New York Public Library Main Branch

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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