Manhattan Carnegie Libraries- Yorkville Branch
New York Public Library Yorkville Branch
222 East 79th Street
New York, NY 10075
Block: 1433 Lot: 37
Lot Area: 4,087 sq ft (40’ x 102.17’)
Number of floors: 3
Building Area: 3,183 sq ft (estimated)
Year(s) built: 1902
Year opened: 1902
Architect(s): James Brown Lord
Builder(s): Isaac Hopper & Son
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: Brick, Limestone
Other: Rusticated stone base with side bay entrance and two arched windows, row of four Ionic columns divide upper floors into three bays
The Yorkville library is located on the south side of East 79th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. The building is set up against the sidewalk.
While plans for the Yorkville Branch were drawn up before the Carnegie grant was received, it was the first of the branches funded by Carnegie to open. Built in 1902 by the architect James Brown Lord, it is one of twenty branches built in Manhattan and one of sixty-seven throughout the whole city.
The Yorkville 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 – including a row of four Ionic columns that frame the two upper floors, which have pedimented windows – 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 Yorkville branch, with the symmetrical ordering of its components and restrained ornament, is one of the few and finest examples of the Palladian phase of Renaissance architecture found in New York City.
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 Yorkville Branch has played this civic role in Yorkville for over a century.[i] Among many of the library’s users was Thomas Masaryk, who conducted the research that resulted in the founding of the Czechoslovak Republic after World War I.
The building continues to serve its original purpose as the Yorkville Branch of the New York Public Library. The structure is a New York City individual landmark, and is listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.
Construction and Layout:
Typical of the urban Carnegie branches, the Yorkville 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. Its walls are brick and the front is covered in limestone. The library is topped by a flat roof.
The facade is designed in the Italian Renaissance Revival style, with a combination of arched and rectangular windows, and a progression from rustication and larger windows on the bottom to smoother surfaces, more ornamentation, and smaller windows on the top. The building’s 3-story, 3-bay classically-inspired design influenced other Manhattan branches that followed.
The limestone building’s rusticated first floor features arched bays with lion’s head keystones, including the side bay entrance on the right. The arched entrance doorway is situated to the right, as opposed to center so that more light can circulate throughout the first floor reading room through the tall, adjacent windows. Two non-historic period-inspired lanterns flank the doorway, with a bronze plaque on the left-hand side. The two first floor windows have ornamental metal grille work attached at the bottom. Decorative metal fences crown the two sides of the splayed entrance stairway, and separate the sunken basement level from the sidewalk.
A belt course with a Greek fret pattern divides the first and second floors. Four Roman Ionic columns span the height of the second and third floors and divide them into three bays. The richly decorated capitals feature foliated balusters and a water leaf pattern on each abacus. Tall windows on the second floor, each crowned with a triangular pediment with an egg-and-dart pattern, are set back behind balustrades. The third floor features small oblong windows framed with garlands and faces. On either edge of the façade, the Ionic columns are cut off mid-way by pilasters with egg-and-dart bands and abacuses with water leaf patterns.
An architrave with two fasciae and a water leaf band crowns the four columns. A frieze with the inscription “NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY” in bold, sans-serif lettering is set below a denticulated cornice with an egg-and-dart band, which is topped by a balustraded parapet. The original cornice once extended over the property line and had to be shaved on the sides. The entrance door and windows are replacements, but the original decorative transoms remain.
The first and second floors have a rectangular layout with large, spacious rooms filled with natural light. Although extensively renovated in 1986-1987, the interior features an original staircase with a decorative iron rail, high plaster ceilings and round plaster columns with molded capitals.
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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.