Queens Borough Public Library, Woodhaven Branch
85-41 Forest Pkwy
Queens, NY 11421
Block: 8856 Lot: 85
Lot Area: 10,012 sq ft (100’ x 100’)
Number of floors: 1
Building Area: 9,000 sq ft (estimated)
Year(s) built: 1924
Year opened: 1924
Architect(s): Robert F. Schirmer
Builder(s): Fraser & Berau
Status: Library, no designation
Late 19th & 20th Century Revivals
Walls: Brick, Stone
Other: Apsidal space in the building’s rear
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.
Opening its doors to the public on January 5, 1924, the Woodhaven Branch was the last Carnegie Library completed in Queens, and was partially funded with the remainder of the Carnegie gift to the city. The building is located on the northeast corner of Forest Parkway and 85th Drive. The architect, Robert F. Schirmer, along with J.W. Schmidt, also completed the Queens Borough Public Library’s central building in 1927; which is now the Queens Family Courthouse.
The Woodhaven 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.
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 Woodhaven Branch has played this civic role in Woodhaven for over eighty years.[i]
The Woodhaven library continues to operate as a branch of the Queens Borough Public Library. The building has undergone numerous renovations since its opening. The original fan light transoms in the windows and over the main entrance door were subsequently bricked in. The multi-paned window sash was replaced with modern sash, and the lower third of the windows was subsequently bricked in. The historic front doors was replaced with modern glass and aluminum doors. In the early 1930s, under the Federal Civil Works Administration work relief program, an auditorium and children’s room were constructed. Major renovations in the late 1960s included new windows, a new roof, and up to date heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. Additional repairs were made in the aftermath of a fire in 1978. In 1991, a new handicapped access ramp with aluminum railing as well as a set of new concrete steps were added.
Construction and Layout:
The free-standing, single-story rectangular structure is located on a corner lot bordered by a wrought iron fence. The library is five bays wide and three bays deep. The building’s front section (two bays deep) is roughly a half-story higher than the rear section. Non-historic steps and a ramp lead to the front door. A lawn with several small trees surrounds the building. The library is placed on a high basement with windows on all sides. A stone water table, which wraps around the entire façade, delineates the ground floor level. Like the DeKalb Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, the front entrance bay projects slightly forward, while a curved, apsidal section projects more conspicuously outward from the center of the rear wall. The library is topped by a flat roof.
The library’s walls are clad in dark red bricks arranged in a Flemish Bond with minimal stone trim. The front façade is composed of five bays: a central doorway and two pairs of flanking windows. The entrance door and transom is framed by a stone surround, which is capped by a frieze with the words “PUBLIC LIBRARY.” Above the inscription is a simple dentillated door head with scrolled brackets. The doorframe is surrounded by an additional limestone border. The original fanlight transom above the entrance is now bricked in with a stack bond. An arched stone surround with a keystone frames the door and transom. Two non-historic light fixtures flank the entrance.
Brick soldier arches border the windows. The transom and lower third of each window is bricked in with a stack bond. Directly below the filled-in lower third of every window is a rectangular brick spandrel. The façade is crowned with a simple, dentillated stone cornice, above which is a plain brick parapet.
The front section’s side façades are identical to the front façade. The rear section’s one-bay wide side façades are shorter than the front side façades, contain shorter, rectangular windows with flat soldier arches, and feature a narrower stone cornice that extends around the structure’s rear wall. The library’s rear façade contains a large apse that is flanked by two rectangular windows with the same design as those on the rear section’s side façade. The apse contains several windows the same height as the flanking windows.
The spacious interior does not retain any original features with the exception of a screen of full-height fluted wood columns across the gently curved rear reading 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.