Manhattan Carnegie Libraries- Hamilton Grange Branch
New York Public Library Hamilton Grange Branch
503-505 West 145th Street
New York, NY 10031
Block: 2077 Lot: 26
Lot Area: 5,995 sq ft (60’ x 99.92’)
Number of floors: 3
Building Area: 3,750 sq ft (estimated)
Year(s) built: 1905-6
Year opened: 1907
Architect(s): McKim, Mead & White
Builder(s): Michael Reid & Company
Status: Library, New York City individual landmark, listed on State and National Registers of Historic Places
Late 19th & 20th Century Revivals
Italian Renaissance Revival
Walls: Masonry, Limestone
Roof: Metal or Slate
Other: Rusticated limestone façade, five bays wide, alternating triangular and arched pediments on the second floor, historic cast-iron fence and bronze lamps
The Hamilton Grange library is located on the north side of West 145th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway, closer to Amsterdam. Designed by McKim, Mead and White in 1905-6, the Hamilton Grange Branch was one of twelve Carnegie libraries the preeminent architectural firm would build; the last was the 1923 Fordham Branch. It is one of twenty Carnegie branch libraries built in Manhattan and one of sixty-seven throughout the whole city. The builder, Michael Reid & Company, built eight additional branches with McKim, Mead & White.
The Hamilton Grange 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, ornamental stone masonry, and tall, large arched windows on the first floor that allow an abundance of light into a relatively simple interior. Unlike most of the urban Carnegie libraries, the arched entranceway is centered, as opposed to being off to one side. This choice of layout was intended to maximize the size of the reading rooms on the ground floor. 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 Hamilton Grange Branch has played this civic role in Harlem for over a century.[i]
The Hamilton Grange Branch is a New York City individual landmark listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places. The building continues to operate as a branch of the New York Public Library. A major rehabilitation in 1975 replaced most of the historic interior.
Construction and Layout:
Typical of the urban Carnegie branches, the Hamilton Grange branch is a three-story, five-bay structure with only one side facing the street. The building is situated in mid-block near a busy cross street in a densely built and heavily populated part of New York. The structure has masonry walls and the front is faced in limestone. The building is topped by a sloping, Renaissance-inspired roof.
The Hamilton Grange library is one of McKim, Mead & White’s finest adaptations of the Italian Renaissance style. The facade has several characteristics of a Florentine palazzo. It has a combination of arched openings on the ground floor and rectangular windows on the second. The windows become progressively smaller towards the top. On the first and second floors, narrow windows are placed in between the three larger ones, all of which are vertically aligned one above the other. These smaller windows were most likely designed to allow more light into the reading rooms. On the third floor, smaller, rectangular windows of equal size are positioned directly above each second-floor bay. This vertical rhythm is counterbalanced with a strong horizontal emphasis through the use of band courses that separate each story. A rusticated surface unifies the whole façade, which is graded from deeper stone carving on the bottom to shallower carving on the top.
Another aspect from Italian Renaissance architecture incorporated by McKim, Mead & White is the façade’s symmetrical composition. On the first floor, the central bay is emphasized by both the doorway and the sculpted stone escutcheon on the keystone, which features New York City’s coat of arms. On the second story, instead of all three windows being topped by triangular pediments, the center window features an arched pediment, drawing attention to the middle. The crowning third-floor frieze decorated with a fleur-de-lis pattern is interrupted in the center by the words “NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY,” focusing on the central axis once again. Three dormer windows project from the roof directly above the inscription.
The Hamilton Grange branch features an extensive amount of limestone and cast-iron ornamentation. Rusticated stone voussoirs frame the arched first-floor windows. Cherubs holding up books are carved into the keystones above the right and left windows. An original lace-patterned cast-iron fence separates the sidewalk from the basement level, while two historic bronze lamps flank the doorway. The wood windows are original or early, while the entrance door is non-historic, and the front entrance steps were removed. On the second floor, each pediment is supported by two consoles, and panels with swags are found above the two thinner windows. A dentil pattern is carved above the third-floor frieze beneath a plain cornice.
Each floor has a rectangular layout with large, spacious rooms filled with natural light. During the 1975 renovation, the vestibule was redesigned and the interior staircase was replaced. An elevator was added, the ceiling was partially lowered and large fluorescent lights were installed.
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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.