Monday, November 22, 2010

The New York Public Library Lays Its Cornerstone

This post also appears on the Bryant Park blog, and was posted on November 10, 2010, the same day it should have been also posted here. (oops. vacation brain . . . )

On November 10, 1902, a hundred and eight years ago (and twelve days), the first cornerstone of the New York Public Library's Central Building was laid. One of New York City's architectural treasures, the NYPL borders Bryant Park on the east, along Fifth Avenue between 42nd and 40th Streets. It is also the former location of the Croton Distributing Reservoir.

Croton reservoir : 42nd Street... Digital ID: 465503. New York Public Library
                A pedestrian level view of the Croton Distributing Reservoir at the corner of 42nd Street and Fifth Ave.                        Photo: NYPL Digital Gallery

Croton reservoir in 1900, in p... Digital ID: 465501. New York Public Library
Overview of the reservoir, seen from the corner of Fifth Ave. and 42nd Street, 1900. Photo: NYPL Digital Gallery

Plans for the formation of a grand public library began in the late 1800s, when a group of prominent New York citizens agreed that the city, growing rapidly in population and international importance, needed a library. The site of the Croton Reservoir was chosen as the location, and a competition was announced for the building's design. The winning architects, John Merven Carrere and Thomas Hastings of architecture firm Carrere and Hastings, submitted a Beaux-Arts proposal, with a raised terrace at the rear of the building, and two comfort stations along the east end of neighboring Bryant Park (then called Reservoir Square).

Central building, cornerstone ... Digital ID: 465291. New York Public Library
Cornerstone laying, 1902. Photo: NYPL Digital Collection

[Exterior marble work : west f... Digital ID: 489442. New York Public Library
View of the west facade of the library during construction, 1903. Photo: NYPL Digital Collection

View from the construction site of the NYPL. Bryant Park, then called Reservoir Square, can be seen on the left, 1906. Photo: NYPL Digital Collection
It was the largest marble structure ever attempted in the United States, and took nine years to complete, with a cost totaling over nine million dollars. In 1906, the roof of the building was completed, and designers set to work for five additional years on the interior. Dr. John Shaw Billings, the first director of the New York Public Library, created a plan for an enormous reading room, seven floors of stacks, and an efficient retrieval system.

Interior construction, 1909. Photo: NYPL Digital Gallery

Carrere and Hastings furniture plans. Image: NYPL Digital Gallery

The main branch of the New York Public Library opened to the public on May 23, 1911.

Postcard of the NYPL showing the north and east facades. Postcard: Bryant Park Corporation / 34th Street Partnership

To read more about the history of the NYPL and its buildings, click here, and to search though historic photos on the NYPL's digital gallery, look here.

Friday, November 19, 2010

NYC Monuments: William Earle Dodge

This post also appears on the Bryant Park blog.

Sometimes it seems as if New York’s monuments and statues move about the city's boroughs as much as its citizens do. Often, they will be relocated from one public space to another, because of construction, the whims of city officials, or convenience. The stories of monument preservation, placement, and movement from one park or square to another provide insight to the nature of the public places where they stand.

One in particular, William Earle Dodge, who currently resides midway through Bryant Park's 42nd Street allée, was first dedicated in Herald Square Park, located within one of our sister business improvement districts, the 34th Street Partnership.

Overhead view of Herald Square, showing the Dodge monument, Herald building, and 6th Avenue elevated train, c. late 1930s. Photo: NYC Parks Department

William Earle Dodge was best known as a founder of the successful copper and metals company Phelps Dodge & Co. He also helped start the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), and staunchly supported the Prohibition Movement. He served as President of the National Temperance Society from 1865 to 1883, and was instrumental in the publication of over 2,000 supporting books, pamphlets, and posters.

Pedestrian view showing the Dodge monument in Herald Square, c. late 1800s. Postcard: Bryant Park Corporation / 34th Street Partnership

When he died, friends formed a commemorative committee to erect a statue in his honor. This statue was sculpted by John Quincy Ward, and placed on a base designed by Richard Morris Hunt. Among Hunt’s many accomplishments, which include founding the American Institute of Architects (AIA), he also designed the base for the Statue of Liberty, as well as the façade and Great Hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Statue of Liberty by night, Ne... Digital ID: 836991. New York Public Library
Lady Liberty. Postcard: NYPL Digital Collection
Hunt’s base for the Dodge monument featured a water fountain and small lion’s head, a nod to Dodge’s commitment to temperance. Literature buffs too, will also recognize the inherent symbolism in the lion’s head - commonly used to suggest stateliness, leadership, and reverence.

Pedestrian view of the Dodge monument, 1914. Photo: NYC Transit Museum

Dedicated on October 22, 1885, the statue presided there, in the company of the Herald Building, until Herald Square was refurbished in 1940.

One year later, in 1941, Dodge was moved to the Northeast corner of Bryant Park, and placed on a granite pedestal. The original Hunt pedestal was removed from Herald Square; its current whereabouts are unknown.

Partial view of a 1939 architectural plan detailing the granite pedestal for the Dodge statue once moved to Bryant Park. Map: NYC Parks Department

Dodge remained in the northeast corner of the park, in close proximity to another publisher and philanthropist, William Cullen Bryant, until the 1992 renovation of the park.

Profile view of Dodge on the upper terrace in Bryant Park, 1983. Note the absence of the Bryant Park Cafe. Photo: Bryant Park Corporation / 34th Street Partnership

Rear view of Dodge on the upper terrace, nine years before his (and the park's) restoration. Photo: Bryant Park Corporation / 34th Street partnership

At that point, Dodge underwent a $23,000 renovation, and was moved again in the park to his present location, along the 42nd Street allée, where the Bryant Park Reading Room is located during the warmer months, and currently, the Holiday Shops.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bryant Park's 1934 Moses Renovation

This post also appears on the Bryant Park Blog.

Over the years, Bryant Park has undergone numerous physical transformations. Some temporary, such as Citi Pond at Bryant Park -- which, to the delight of ice skaters, opened last Friday, October 29 -- and others more permanent, such as the 1934 renovation of the park headed by then Parks Commissioner Robert Moses.

Assisted by consulting architect Aymar Embury II, and landscape architect Gilmore D. Clarke, Moses transformed the grounds of Bryant Park from a Victorian greensward to a French Classical landscape very similar to today’s design.

Bryant Park, circa 1930
Before Moses set to work, Bryant Park was laced with winding paths, broken up by small clumps of trees, and lined with wood and cast iron benches, common elements in Victorian Era landscaping. The paths encouraged park visitors to meander, while the trees provided shade as well as an air of mystery to what lay directly ahead on the path. The benches supplied a bit of ornamentation as well as seating for patrons.

As part of the Moses Renovation, the Josephine Shaw Lowell Memorial Fountain was moved from the east end of the park, directly in front of the William Cullen Bryant monument, to the west end at 41st Street and 6th Avenue, where it sits today on what we call the Fountain Terrace. 

Construction in Bryant Park, May 1934, before the fountain was moved to its present location. Prior to 1934, it was located on the east end of the park, just behind the New York Public Library. Photo: NYC Parks Department

Taken in June 1934, this photo shows the present location of the Josephine Shaw Lowell Memorial Fountain on the west side of the park. Photo: NYC Parks Department
An expansive lawn was added in the center of the park space. London Plane trees were planted along allées lining two sides of the lawn’s perimeter, which was also bordered by a stone balustrade.

The park re-opened to the public on September 14, 1934.

Mid-1930s postcard showing the park after the Moses Renovation.
To learn more about Bryant Park’s history, before and after the Moses Renovation, click here.