New York Public Library Tompkins Square Branch
331 East 10th Street
New York, NY 10009
Block: 404 Lot: 39
Lot Area: 4,796 sq ft (50.5’ x 94.75’)
Number of floors: 3
Building Area: 3,014 sq ft (estimated)
Year(s) built: 1904
Year opened: 1904
Architect(s): McKim, Mead & White
Builder(s): Michael Reid & Company
Status: Library, New York City individual landmark
Late 19th & 20th Century Revivals
Italian Renaissance Revival
Walls: Masonry, Limestone, Granite
Other: Rusticated pilasters on either end of the facade, tympanums with stone carvings in second-floor arched windows, the pilasters support a frieze with swags and shields
The Tompkins Square library is located on the north side of East 10th Street facing Tompkins Square Park, between Avenue A and Avenue B. Designed by McKim, Mead and White in 1904, the Tompkins Square Branch was one of twelve Carnegie libraries the preeminent architectural firm would build; the last was the 1923 Fordham Branch. It is one of twenty Carnegie branch libraries built in Manhattan and one of sixty-seven throughout the whole city. The builder, Michael Reid & Company, built eight additional branches with McKim, Mead & White.
The Tompkins Square 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 urban branches were located in densely populated Manhattan and in some neighborhoods in the Bronx.
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 Tompkins Square Branch has played this civic role in the East Village for over a century, especially since it was close to a Boys Club building and behind a public bath when it was completed.[i]
The Tompkins Square Branch is a New York City individual landmark and continues to operate as a branch of the New York Public Library. In 1960, the building was remodeled by architect Tito di Vincenzo, and made handicapped accessible in 1996 by RKT&B Architects under the Adopt-a-Library program.
Construction and Layout:
Typical of the urban Carnegie branches, the Tompkins 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 is slightly set back from the property line. The library is recessed behind a six-foot non-historic metal railing on top of a granite base. The front entrance is marked with two three-foot high granite bollards. The structure has masonry walls and the front is covered in limestone with a granite base. 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 that get progressively smaller towards the top. There are two rectangular window openings to the granite basement façade, one with a replacement double-hung window and one with a replacement door. A newer light fixture is attached above the door, and a non-historic vent opening and small non-historic window flank the door on either side. Replacement concrete steps lead to the street. The arched entrance doorway is situated in the left, as opposed to the center bay so that more light can circulate throughout the first floor reading room through two tall, adjacent windows. Rectangular and arched aluminum transom windows are situated above replacement aluminum double doors. Replications of the original wooden pilasters frame the door.
On the second floor, each arched window is framed with basic stone molding and contains a tympanum with relief carvings. The center tympanum displays the seal of the City of New York on a shield against a floral pattern similar to acanthus leaves. Each side window has a rosette representing an historic figure in printing — Aldus Manutius, the Fifteenth-Century Venetian printer, and Cristophe Plantin Press from Sixteenth-Century Germany. In the easternmost rosette there is a Latin phrase: Labore et Constantia – With Effort and Perseverance – carved in stone.
The sills of the second and third floors are composed of decorative stone bands with alternating fleurs de lis and flowers. Rusticated pilasters with foliated capitals frame the facade on either edge, and support a stone cornice with dentil and egg-and-dart courses. Below the courses is a stone frieze with alternating swags and shields containing open books. A central stepped parapet placed above the cornice contains the words “THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY.”
There are two replacement lanterns on the rusticated pilasters at ground level, and a modern plaque is located adjacent to the entrance with the words “New York Public Library Tompkins Square Branch.” A non-historic flag pole is attached to the westernmost second-floor windowsill; the original pole was located in the center window on the third-floor. The rectangular door transoms and basement and first floor windows are faced with non-historic grating. All windows have aluminum fixed and double-hung replacement sash.
Each floor has a rectangular layout with large, spacious rooms filled with natural light – an adults’ reading room on the first floor, children’s reading room on the second, and the basement contains an assembly room.
[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.