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Bryant Park and the New York Public Library
Entry 9 of 12
The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building is a part of the New York Public Library, consisting of four major research libraries and almost 90 branch libraries located throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island. The Beaux-Arts building, located on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, houses outstanding collections in humanities and social sciences, as well as a children's collection. The building is being restored to its original purpose of providing library services for "the free use of all the people." Among the 15 million items and artifacts are medieval manuscripts, ancient Japanese scrolls, baseball cards, dime novels, and comic books.

  • Historic Marker at the New York Public Library (image from Historic Marker Database)
  • A fountain at the New York Public Library's main branch (image from Historic Marker Database)
  • The famous lions, Patience and Fortitude, in front of the New York Public Library (Image from The-consortium/Flickr CC)
  • Rose Main Reading Room at the New York Public Library (Image from Paul_lowry/Flickr CC)
  • The Map Division Room of the New York Public Library (Image from GK tramrunner229/Wikimedia Commons)
  • Painting of the Croton Reservoir by Agustus Fay, 1850. This reservoir was on the site that would later become the main branch of the NYPL (image from Bryant Park website)
  • Aerial view from Latting Observatory of Croton Reservoir and the Crystal Palace, on the grounds that would become the NYPL and Bryant Park (image from Bryant Park website)
  • The Croton Reservoir in 1897 (image from Bryant Park website)
  • The main branch of the New York Public Library and Bryant Park (image from Bryant Park website)
The origins of the library date back to the 19th century, when New York was becoming one of the world's most important cities. By the second half of the century, it had surpassed Paris, France in population and quickly closing in on replacing London, England as the world's most populous city. If the city was to become one of the world's great centers of urban culture, it must have a great library. Although there were already two important libraries, the Astor and Lennox, one-time governor Samuel J. Tilden bequeathed a bulk of his $2.4 million fortune to "establish and maintain a free library and reading room in the city of New York." 

Both the Astor and Lennox libraries were beginning to experience financial troubles by 1892, as a result of dwindling endowments and expanding collections. A New York attorney named John Bigelow presented a bold plan to combine the resources of the Astor and Lennox libraries to form the New York Public Library. His plan was finally signed on May 23, 1895 as an unprecedented example of private philanthropy for the public good.

The site chosen to place the new library was the Croton Reservoir, a popular strolling place located in a two-block section of Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets. Dr. John Shaw Billings, the newly named director, drew a rough sketch of what he wanted, which would turn into the early blueprint of the largest marble structure attempted by the United States. After roughly 500 workers spent two years dismantling the reservoir and preparing the site, the first cornerstone was placed on November 10, 1902. By the end of 1906, exterior work was completed, which then launched five years of interior work, with 75 miles of shelves being added in 1910. On May 23, 1911, the official dedication took place with one million books being put in place in a ceremony presided over by President William Howard Taft and attended by Governor John Alden Dix and Mayor William J. Gaynor. The following morning, the New York Public Library officially opened its doors to the public with roughly 30,000 to 50,000 people filing through the doors.
"About the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building." New York Public Library. Accessed Web, 5/14/17.