The Hidden History of New York City’s Central Library Plan
August 28, 2013 | This article appeared in the September 16, 2013 edition of The Nation.
This May 20, 2011, photo shows the marble lion "Fortitude," one of a pair created by Edward Clark Potter in 1911, at the main entrance to the New York Public Library in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
On the morning of February 1, Anthony Marx, president and CEO of the New York Public Library, met with a group of business and political leaders who had assembled in a majestic room inside the 42nd Street library. Marx was introduced by a prominent Manhattan real estate developer, William Rudin. Near the end of his spirited presentation, Marx digressed from library policy and asked his audience to buy commercial real estate in the vicinity of Fifth Avenue and 40th Street—the location of the Mid-Manhattan Library, which the NYPL is determined to sell under its Central Library Plan (CLP), the core of which envisions a colossal, $300 million–plus transformation of the 42nd Street library by the architect Norman Foster.
The CLP has been the subject of mounting controversy for almost eighteen months. In the spring of 2012, hundreds of scholars and writers protested the NYPL’s scheme to remove 3 million books from 42nd Street—a backlash that prompted the NYPL to raise $8 million to build shelving for 1.5 million books under Bryant Park, behind the library. In December, the late architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable declared, in her final essay, that “after extensive study of the library’s conception and construction I have become convinced that irreversible changes of this magnitude should not be made in this landmark building.” On June 7, Michael Kimmelman, architecture critic of The New York Times, told New York magazine: “If you’re going to be spending untold millions on this plan, it better be what the city really, really needs. Otherwise, this will be considered one of the calamities of the city’s history, along with Penn Station.” Read more...