New York Public Library Main Branch

Welcome back to National Parks and other public lands with T!

The main branch of the New York Public Library faces 5th Avenue and sits in Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan. I visited it after watching the sun rise from the Empire State Building’s observation deck. Normally, there are four stories open to the public, but the library was closed due to Covid. So I contented myself walking the grounds.

In 1895, the Lenox and Astor libraries combined to form the New York Public Library. Along with Astor and Lenox, the main branch building also bears the name of Samuel J. Tilden. Tilden was governor of New York and ran against Rutherford B. Hayes in the 1876 presidential election. He left a bequest in his will for the public library which, combined with the Astor and Lenox libraries, helped fund it.

The Croton (or Murray Hill) Reservoir once sat on the site of the New York Public Library Main Branch. This above ground reservoir occupied four acres and held 20 million gallons of water. Vestiges of its foundation are embedded in the library’s south side.

The Beaux Arts style structure took twelve years to build. When it opened in 1911, it was the largest marble building in the United States. It offered 3.5 million books for circulation. Today, it is strictly a research library.

On 5th Avenue, a grand staircase leads up to a balcony framed by six Corinthian columns. The library’s signature marble lions flank the entrance. Once named Leo Astor and Leo Lenox, they were renamed Patience and Fortitude during the Great Depression. On my visit, they watched over a deserted street, wearing masks for Covid safety.

Location: 476 5th Ave, New York, NY 10018
Designation: National Historic Landmark
Date designated/established: Opened May 21, 1911
, NHL 1965
Date of my visit: April 10, 2021

29 thoughts on “New York Public Library Main Branch

  1. It looks like a grand old building, a reminder of the days of glory for public libraries, back before the digital age. Enjoyed the lions with their masks. I wonder how many statues across the nation have been masked up providing a reminder and sense of humor when we needed it. An elephant, an Africa Bush Devil, and Eeyore are all masked up in our house, Theresa, and they are all eager to get them off. 🙂 –Curt

    1. The public library in our small town is thriving, in spite of the digital age. I borrow books from them on my kindle all the time. It’s right across from the elementary school, so kids hang out there after school, do hw while they wait to get picked up. People go there to use the computers, borrow passes to the NYC museums, have book club, etc… It’s become a community hub, so glad it’s open again.

  2. While I love everything you do on National Parks, the above piece is one reason that I’m glad that you expanded to include public lands and property. We are hoping to return again to the City of my birth after the pandemic and I will add this to the list of places we want to include on our list. The history is fascinating.

    1. I grew up on SI, walked by those lions so many times without noticing them. Never thought to go inside until I had a French Exchange student roomie who wanted to explore everything.

  3. I like these point of references. Each one helps tell your story and I’m digging that. I’m enjoying what I’m learning about perspective when I check out your posts. Thanks for the history lesson/field trip, I’d never been to that library 🙂

  4. This was a treat, Theresa. I would love to visit and do research there someday. I was writing about my ancestor’s visit to the exposition in New York in 1853. It was located very close to Croton Reservoir, which I saw on maps from the period. Good to know what’s there now is such a wonderful public building.

  5. Dear Theresa,

    I think this building is one of kind. You should read my write ups on walking Murray Hill. The fountains on both sides of the entrance were just fixed and have an interesting history. The artists who created these pieces must have been at the top of their careers at the time. The stone work is just incredible. Great blog!

    Sincerely,

    Justin Watrel, Blogger
    MywalkinMahattan.com/VisitingaMuseum.com

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