581 Mother Gaston Boulevard
Brooklyn, NY 11212
Block: 3794 Lot: 18
Lot Area: 10,000 sq ft (100’ x 100’)
Number of floors: 2
Building Area: 5,670 sq ft (estimated)
Year(s) built: 1914
Year opened: 1914
Architect(s): William B. Tubby
Builder(s): F.J. Kelly’s Sons
Status: Designated April 14, 2015
Late 19th & 20th Century Revivals
Walls: Brick, Stone
Other: Designed in the Jacobethan style, corner tower with bay windows, crenelated parapet, decorative plaster ceiling, fireplace surround with Rockwood tiles, furniture by Merritt & Company
The Brooklyn Public Library was created through state legislation in 1892 and began functioning five years later. In 1901, Andrew Carnegie signed a contract guaranteeing the construction of new public libraries in Brooklyn. In November of that year, the Sites Committee posited the five areas in Brooklyn with the greatest need for Carnegie branches. The locations were Williamsburg, Fulton, Carroll Park, Bedford, and Stuyvesant (which included Bushwick).
The formerly private Brooklyn Library collection, in addition to several small independent libraries, formed the core of the Brooklyn Public Library by 1902. These independent facilities, including Brownsville, Bedford, Fort Hamilton, Washington Irving, and Flatbush, were soon housed in Carnegie buildings. Although the Brooklyn system was an independent corporation, the New York City mayor, comptroller and borough president were on the board of trustees ex-officio, and its staff was in the civil service. The Brooklyn Public Library’s main central building was not completed until 1941.
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 Stone Avenue Branch has played this civic role in Brownsville for nearly a century.[i]
The architect William B. Tubby designed the Stone Avenue Branch in addition to three other Brooklyn libraries (Carroll Gardens (1905), DeKalb (1905), and Leonard (1908)) and served on the Architects’ commission for the Brooklyn Carnegie branches. Following the commission’s stylistic guidelines, Tubby’s design has several characteristics of the suburban Carnegie library type. Located in the less densely populated areas of the Bronx, Brooklyn, Staten Island and Queens, these branches are most often freestanding structures within a larger lot. Frequently, the libraries feature brick walls with limestone trim, large windows to allow an abundance of light into the reading rooms, and a prominent, decorative entrance. What distinguishes this branch is that it does not take its stylistic cues from Neoclassicism, and it does not have a central entrance. One of Tubby’s early or original elevations for the Stone Avenue library depicts a more typical single-story, three-bay library with a center doorway, which was ultimately discarded in favor of the final design.[ii]
This unique Jacobethan-style building originally operated as the Brownsville Children’s Library in an effort to alleviate the overcrowding at the Brownsville Branch at 61 Glenmore Avenue (1908), which itself was expanded before it opened.[iii] Land for the site was purchased in 1912 from Edward Guckenheimer and his wife for $15,000.[iv] The library’s total cost was $87,206. The first branch librarian Clara W. Hunt collaborated directly with the planners to make the building specifically a children’s branch. On September 24, 1914 the facility officially opened.[v]
The original doors were eventually replaced and the plaques between the first and second stories were plastered over. From 1953 to 1955 the structure was renovated, and the roof was remodeled in 1976 and again in 1994. New period-inspired, multi-paneled entrance doors were recently installed. The Stone Avenue Branch continues to operate as a branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. Once surrounded by low-rise late 19th and early 20th century residential buildings, the branch now stands in the middle of six Post-World War II super blocks containing high-rise public housing projects.
Construction and Layout:
The two-story, five by eight bay rectangular structure occupies an entire corner lot at the intersection of Stone Avenue and Dumont Avenue. A few small shrubs grow in the northeast corner of the lot. A later simple iron fence encloses the site. The library is built to the building line, and features a projecting corner tower with two entrance doors. A three-bay wide annex extends out from the middle of the rear wall. The building is topped by a flat roof.
The library’s walls are clad in dark Harvard bricks arranged in an English Cross Bond with Dutch Corners. A heavy stone base anchors the facade. A projecting tower with two doorways and two bay windows is located on the northwest corner. Early or historic staircases with iron railing lead to the doors. Stone tabs and a carved stone door head surround each entrance bay. A stone transom bar separates the tall, multi-paneled wooden doors from the narrow transom window with six glass panes divided by wooden muntins. Above each doorway is the Brooklyn Public Library seal carved in stone.
The corner tower’s second story contains two bay windows, each with a tapered stone base and two small corbels. Stone mullions divide each bay window into three sections: a central section with four panes and two side sections with two panes each. Stone muntins divide the panes. Carved stone window heads and a vegetal belt course separate the second floor from the brick parapet, which features two carved stone coats of arms on each side of the tower. An austere stone cornice crowns the parapet, and continues around the entire building.
The west facade, including the corner tower, is eight bays wide. On the first floor, to the right of the main entrance is a group of ceiling-height windows separated by two brick and stone buttresses. Between the buttresses are ribbon windows divided by four stone mullions, which form an alternating pattern of three windows with six panes each and two windows with three panes each. On the other side of each buttress are single windows with six panes each. Stone muntins hold the panes together. Stone tabs and square heads surround each window. Above the central ribbon windows is a horizontal stone tablet with decorative carvings at each end, including three fleur-de-lis. The middle section is plastered over. Above each flanking window is a stone tablet with the carved image of a tree, bordered with a bead pattern. To the right of the windows is a secondary door with stone tabs and a projecting stone door head. Above this entrance is a stone relief depicting an open book. This is a common decorative feature used at several Carnegie branches, including Chatham Square in Manhattan and Poppenhusen in Queens. To the right of the doorway, the wall slightly recedes. In the southern-most bay are two small first-floor windows arranged vertically. Each window has a stone surround.
A stone band course separates the first and second floors. The west facade’s second level contains eight windows including the bay window. The seven rectangular fixed windows have stone surrounds and square heads, and four panes with stone muntins. A second band runs parallel to the top of the windows and contains small decorative carvings between each square head. A thick stone belt course divides the second floor from the partially crenelated brick and stone parapet. Each small stone battlement features individual carvings, while the larger brick battlements contain two coats of arms, one of which illustrates the seal of the City of New York: a four-blade windmill (representing the Dutch settlers), two beavers at the top and bottom and two flour barrels on the left and right (symbolizing the two most important exports of New Amsterdam: furs and flour).
The north facade, including the corner tower, is five bays wide. On the first floor, to the left of the main entrance is a group of three ceiling-height windows separated by brick piers. The central window is six panes wide and three panes high, and is flanked by single windows with six panes each. Stone muntins hold the panes together. Stone tabs and square heads surround each window. Above the middle window is a horizontal stone tablet that was subsequently plastered over. A stone band course separates the first and second floors. The north facade’s second level contains five windows including the bay window. The four rectangular fixed windows are identical to those on the west facade. A second band runs parallel to the top of the windows and contains small decorative carvings between each square head. A thick stone belt course divides the second floor from the partially crenelated brick and stone parapet. Each set of four stone battlements is positioned parallel with one of the first-floor single windows. The smaller battlements feature individual carvings.
The south facade is approximately four bays wide. At the middle of the wall is a clear demarcation between the original facade and a later alteration. The left portion of the wall slightly projects, contains bricks arranged in the original English Cross pattern, and features the protruding stone base, belt course and parapet. The first floor has two sets of small, recessed windows, with one pair located above the other. Each window has stone window heads and sills. There is a single, fixed four-paned window on the second floor identical to those on the facades facing the street. The only difference is that the opening does not feature a molded window head. The wall’s right side is composed of later bricks in a regular running bond, and the base, belt course and parapet do not continue. This portion of the wall contains two small first-floor windows that are not recessed, and two second-floor sealed windows with stone surrounds.
The east (rear) facade is eight bays wide. The section that includes the seven northern-most bays projects outward by a width of one bay. The southern-most bay contains later bricks arranged in a running bond, a tripartite window with brick mullions, and a second-floor light with four panes and a stone surround. The original stone belt course and parapet do not continue along this wall. Perpendicular to the southern-most bay is a wall that features the original brick pattern, band courses and parapet. The first story has no windows and the second story contains a window that is identical to the one perpendicular to it.
The remainder of the east facade is composed of original materials, with brick walls in an English Cross Bond. The second-floor windows, stone belt course, and brick and stone crenelated parapet have the same design as the north and west facades. Each set of four stone battlements is placed on the facade’s edges. The first story features a three-bay wide protruding section in the center. On this component, the east wall is solid and the north and south walls feature two ceiling-height windows identical to the single windows on the north and west facades. The section also has a thick belt course and a brick parapet capped with a stone molding. Flanking the rear annex are pairs of ceiling-height windows.
The spacious interior retains a two-story central space. Historic features include Jacobethan ceilings with plaster ribs and triangular and polygonal panels, plaster ornamentation on the square-shaped piers and around the windows, a storybook-themed fireplace surround with Rockwood tiles, and some original furniture by Merritt & Company, including children’s benches featuring carved rabbits on the arm rests.[vii] A rear stair hall with dark wood wainscoting and an original iron balustrade leads to the second floor, which features a large reading room (now used by an African-American history museum) lined with wood and glass cabinetry and paneling.
[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.)
[ii] Dierickx, 95.
[iii] Dierickx, 95.
[iv] William A. Prendergast, Comptroller, Record of Real Estate Owned by the City of New York, December 31, 1914 (NYC: Department of Finance, Bureau of Municipal Investigation and Statistics), 149.
[v] Dierickx, 95.
[vi] Dierickx, 95.
[vii] Dierickx, 95.
STATUS Designated Individual Landmark
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