Manhattan Carnegie Libraries- Harlem Branch

 New York Public Library  Harlem Branch


9-11 West 124th Street

Manhattan, New York

Block: 1722 Lot: 30

Lot Area: 4,743 sq. ft. (47’ x 100.92’)

Number of Floors: 3

Building Area: approximately 11,409 sq. ft. (47’ x 78’)

Year built: 1909

Architect(s): McKim, Mead & White

Builder(s): Michael Reid & Company

Designation: Not designated




Architectural Classification: Classical Revival



Foundation: Granite

Walls:  Limestone

Other: Limestone decorative details



The Harlem Branch Library sits in the middle of a residential block along the north side of West 124th Street between Fifth and Lenox Avenues (also known as Malcolm X Boulevard) across from Marcus Garvey Park[1], one of the oldest public squares in Manhattan.

A smaller community library had existed on the site since 1826 before it was incorporated by the New York Public Library system and become known as the Harlem Branch Library.[2] After distribution of the Carnegie funds, the original building was demolished and the extant library was constructed.

Erected between 1908 and 1909, it is one of twelve branch libraries designed by preeminent architectural firm, McKim, Mead & White, and reflects the Classically inspired aesthetic used for nearly all of their Carnegie libraries. It was constructed by New York builders Michael Reid & Company and is one of nine Carnegie branches to be designed by McKim, Mead & White and built by this construction firm.

The site was purchased for $60,000 and the library was built at a cost of $93,544. The library officially opened on January 11, 1909 and has been in continuous operation ever since.

The library underwent a series of renovations in the 1930s and then again in the 1950s, during which time the original entrance doors, exterior light fixtures, windows, and roof were replaced. In 2004, as part of the “Adopt-A-Branch” program, the interiors were entirely refurbished.[3] This library is not currently designated.


Narrative Description:

Construction and Layout:

Rectangular in plan, this limestone-clad library stands three stories tall over a granite base. It is of masonry construction with a flat roof and it is rectangular in plan.



In keeping with the Classical Revival designs of many of the Carnegie branches, the Harlem Branch of the New York Public Library recalls the tripartite scheme of a Florentine palazzo with its façade symmetrically organized into three bays.

The first floor is dominated by three large round-arched openings with wide sloped archivolts that are embellished with rosettes. The main entrance to the library is located in the westernmost bay and is approached by ascending a series of non-historic steps. The non-historic double entrance doors are topped by a glazed transom and fanlight. A handicap-accessible ramp was added to the front of the library in 2004.

Windows located within the remaining bays are paired two-over-eight divided lights with fanlights. Original windows were paired-over-ten divided light with balustrades. However, the windows were shortened and the balustrades removed as part of the 2004 renovation.[4]

A denticulated band course divides the first and second stories and serves as the sill level for the windows above. Replacement windows imitate the fenestration patterns of the originals and are two-over-eight divided lights.

Four evenly-spaced pilasters with intricately carved capitals divide the openings and extend from the band course of the second story up to the third story just below the entablature. Openings of third story are slightly smaller and rectangular. These, too, replicate the originals and are paired two-over-eight divided lights.

The architrave consists of three simple limestone bands. Above, the frieze is embellished with four carved open books with small fleur-de-lys centered directly over the pilasters. The words “NEW YORK” are carved into the westernmost bay, “PUBLIC” in the center and “LIBRARY’ in the easternmost bay. A heavy projecting denticulated cornice caps the building.



Library patrons enter through the main entrance into a marble wainscoted vestibule with wood and glass screen above. Beyond the heavy double wooden doors of the vestibule, is a generous entrance hall, which opens up onto the main circulation desk and library stations with adult and young adult reading rooms beyond. A children’s room is located on the second floor. An auditorium and additional stacks are located on the third floor.

Despite renovations, the library retains a number of its original features including portions of the wood paneling in the reading rooms, wooden and glass display cases, plaster ceiling, plaster columns, marble wainscoting and glass and wooden screen of the vestibule, as well as the decorative iron staircase.





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[1] Marcus Garvey Park was known as Mount Morris Park from the 1830s until it was renamed in 1973.

[2] The Harlem Branch Library was one of the first community libraries to be incorporated by the New York Public Library system.

[3] Dierickx, Mary B., 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. p. 141.

[4] Dierickx, Mary B., 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. P. 141.