Manhattan Carnegie Libraries- St. Agnes Branch
New York Public Library St. Agnes Branch
444-446 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10024
Block: 1229 Lot: 31
Lot Area: 5,000 sq ft (50’ x 100’)
Number of floors: 3
Building Area: 3,634 sq ft (estimated)
Year(s) built: 1906
Year opened: 1906
Architect(s): Babb, Cook & Willard
Builder(s): Isaac Hopper & Son
Status: Library, falls within the Upper West Side-Central Park West Historic District, designated 1990.
Late 19th & 20th Century Revivals
Italian Renaissance Revival
Walls: Masonry, Limestone
Other: Original oak paneled vestibule, oak paneled rectangular columns with molded Tuscan capitals, staircase with marble steps and decorative iron railing, modillioned cornice, balustrade, and original entrance stairway
The St. Agnes library is located on the west side of Amsterdam Avenue between West 81st and 82nd Streets, 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 1906 by Babb, Cook & Willard, the St. Agnes 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]
The St. Agnes 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 St. Agnes Branch has played this civic role in the Upper West Side for over a century.[ii]
The St. Agnes Branch was designated as part of the Upper West Side-Central Park West Historic District in 1990, and continues to operate as a branch of the New York Public Library. The building underwent a major renovation in 1953, and pendant lights were reintroduced on the first and second stories in 1995. The entrance door and windows are non-historic, and all the arches were subsequently filled in. A non-historic drop ceiling with fluorescent lights was added in the area above the vestibule.
Construction and Layout:
Typical of the urban Carnegie branches, the St. Agnes 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 limestone. The bottom of the façade is interrupted by basement windows with iron mesh. Most of the historic stone base topped with an iron railing has been removed, leaving only the original entrance steps. 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 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. The limestone-framed doorway is placed in the right bay beneath a filled-in arched transom. The door is bordered by a simple limestone molding and a projecting door head. Two bronze lanterns flank the right bay. Severe, unornamented keystones cap the archways, which are framed by smooth limestone voussoirs.
A severe stone band course divides the first and second floors. Each second story arched window rests on a stone sill, is flanked by limestone pilasters, has spandrels with carved stone roundels, and is capped with a projecting square pediment. The third-floor windows are smaller and square-shaped, 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, 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. Original features of the nearly 18,000 square foot interior include an oak paneled vestibule, oak paneled rectangular columns with molded Tuscan capitals, molded plaster ceilings, wooden cabinets and screens, the second-floor circulation desk, and the staircase with marble steps and decorative iron railing.
[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.