The library that would become the Harlem Branch was originally established in 1825. On February 2, 2021, the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to calendar the Harlem Branch of the New York Public Library for future designation. The Harlem Branch is located at 9 West 124th Street across from Marcus Garvey Park in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan.
The library that would become the Harlem Branch was originally established in 1825 as a privately-owned subscription library when Harlem was an isolated village. In the late 19th century, the Harlem Library Association purchased a lot and erected a four-story building at 32 West 123rd Street and put the library on the ground floor and bachelor apartments on the upper floors. In 1897, the Harlem Library became a free-circulating library. The Harlem Library merged with the New York Public Library’s branch system in 1903, two years after the New York Library had been established.
The Harlem Branch was built with funding from Andrew Carnegie. Carnie funded the construction of 67 branches across New York City’s three public library systems in the early 20th century. Five of the Carnegie funded branches were built in Harlem. The other four branches (135th Street Branch at 103 West 135th Street, 125th Street Branch at 224 East 125th Street, Harry Belafonte-115th Street Branch at 203 West 115th Street and Hamilton Grange Branch at 503 West 145th Street) are already designated New York City landmarks.
The building was constructed between 1907 to 1909 in the Classical Revival Style by the architecture firm McKim, Mead & White. The building features a limestone facade on a low granite base with large recessed arched openings on the first two stories. The third story windows are flatheaded with simple surrounds. The second and third story feature two-story tall pilasters with Corinthian capitals. The cornice is denticulated and the building features the words “New York Public Library” carved into the frieze. The words are separated with open books and a fleur-de-lis details. A renovation was completed in 2004 that featured minimal alterations to the exterior like the replacement of the entrance door and windows and the addition of an access ramp that reconfigured the stone stoop.
Landmarks voted unanimously to calendar the Harlem Branch for future designation. There will be a public hearing held in the spring.
By: Veronica Rose (Veronica is the CityLaw fellow and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2018.)