Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, New York Public Library (Main Branch)
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)
Backstory and Context
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.