Designation Testimony

New York Public Library, Harlem Branch – 9 West 124th Street

The Historic Districts Council is the citywide advocate for New York’s historic buildings and neighborhoods. HDC has long been interested in the preservation of New York City’s remarkable collection of public buildings, especially its libraries and schools. Often the grandest structure in its immediate area, New York City’s historic libraries and school buildings announced the importance of their uplifting societal mission through architecture. Catering to especially to children and people seeking knowledge, these public buildings played outsized roles in their communities. We are pleased to support the designation of the New York Public Library, Harlem Branch, located at 9 West 124th Street, as an individual New York City landmark.

The Harlem Branch of the New York Public Library is one of the 67 branches across New York City built with funding from industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Five of these Carnegie-funded libraries were built in Harlem, and the Harlem branch, located at 9 West 124th Street, is the only one that has not yet been designated a New York City landmark.

HDC is pleased that this building is currently being reviewed, as its architectural integrity and relevance to the history of Harlem are just as meritorious as its counterparts in the same neighborhood. As a free circulating library, the Harlem Branch of the New York Public Library, built in 1909 and designed by McKim, Mead & White, has contributed to the intellectual advancement of the many communities that have lived in Harlem since the building was completed in 1909. As an example of the service which the library provided and its importance to the neighborhood, noted actor, director, writer and activist Ossie Davis, said of the building: “[this was] the only home I had. The very temple of my existence, my craft, the place that trained me, the first institution to welcome me”. As someone who received the National Medal of the Arts and a Kennedy Center Honor, as well as being inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame, that is very high praise.

Besides the clear cultural contributions of this building, HDC thanks LPC for acknowledging the architectural virtue of this structure. With its limestone façade on a low granite base with large recessed arched openings on the first two stories, and flathead windows with simple surrounds in the third story, this building will be a strong addition to the ranks of New York City’s landmarks.

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