Support Voiced for Designation of 100-year-old Carnegie Library [UPDATE: LPC Grants Designation]

Stone Avenue Branch, Brooklyn Public Library. Image Credit: LPC.

Stone Avenue Branch, Brooklyn Public Library. Image Credit: LPC.

Library was the first in the nation devoted solely to the needs of children. On April 7, 2015, the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a hearing on the potential individual landmark designation of the Stone Avenue Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, at 581 Mother Gaston Boulevard in the Brownsville neighborhood. The Library completed in 1914, to designs by architect William B. Tubby, is one of 21 public libraries in Brooklyn whose development was funded by industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in the early 20th century.

Originally named the Brownsville Children’s Library, the building was the first free-standing library exclusively intended for the use by children in the United States. The red-brick-clad, two-story Jacobean Revival-style features a projecting corner tower, as well as stone trim and decorative elements, including parapet crenellation and carved allusion to classic children’s literature, like the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, Robin Hood’s cap, and Aladdin’s Lamp. William Tubby served on the architects’ commission for the Carnegie branch libraries in Brooklyn, and designed three in total, including the individually landmarked DeKalb branch.

The library began serving patrons of all ages after World War II, and, in 1981, the cultural center Heritage House was installed in the building’s second floor. A major $1.7 million renovation was undertaken in 2013 in advance of the building’s 2014 centennial.

At the hearing, Council Member Darlene Mealy, in whose district the library stands, called it a “beautiful structure that well-deserves landmark status,” as well as a “hub of community engagement and educational promise.” The Brooklyn Public Library’s Executive Vice President of External Affairs David Woloch testified endorsing designation, and spoke of the library’s immediate enormous success among children on first opening, and said of the recent renovation that the library was “proud to invest in our historic branches.” Woloch expressed his firm belief that the building would continue to serve the public as a library for another 100 years.

The Historic Districts Council’s Barbara Zay, speaking in support of designation, testified that the building’s whimsical architecture reflected its intended use for children, forgoing the austere classical style employed for other Carnegie libraries for a “sort of hybrid between library and fairytale castle.” The Society for the Architecture of the City’s Christabel Gough noted that the Stone Hill Branch was the first Carnegie Library considered for landmark designation since 2004, and that the she hoped the hearing signaled a resumption of commission interest in other remaining libraries of the period.

Landmarks Chair Meenakshi Srinivsan observed that Brownsville was not well represented in landmarked structures, and the library offered an opportunity to “celebrate this fine building in this fine neighborhood.” A vote on designation is scheduled for April 14.

LPC: Brooklyn Public Library, Stone Avenue Branch, 581 Stone Avenue, Brooklyn (LP-2568) (April 7, 2015).

UPDATE:  At its April 14, 2015 meeting, the Landmarks preservation commission voted unanimously to designate the Stone Avenue branch of the Brooklyn Public Library as an individual City landmark. Commissioner Fred Bland said the building’s history as the first library in the nation devoted to children alone gave it landmark significance, and its distinctive architecture served as “frosting on the cake.” Commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron noted the vibrant Brownsville community had survived such trials as demolition through misguided urban renewal schemes of the 1960s, disinvestment, and social upheaval. Shamir-Baron called the library a cultural “anchor,” and said she hoped the library’s designation could contribute to the neighborhood’s “revitalization.”

Landmarks Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan, before leading the vote, stated the commission was dedicated to finding historic resources in underrepresented neighborhoods, of which the designation of the “charming building” was a prime example.

By: Jesse Denno (Jesse is a full-time staff writer at the Center for NYC Law)

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