Manhattan Carnegie Libraries- 96th Street Branch
New York Public Library 96th Street Branch
112-114 East 96th Street
New York, NY 10128
Block: 1524 Lot: 64
Lot Area: 5,035 sq ft (50’ x 100.67’)
Number of floors: 3
Building Area: 3,785 sq ft (estimated)
Year(s) built: 1904-5
Year opened: 1905
Architect(s): Babb, Cook & Willard
Builder(s): Isaac Hopper & Son
Status: Library, no designation
Late 19th & 20th Century Revivals
Italian Renaissance Revival
Walls: Masonry, Limestone
Other: Carved metal broken pediment with cartouche ornamentation above main entrance, modillioned cornice and balustrade parapet, the interior contains original plaster ceilings, square columns, staircase with cast iron railing, and oak paneled screens
The 96th Street library is located on the south side of East 96th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues. Designed by Babb, Cook & Willard in 1905, the 96th Street Branch was one of eight Carnegie libraries the architectural firm would build. The Babb, Cook & Willard Carnegie Branches are Mott Haven (1905), 67th Street (1905), 96th Street (1905), Webster (1906), 58th Street (1907), Morrisania (1908), St. Agnes (1908) and Columbus (1909). The firm is known primarily for New York buildings such as the Andrew and Louise Carnegie House (now the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum) (1899-1903), the DeVinne Press Building (1885-6), the Caroline Ladd Pratt House (229 Clinton Avenue) (1895), and the north wing of 245 Clinton Avenue (1901) at St. Joseph’s College.[i]
The 96th Street Branch has several characteristics of the urban Carnegie library type. It has a classically-inspired style (a simplified Beaux-Arts model that was the preferred style for public structures in the early-Twentieth Century), three stories, an arched entrance that is not central, ornamental stone masonry, and tall, large arched windows on the first floor that allow an abundance of light into a relatively simple interior. The urban branches were located in densely populated Manhattan and in some neighborhoods in the Bronx.
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 96th Street Branch has played this civic role in Carnegie Hill for over a century.[ii]
The 96th Street Branch continues to operate as a branch of the New York Public Library. In 1960, Bloch & Hesse undertook a significant rehabilitation of the building. In 1991, the more than 13,000 square foot interior was restored through Samuel J. De Santo and Associates, architects, who accurately replicated the original period color palette. Since the library’s opening, the front entrance door and windows were replaced, new security grilles were added to the first floor windows, and the stone pillars that were originally positioned on either side of the front steps were subsequently removed.
Construction and Layout:
Typical of the urban Carnegie branches, the 96th Street library is a three-story, three-bay structure with only one side facing the street. The building is situated in mid-block in a densely built and heavily populated part of New York, and extends to the front property line. It has masonry walls and the front is covered in plain, unornamented limestone. The library is topped by a flat roof.
The facade is designed in the Italian Renaissance Revival style, with a combination of arched and rectangular windows that get progressively smaller towards the top. The bottom of the façade consists of a molded plinth and basement windows. The arched entrance doorway is situated in the right, as opposed to the center bay so that more light can circulate throughout the first floor reading room through two tall, adjacent windows. Two historic metal friezes with panels and consoles are placed at the bottom of each window. The arched portions contain historic decorative sash. Keystones with foliate moldings cap the archways, which are framed by smooth limestone voussoirs.
The metal-framed doorway is placed in the right arch. An arched window is placed above the door while thin windows appear on either side. An historic plaque is positioned to the right of the entranceway, while a newer plaque appears on the left. Bronze lanterns flank the door.
Above the door is a transom that features a classical geometric pattern. The door and transom are within a metal frame with a water leaf molding. Above the doorway is a decorative broken pediment. Another water leaf molding appears on the raking cornice while the horizontal cornice is interrupted by a large, scrolled cartouche surrounded by vegetative ornamentation. An open book is placed in the center of the cartouche and features the carved words “New York Public Library; Anno Domini MDCCCCIV” with small flourishes at the bottom of the pages. Below the two small sections of the dentillated horizontal cornice are friezes, each containing a small rosette. Portions of Ionic fasciae are visible below the pediment on either side of the metal door frame.
The second-floor rectangular windows are framed with square pediments, above which is engraved in large capital letters “NEW YORK PVBLIC LIBRARY.” Above the inscription, a rounded cornice separates the top two floors. The third floor consists of six smaller windows with simple limestone enframements, with a set of two windows above each single second-floor window. The façade is crowned with a severe modillioned cornice that supports a balustrade for a parapet.
Each floor has a rectangular layout with large, spacious rooms filled with natural light from windows in the front and back walls. There is an adults’ reading room on the first floor, a children’s reading room on the second, and a Reference Library Periodicals room on the third.
After walking up four steps to the front door, one enters a vestibule with original wood carvings on the walls and ceiling. The walls terminate at a carved wooden dentillated cornice at the ceiling’s edges. Wooden moldings surround another set of doors, a glass transom window and two vertical windows on either side of the doors. There is a classical wooden molding directly above the first set of doors that mirrors the exterior lintel carving.
Following the vestibule is a flight of six marble and stone steps flanked by approximately 3-foot-high white marble walls topped with historic cast iron railings with original carved wooden banisters. Four non-historic spherical lamps are positioned above staircase. The steps lead to the elevator and main stairway on the right and the Adult and Young Adult reading space on the left. There is no physical division between the two aforementioned spaces, save for an approximately 6.5 foot high screen with historic oak paneling. Similar oak and glass screens border the reading rooms on the upper floors. Each story has plaster moldings on the ceiling and original square plaster columns with non-historic Tuscan ornamentation at the top.
The staircase to the right has an historic cast iron railing, original marble steps from the second to third floor and replacement steps from the first to second floor. Restrooms are located on the second and third floors. On the second story, carved wooden posts and the iron railing separate the hallway to the restrooms from the staircase. There is no separation between the stairs and reading rooms, which results in an open interior that easily flows from one space to another, from the ground floor to the top. A similar effect can be found in the Tompkins Square Branch interior.