New York Public Library West 135th Street Branch
Schomburg Collection for Research in Black Culture
103 West 135th Street
Manhattan, New York
Year built: 1905
Architect(s): McKim, Mead & White
Builder(s): Michael Reid & Company
Designation: Individual New York City landmark, designated 1981 (LP-1133), nominated to the State and National Register 1978 (record number 375441)
Located in the middle of the block on the north side of 135th Street in the heart of Harlem, the Schomburg Collection for Research in Black Culture became a center of African-American culture during the Harlem Renaissance. Countless African-American writers, artists, and intellectuals were drawn to this library throughout the 1920s and 1930s, not only for its celebrated collections of African-American literature and history but also cultural events such as weekly lectures given by such notable figures as W.E.B. DuBois, Franz Boas, and Carl Van Doren. The library also housed a W.P.A. Writers Project and the American Negro Theater where a number of African-American actors, including Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte, made their debuts.
Known as the 135th Street Branch when it opened on July 4, 1905, the library was renamed the “135th Street Branch Division of Negro Literature” in 1925 in reference to the small collection African-American literature and history that librarian Ernestine Rose had been assembling since the early 1920s. The library became officially known as the “Schomburg Collection for Research in Black Culture” in 1926 when the New York Public Library purchased the Schomburg Collection of African American Literature and Art as part of a gift from the Carnegie Corporation.
Designed by McKim, Mead & White in 1904, the Schomburg Collection for Research in Black Culture recalls the dignified Classically inspired proportions and aesthetic of the firm’s other branch libraries. It is the eighth Carnegie branch library to be erected in Manhattan and one of nine to be designed by McKim, Mead & White and built by Michael Reid & Company. The site was purchased by the New York Public Library for $28,000. The building was erected for $75,282.
A large addition, designed by Louis Abramson, was added to the rear of the library in 1941, doubling the size of the building. In 1991, a second addition was added to the rear so that the library now stretches from one side of the block to the other. The address of the 1991 addition is 104 West 136th Street.
The Schomburg Collection for Research in Black Culture was designated a New York City individual landmark in 1981. It was nominated to the State and National Registers in 1978 for its significant role in the documentation of African American culture.
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