Queens Borough Public Library, Astoria Branch
14-01 Astoria Boulevard
Queens, NY 11102
Block: 540 Lot: 30
Lot Area: 10,490 sq ft (105’ x 99.58’)
Number of floors: 1
Building Area: 2,916 sq ft (estimated)
Year(s) built: 1904
Year opened: 1904
Architect(s): Tuthill & Higgins
Status: Library, no designation
Late 19th & 20th Century Revivals
Walls: Brick, Stone
Other: Saffron Roman brick, apsidal rear wall, rear yard with curved bench, original Flemish Revival chimney, WPA murals
The genesis of the Queens library corporation was the Long Island City Public Library, established from the collection of William Nelson in 1896. After the consolidation of the five boroughs into Greater New York in 1898, the library was known as the Queens Borough Library, and was responsible for the entire borough. Independent libraries such as Flushing, Poppenhusen and Richmond Hill merged with the new municipal library, and were eventually housed in Carnegie buildings. The Queens Borough Library acquired its current name, the Queens Borough Public Library, in 1907. Similar to the Brooklyn Public Library, the Queens system was an independent corporation whose trustees were appointed by the mayor and whose staff was in the civil service. Of the seven Carnegie Branches constructed in Queens, five remain and continue to operate.
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 Astoria Branch has played this civic role in Astoria for over a century.[i]
The building, designed by Tuthill & Higgins, architects in 1904, is situated on the northeast corner of the busy intersection of 14th Street, 28th Avenue and Astoria Boulevard. The architectural firm designed the Richmond Hill Branch as well. The Astoria Branch 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. Typically built in a Classical Revival style, the buildings have a symmetrical layout, large windows to allow an abundance of light into the reading rooms, and a prominent, decorative entrance.
Land for the structure was purchased from Henrietta Stivers in 1903 ($11,000). Construction and equipment cost $36,208.09.[ii] The Astoria Library continues to serve as a branch of the Queens Borough Public Library.
Originally this saffron brick building was built in the Flemish Revival style, featuring an angled corner entrance with a curved and stepped gable flanked by two tall chimneys. The original main entrance consisted of double doors and a transom surrounded by stone rustiaction on a either side and a stone flat arch on the top. Crowning the lintel was a stone broken arched pediment supported by two brackets with swags. A set of curved steps led to the doorway. The entrance was flanked by two first-floor windows with stone sills and topped with alternating brick and stone voussoirs. Above the door was a single narrow window with a stone sill, rustication and a stone triangular pediment with brackets. This small light was flanked by two stone plaques, each of which featured one word: “PVBLIC” on the left and “LIBRARY” on the right.
In the 1930s the structure was heavily renovated through the Federal Civil Works Administration. The angled corner was squared off, which created two new windows and made the structure three bays wide, two bays deep, and more rectangular. The original saffron brick pattern and tripartite window designs were carefully replicated in the new corner walls. A new stairway and main entrance were constructed, with narrow windows with stone sills and keystones on either side of the door. A basement entrance for children was created and the basement windows were widened. The original tile roof was replaced with slate and one chimney was removed.
Additional renovations took place in the 1960s, including a red brick projecting bay entrance with glass and aluminum doors. The bottom thirds of three first-story windows were filled in with red brick, as were the two small windows flanking the bay entrance. The red brick border that surrounds the children’s entrance was most likely added during this period as well.
William B. Tuthill of Tuthill & Higgins is most known for designing Carnegie Hall (1889-1891), built in the Renaissance Revival style with saffron Roman brickwork, the American Female Guardian Society (1901-2) in the West Bronx, the Morris and Laurette Schinasi House at 351 Riverside Drive (1907-09), and a group of row houses at 4-16 West 122nd Street (1888-9) in Harlem.[iii]
Construction and Layout:
The Astoria Branch is a rectangular structure three bays wide and two bays deep, with a curved rear wall punctured by five windows. Originally surrounded by a low brick retaining wall, the library’s corner lot is now bordered by a simple wrought iron fence with ornate iron posts. There is a narrow lawn on the building’s south and west facades. A set of steps leads down to the basement entrance on the west side while a staircase with iron railing leads to the building’s main entrance on the south side. The building has a rear yard with a large, curved brick bench that echoes the library’s apsidal rear wall. The yard was most likely intended as an outdoor reading space for library users. The library’s east wall abuts a residential building.
The building is topped by a slate roof that is gable-ended on the south and west side and conical on the northeast side. One of the original Flemish Revival brick chimneys protrudes through the roof, parallel with the middle of the west wall. The chimney features thin, recessed panels (rectangular and arched) and thin stone cornices.
The library’s walls are clad in saffron Roman bricks laid in a running bond, with minimal stone trim. A simple stone band course, which divides the first floor and basement level, extends around the building’s perimeter. The first-floor front facade contains three bays: two windows and the main entranceway. Each tripartite window has a rusticated stone enframement, and each bottom thirds is filled in with non-historic brick. The non-historic projecting bay entrance features modern glass and metal doors. Two thin, bricked in windows with stone sills and keystones flank the bay. On the basement level, there are two tripartite windows parallel to the first-floor windows, and a smaller window between them.
The side (west) facade features two tripartite windows with rusticated stone enframements. Whereas the southern window has its lower third bricked in, the northern window retains its historic design. The basement level contains three windows with non-historic metal grating. Below the southern window is the basement entrance with a modern doorway, a non-historic red brick enframement, and a stone door head with the engraved word “CHILDREN.” Two modern lighting fixtures flank the doorway.
The northern rear facade is one bay wide with a tripartite window identical to the historic window on the west wall. The rear wall then curves in a southeasterly direction to form an apsidal section. This segment of the library contains five windows with stone sills and brick and stone flat arches. Basement windows with non-historic grating are directly below those on the first floor.
The modern, spacious interior contains very few of the original features, which included hardwood floors, ornamental columns and a domed ceiling. The two brightly colored murals of puppets, executed by WPA artist Max Spivak (1906-1981), were part of a group of five paintings for the Children’s Reading Room. The murals were created as part of an artistic program for the space, which also included sculptures of circus performers, all of which have been lost. Like the exterior, the interior was remodeled in the 1930s and 1960s. In 1989, a new circulation desk was added and new interior windows were installed.
[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] 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.
[iii] Norval White & Elliot Willensky, AIA Guide to New York City, 4th ed. (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2000), 268, 338, 498, 590.