Manhattan Carnegie Libraries-Epiphany Branch
New York Public Library Epiphany Branch
228-230 East 23rd Street,
New York, NY 10010
Block: 903 Lot: 46
Lot Area: 6,584 sq ft (66.67’ x 98.75’)
Number of floors: 3
Building Area: 8,333.33 sq ft (estimated)
Year(s) built: 1907
Year opened: 1907
Architect(s): Carrere & Hastings
Builder(s): E.E. Paul Company
Status: Library, no designation
Late 19th & 20th Century Revivals
Italian Renaissance Revival
Walls: Masonry, Limestone
Other: Four bays wide, new side entrance added in the 1980s
Designed by Carrere & Hastings, the Epiphany library is located on the south side of East 23rd Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. The Epiphany 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 Epiphany Branch has played this civic role in Gramercy for over a century.[i]
The Epiphany Branch continues to operate as a branch of the New York Public Library. A major WPA-funded renovation took place in 1939, and the library’s community successfully blocked plans for demolition in 1968. In the 1980s, Glass and Glass Architects designed a fifth bay at the building’s western end to provide for accessibility for the disabled. The side bay became the new main entrance and the former front door was converted to a window. Current goals include the addition of a Building Management System and an initial survey for Americans with Disabilities Act improvements.
Construction and Layout:
Typical of the urban Carnegie branches, the Epiphany library is a three-story structure with only one side facing the street. The building is situated in mid-block and at the building line in a densely built and heavily populated part of New York. The structure has masonry walls and the front is covered in limestone. The library is topped by a flat roof.
Unlike most of the Manhattan branches, the Epiphany library was designed with four as opposed to three bays. 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 first floor features four tall, arched windows. The western-most bay was the original entrance doorway. The main door was situated in the right, as opposed to one of the center bays so that more light could circulate throughout the first floor reading room through three tall, adjacent windows. Each arch is topped with a fluted keystone with floral molding in each flute. Three small roundels are carved directly above the flutes. A decorative horizontal band course featuring carved roundels and vegetative molding divides the ground floor and the upper floors.
The second-story rectangular windows are framed with square pediments supported by flat, trapezoidal brackets. Each bracket is draped with a pair of small swags. Directly above each window is a plain limestone enframement, which is topped by a decorative carving of alternating rosettes. The cornice of each pediment features an egg-and-dart molding. The smaller, rectangular third floor windows have plain limestone enframements that interrupt a second, plainer band course beneath a frieze with the engraved words “NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY.” Above the frieze is a dentillated stone cornice that supports a plain parapet.
During a renovation from 1982 to 1984, the original doorway became a window while the side bay became the main entryway to provide easier access for the handicapped. Other subsequent alterations include replacement façade windows and sash, a rear addition, a curved glass-brick window, the removal of one historic lantern in the front, and the addition of a flag pole in the western-most window on the second floor.
Each floor has a rectangular layout with large, spacious rooms filled with natural light. The more than 10,000 square foot interior retains many original features such as the high ceilings, rectangular columns and the staircase with a decorative iron rail. The interior has new lighting fixtures.
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[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.