Instead of one row of headers every sixth row, there are two header rows divided by one row of stretchers.  The headers are dark red while the stretchers are medium red.  Between each pair of header rows are five rows of stretchers.  In the middle stretcher row, every other brick is dark red, which helps create a unique and textured pattern.

The front façade is five bays wide with a central entrance and two flanking windows that are set high.  Each window has a simple stone sill and new mullions that allude to the original fenestration pattern.  The wood and glass doorway and transom were recently rebuilt in the style that strongly echoes the library’s original design.  The door’s glass panel features elaborate ironwork, and the transom light features the words “BROOKLYN PUBLIC LIBRARY, 9424 FORT HAMILTON BRANCH.”  The entrance has a neoclassical stone surround with a central cartouche that features the Brooklyn Public Library’s insignia: a torch symbolizing the light of learning.  A flat pediment crowns the enframement.  The façade is capped by a new fiberglass modillioned cornice and a hipped roof.

The south facade, which faces 95th Street, features a projecting chimney shaft flanked by tripartite windows with stone sills and the same fenestration pattern as in the front.  Below each window are three smaller lights with brick mullions, a stone sill, and brick flat arches.  The north side is identical to the south side, except the chimney top has been removed, there is a service entrance with non-historic concrete steps, and the library’s new wing occupies the western-most portion of the facade.  The only portion of the original rear wall that remains is the southern-most section with a window in the same style as those in the front.  The new section with gray bricks, a flat roof, and a ceiling-height window takes up the remainder of the building’s rear.

Interior:

Some original interior features that have survived include one of the two historic tiled fireplaces with carved wood surrounds, and plaster square columns.  The newly remodeled interior features a period-inspired wood and glass vestibule, as well as period-inspired wooden benches, book shelves and tables.  New period-inspired lighting fixtures hang from the ceiling.  A larger circulation desk is situated to the right of the vestibule.  Each window has a simple wood surround.

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Pictures: 

http://hdc.org/hdc-across-nyc/brooklyn/brooklyn-carnegie-libraries/fort-hamilton-branch/pictures

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Return to view the full list of  Brooklyn Carnegie Libraries:
http://hdc.org/hdc-across-nyc/brooklyn/brooklyn-carnegie-libraries

 


[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] 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.

[iv] 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.

[v] “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).

[vi] “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).

[vii] Lehman College Art Gallery.

[viii] White and Willensky, AIA Guide, 699.

[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] 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.

[iii] Lehman College Art Gallery: http://www.lehman.edu/vpadvance/artgallery/publicart/bio/hewlett.html

[iv] 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.

[v] “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).

[vi] “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).

[vii] Lehman College Art Gallery.

[viii] White and Willensky, AIA Guide, 699.

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