In researching my new book, I came across a wealth of information and images about the New York City Public Library at Bryant Park, 475 Fifth Ave. I thought readers would be interested in some fun facts about this incredible domicile of history, literature, and education.
Originally formed by the consolidation of the Tilden Trust and the Astor and Lenox libraries in 1895, the cornerstone of the (now) Stephen A. Schwarzman Building was laid in 1902.
A Registered National Historical Landmark, the architecture is Beaux-Arts style and was dedicated by President Taft in 1911. The two marble lions welcoming visitors in the front were named Patience and Fortitude in the 1930s by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, for the qualities he felt New Yorkers would need to survive the economic depression. These names have withstood the test of time. Patience guards the south side of the Library’s steps; Fortitude the north. These mascots are officially trademarked by the Library.
A few fun facts came to light as I researched this marvelous resource.
- The NYPL Research Libraries have a unique classification system. Originally, the first director, Dr. John Shaw Billings organized the system, but it was not easy to use. Since the 1950s, books in many parts of the of the collection have been shelved according to size. I kid you not!
- The original building was fueled by coal and needed more than twenty tons a day. So much ash was produced it had to be carted away daily.
- Library employees once ran a General Store in the basement. It opened in 1920 and carried everything from food goods, tobacco products, sewing supplies and general merchandise. Library “stores” have made a comeback, as you are no doubt aware, but the goods sold today are “book-related” for the most part.
- After Pearl Harbor, the most valuable manuscripts and volumes were moved to bank vaults around the city. 12,000 items, valued at $10 million, were temporarily moved to a secret location 250 miles away. Sounds like a book in here somewhere.
The Library has been visited by countless celebrities such as: Norman Mailer, Jacqueline Kennedy, Princess Grace, Somerset Maugham, Marlene Dietrich, Tom Wolfe, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and E.L Doctorow, to name a few.
Now that I reside in Vermont, I am only a four-hour drive from this rich collection to research my writings. Yahoo!