Manhattan Carnegie Libraries- Fort Washington Branch
New York Public Library Fort Washington Branch
535 – 537 West 179th Street
Manhattan, New York
Block: 2153, Lot: 53
Lot Area: 5,000 sq. ft. (50’ x 100’)
Number of Floors: 3
Building Area: approximately 11,254 sq. ft. (50’ x 94’)
Year built: 1914
Architect(s): Cook & Welch
Builder(s): William S. Crowe
Designation: Not designated.
Architectural Classification: Classical Revival
Other: Limestone decorative details
The Fort Washington Branch of the New York Public Library sits on the north side of West 79th Street between St. Nicholas and Audobon Avenues in the Fort Washington neighborhood of upper Manhattan. Built between 1913 and 1914, the library is contemporary with many of the neighboring six-story apartment buildings.
Designed by Babb, Cook & Welch, architects of eight Carnegie branch libraries, the Fort Washington Branch is an imposing limestone building recalling the popular aesthetic for institutional buildings at this time. It was built by the firm William S. Crowe, whom were responsible for the construction of three other Carnegie branches including the Mott Haven branch library in the Bronx and the 67th Street Branch in Manhattan.
The library opened to the public on April 14, 1914. It was the twenty-sixth and final Carnegie branch library to be erected in Manhattan. The cost of the site was $20,000. The building was erected, including all materials, construction equipment and labor for a total of $112,607.
Major renovations to the library took place in 1950 after a fire in the basement of the library, at which time the entrance and portions of the interior were replaced. This library is not currently designated.
Construction and Layout:
The Fort Washington Branch of the New York Public Library is a freestanding masonry structure that rises three stories over a granite foundation. It is rectangular in plan and is capped by a flat roof.
The limestone façade of the Fort Washington Branch of the New York Public library is symmetrically organized into three major bays. The first floor is deeply rusticated and made up of five arched openings with voussoirs. Two identical semi-circular arched openings sit at grade and make up the outer bays. The westernmost opening contains the library’s main entrance, while the other contains a false entryway that was included for balance. Each of the semi-circular arches contains a decorative keystone embellished with carvings featuring a lit torch superimposed by an open book. Three high-set segmental arched window openings make up the central bays of the first floor.
A thick band course separates the first and second stories. At the center of the second story is a tall arcade window with three openings and decorative keystones. Two smaller rectangular windows have been placed on either side, giving greater emphasis to the center.
Five evenly spaced rectangular windows with simple bracketed sills stretch across the third story. While each of the windows along the principal façade has been replaced, the fenestration patterns match the originals. The frieze is inscribed “NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY”. A modillion limestone cornice and curved parapet featuring the seal of the City of New York cap the library.
Visitors enter the library into a small vestibule. After ascending a series of steps, visitors find themselves in a large open mezzanine, which contains the adult reading areas and circulation desk. A children’s room is located on the second floor and additional reading rooms are located on the third.
The library retains a number of original elements including the wood-paneled vestibule, wooden display cases, several wooden bookcases, stairs with decorative iron railings, plaster ceilings with plaster beams, and rectangular plaster columns.
 Dierickx, Mary B., 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. p.135.