Bronx Carnegie Library: Mott Haven Branch

STATUS In a Designated Historic District

CLIENT: New York Public Library

ARCHITECT: Babb, Cook & Willard

DATE: 1905

STYLE: Italian Renaissance Revival

Carnegie Library New York Public Library

821 East 140th Street

Bronx, New York 10454

Block: 2315, Lot: 18

Lot Area: approximately 5,000 sq. ft. (50’ x 100’)

Number of Floors: 3

Building Area: approximately 21,000 sq. ft. (50’ x 75’)

Year built: 1905

Architect(s): Babb, Cook & Willard (who also designed Andrew Carnegie’s that was completed in 1902)

Builder(s): William L. Crow

Designation: Falls within the Mott Haven Historic District, designated 1966.



Architectural Classification: Italian Renaissance Revival


Foundation: Limestone

Walls: Brick

Other: Indiana Limestone detail


The palazzo-style Mott Haven branch of the New York Public Library, built in 1905, is the oldest of the Carnegie branch libraries in the Bronx. Located on a corner lot at the intersection of Alexander Avenue and East 140th Street, it was designated part of the Mott Haven Historic District in 1966.

Designed by Babb, Cook & Willard, architects of eight of the Carnegie Branch libraries as well as Andrew Carnegie’s own mansion on Fifth Avenue and 91st Street[1], the Mott Haven branch library is an ornate Classical-Revival style brick and limestone structure that recalls many of the other Carnegie branch libraries throughout the city.

It was built by William L. Crow whom was responsible for the construction of the 67th Street Carnegie Branch library (also designed by Babb, Cook & Willard) as well as the Brooklyn Saratoga and Wall Whitman Carnegie Branch libraries, designed by Daus & Otto, Architects.[2]

The library is included as part of the Mott Haven Historic District, which encompasses a number of Classical Revival residential buildings from the second half of the 19th century to the first decade of the 20th century along Alexander Avenue between 137th and 141st Streets. The district is an oasis of historic architecture, a small scale residential enclave surrounded by tall mid-century housing projects.

The library has been in continuous operation for over one-hundred years.  It opened to the public on March 31, 1905. The site was purchased at a cost of $22,500. The library itself was constructed at a total cost of $119,296. As was the policy for all Carnegie branch libraries, a custodian lived on site. In 1949, the advertised salary for the custodian position was $60.83 a month and a five-room apartment as accommodations.[3]


Narrative Description:

Construction and Layout:

Rising an imposing three stories, the library is a symmetrical Italian Renaissance palazzo-style building of masonry and stone construction that is T-shaped in plan. A central entrance along the East 140th Street façade leads patrons through a free-standing vestibule into a large open circulation room that houses the librarian’s station. A sweeping double stair at the rear allows patrons to access the children’s reading room on the second story.


Composed of red Flemish bond brick and light-colored Indiana limestone, the Mott Haven Library stands at three stories high and five bays wide over a limestone base. It is a lavish and imposing Classically-inspired civic structure that, along with the police station on the adjacent block, stands out among the neighboring residences.

Four semi-circular arched windows with articulated limestone surrounds, inlaid with flat limestone discs, stretch across the ground floor. A rusticated entrance, alternating between wide and narrow limestone blocks, occupies the central bay of the principal facade along 140th Street. The original wooden door remains, equipped with brass hardware and kickplate. A rectangular limestone panel centered above the entrance reads: NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY. Two non-historic light fixtures flank either side of the entrance. The same pattern of blocks that surrounds the entrance is repeated in the corner quoins that frame the building. The blocks diminish in height near the top of the first floor to align with the entrance surround and are interrupted at each band course as they extend up towards the cornice.

In keeping with the palazzo style, the tallest windows are located on the second story. Five pedimented rectangular divided-light windows rest directly upon a simple limestone stringcourse. Scroll brackets support the projecting pediments. On the third story just below the cornice, a series of small divided-light windows, square in shape, are visually tied together by a thick band course at sill level, making the windows appear to be part of the roof itself. Above the windows, the denticulated cornice is carried on a series of console brackets.

Non-historic wooden sash windows are in the same fenestration pattern as the originals. Non-historic wood panels surrounding the windows on the principal facade, indicate where cast iron balconies, similar to those that survive on the first floor the Alexander Avenue facade, were removed.


Patrons enter the library through the original free-standing oak-paneled vestibule and into a large circulation room on the first floor. The original stair with wooden railings, decorative cast iron rails and marble steps is located at the rear of the room. The grand cast iron staircase allows patrons to access the second floor, which originally housed the children’s stacks and once featured an octagonal oak-paneled librarian’s station.

Many historic features survive including the wood trim of the windows, the round and rectangular pilaster-faced columns with molded capitals and original beams of the reading rooms. In addition, a round cast iron radiator topped with a marble slab survives as well as a number of original light fixtures with fabric-chords and glass globes. The original skylight over the second floor reading room also survives.

[1] Construction on the Andrew Carnegie Mansion in 1902. Landmarks Preservation Commission, Mott Haven Historic District Report LP-045, filed on July 29, 1969.

[2] Dierickx, Mary B. The Architecture of Literacy: The Carnegie Libraries of New York City. New York City: The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art and the New York City Department of General Services. 1996, page 207.

[3] Ibid. pages 116-117.



STATUS In a Designated Historic District

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