Manhattan Carnegie Libraries-Webster Branch
New York Public Library Webster Branch
1465 York Avenue
New York, NY 10075
Block: 1472 Lot: 28
Lot Area: 3,635 sq ft (38.67’ x 94’)
Number of floors: 3
Building Area: 2,651 sq ft (estimated)
Year(s) built: 1905-6
Year opened: 1906
Architect(s): Babb, Cook & Willard
Builder(s): J.C. Vreeland & Company
Status: Library, no designation
Late 19th & 20th Century Revivals
Italian Renaissance Revival
Walls: Masonry, Limestone
Other: Ornamental limestone doorframe, transom displays a carved stone roundel with the date the cornerstone was laid, second-story windows feature broken arched pediments with Doric triglyphs and carved limestone wreaths and shields
The Webster library is located on the west side of York Avenue between East 77th and 78th Streets (closer to 78th), and is set up against the sidewalk. The structure is one of twenty Carnegie branches built in Manhattan and one of sixty-seven throughout the whole city.
Built in 1905-6 by Babb, Cook & Willard, the Webster Branch was one of seven 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] J.C. Vreeland & Company, the builder, also constructed the St. George Branch on Staten Island, designed by Carrere & Hastings.
The Webster 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 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 Webster Branch has played this civic role in Yorkville for over a century.[ii]
Like the Bohemian National Hall at 321 East 73rd Street (designed by William C. Frohne, 1895-97),[iii] the Webster Library served as a hub for the neighborhood’s vibrant Czech community. The branch provided Czech newspapers and magazines, children’s story hours with Czech readings, a location for Bohemian Club meetings, and exhibition cases for Czech publications and a panoramic photograph of Prague.
The Webster Branch continues to operate as a branch of the New York Public Library. Security grilles were installed in the lowest windows and the front door and windows are replacements. The modern fenestration pattern alludes to the original. The interior lighting fixtures were replaced at some point in the mid-20th Century. To create a lighting scheme more sympathetic to the building, pendant lights replaced the newer fixtures in 1995.
Construction and Layout:
Typical of the urban Carnegie branches, the Webster 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. It has masonry walls and the front is covered in plain, unornamented limestone. The basement window well was filled in and converted to a wheelchair-accessible ramp bordered by an historic stone base and wrought iron fence. Original stone steps flanked by historic stone pillars lead up to the entrance. The library is topped by a flat roof.
The façade 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. 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, arched adjacent windows. Smooth limestone voussoirs frame the archways.
The limestone-framed doorway is placed in the right arch. The door’s stone posts feature small carved roundels while the lintel features a water leaf pattern, a band of alternating rosettes and acanthus leaves, and dentils. An historic plaque is positioned to the right of the entranceway, and historic bronze lanterns flank the door. Two stone consoles support a door head with additional carved roundels, which forms the bottom frame of the arched stone transom. The transom features a large roundel with the date the building’s cornerstone was laid “AD 1905,” which flanked by scrolls.
A severe stone band course divides the first and second floors. Each second-floor rectangular window is framed with a window head in the form of a broken arched pediment with two Doric triglyphs and carved limestone wreaths and shields. The third-floor rectangular windows are smaller, with projecting stone sills and Doric/Neoclassical window frames. A thin molded band course separates the third story from a frieze at the top of the façade with the engraved words “NEW YORK PVBLIC LIBRARY.” The façade is crowned with a dentillated cornice.
Each floor of the nearly 12,000 square foot interior has a rectangular layout with large, spacious rooms filled with natural light from windows in the front and back walls. The Webster Branch retains the historic staircase with ornamental iron railing, wood paneled wall screens, rectangular columns with molded Tuscan capitals, plaster ceiling with cove moldings, and original charge desk. An original or early bulletin board also survives.
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[i] Norval White & Elliot Willensky, AIA Guide to New York City, 4th ed. (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2000), 161, 429, 705.
[ii] “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.