Trying to Preserve a Busy, Historic Library in Queens

From the New York Times (alas, the article spends more energy talking about Queens’ ethnic diversity than the importance of preserrving its past, but the attention is appreciated):

Seeking Protection for a Library With a Fabled Past
September 30, 2007

THE Elmhurst Community Library, a Georgian Revival building on Broadway and 51st Avenue in Queens, lacks the architectural splendor of New York’s more famous libraries. No stone lions guard its steps; no fluted columns bolster its facade.

But some buildings are prized for their heritage more than their looks. That may partly explain a recent wave of enthusiasm for protecting the Elmhurst building and 56 others known collectively as the Carnegie Libraries.

The Historic Districts Council, an independent citywide organization, has been waging a campaign to secure a long future for these early-20th-century buildings, arguing that they embody a spirit of public benevolence because they were built at the behest of Andrew Carnegie, the steel magnate, who donated $5.2 million for their construction. The preservation group’s efforts came in response to the news that the Elmhurst branch may soon be demolished.

In March, the Queens Library announced plans to replace the Elmhurst facility with a larger structure, explaining that the branch had grown too busy for its 15,000-square-foot space. In its most recent fiscal year, the branch lent 1,511,874 books, recording the highest circulation rate of any branch in the system after the Flushing Library, a building five times as large.

Indeed, Queens, the nation’s most ethnically diverse county, recently won recognition as the nation’s busiest library system, with a record 20.2 million items in circulation. It offers books and DVDs in 70 languages, serving everyone from fans of Mexican telenovelas to scholars of Chinese opera.

Jimmy Van Bramer, director of government and community affairs for the Queens Library, said the architects of the new Elmhurst building were considering designs that would incorporate elements of the 1906 structure, but added that some new construction was inevitable. “The current facility simply cannot meet the needs of people who use our library,” Mr. Van Bramer said.

Copyright 2007

For more info, see HDC’s Campaign to Preserve The Carnegie Libraries

Posted Under: Elmhurst, HDC, Public Building, Queens

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