Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Gray, rain assured

A white bike and a very wet good book while driving through Central Park. 1:10 PM. Photo: JH.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011. Last night in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of the New York Public Library at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, they held the Centennial Gala for the building which was dedicated on May 23, 1911. The opening ceremony was presided over by President William Howard Taft. The following day, more than 10,000 New Yorkers visited. The new main branch was considered, rightfully, the “jewel in the crown” and the opening collection consisted of more than 1 million volumes.
The brand new Main Branch of the New York Public Library two years before its dedication in 1909.
Eight hundred guests were invited for last night’s Re-dedication ceremonies held in the Main Reading Room. The evening was a rare and significant public event including the Mayor, Michael Bloomberg; Catherine Marron, the Chairman of the New York Public Library and Paul LeClerc, the Library’s president.

After a VIP cocktail reception, guests assembled in the Main Reading Room for a concert by the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus. After the concert, Barbara Walters opened the evening with some background of that day exactly 100 years ago pointing out the vast differences between the world then and our world now.

She then introduced the evening’s gala chairs and members of the Board of Trustees who made their way across the main aisle of the Reading Room and up to the mezzanine including Mrs. Marron, Mr. LeClerc, Mayor Bloomberg and Diana Taylor, Joshua Steiner, Elizabeth Rohatyn, Marshall Rose and Candice Bergen, Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Schwarzman, Katherine Rayner, Joan Hardy Clark, Vartan Gregorian, Robert Liberman, Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Wachenheim III, and Brian T. Moynihan, President and CEO of Bank of America and Corporate Chair for the evening.
A view of the first rows of guests listening to the New York City Gay Men's Chorus last night in the Main Reading Room.
View of the rest of the guests in the Main Reading Room.
The New York Public Library's President recalling his first days using the library as a student.
Robert Caro (from the back and front) telling the guests about how in his research on Lyndon Johnson he scoured Texas for two volumes of a book of the early Texans and couldn't find one in any of their libraries. When he returned to New York he took a chance and tried the Library. Within five minutes after putting in his request, it was delivered to him.
Annette Gordon-Reed recalling with fondness her long days and months researching and writing her brilliant biography The Hemingses of Monticello, which won the National Book Award when it came out in 2008.
Uzodinma Iweala, who is using the library now working on a new book, told us that sometimes he just loves sitting in this great and beautiful room and can just relax and fall asleep while taking it all in.
Mr. LeClerc spoke about his relationship with the Library beginning when he was a student. Mrs. Marron spoke of the “wonderment and gratitude of this marvelous facility” that has become better and better with time and “more vital to our individual and communal well-being than ever.” The mayor spoke about the greatness of this repository of literature and knowledge, after which Mrs. Marron presented him with a piece of the original marble used in the construction of the building.

Then four authors spoke about their use of the Library, and this particular branch for their work -- Robert Caro, Annette Gordon Reed, Uzodinma Iweala, and Frank Rich. This part of the evening closed with a Children’s Chorus from Bronx school singing John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

After the program, dinner was served in several locations on the second and third floors including the gallery overlooking the main entrance gallery and some of the reading rooms.
Frank Rich recalled the wealth of the archives where on one project he had the pleasure of reading correspondence between Jerome Robbins (director/choreographer) and Leland Hayward (producer) discussing dealing with their star, Ethel Merman in the original production of Gypsy.
Mayor Bloomberg addressing the guests about the pleasures and wonders of this great library.
Catie Marron, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, about to present the mayor with a chunk of marble from the original marble used in the construction.
Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison reading to the guests about the beauty of the library. Barbara Walters, the evenings emcee.
View looking out the windows of the Main Reading Room.
The choir from PS 22 in Staten Island singing John Lennon's "Imagine."
Dining in the Salomon Reading Room.
Many New Yorkers do not know that in the last quarter the 19th century the land on which it sits was occupied by the Croton Distributing Reservoir, a man-made lake on 4 acres behind an Egyptian style granite wall 50 feet high and 25 feet thick, holding 20 million gallons of drinking water for the citizens of Manhattan. Important scenes in Caleb Carr’s The Alienist take place on the walkway that was a favorite for New Yorkers who used it for Sunday strolls on what was then one of the highest elevations in the city.

The reservoir was taken out of service in 1890s when the Croton dam was built up country, and in 1899 it was demolished making way for the new Main Branch and for what would become Bryant Park. Carrere and Hastings, an architectural firm that designed the Senate and Congressional Office Buildings in Washington, got the contract to design this great building. The cornerstone was laid in May 1902. Work progressed slowly but by 1910, 75 miles (121 km) of shelves had been installed.
The Croton Distributing Reservoir in 1875 on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street where the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of the New York Public Library stands today.
Fifth Avenue looking south over the Croton Reservoir in 1879. the main entrance faces West 41st Street.
The two famous stone lions guarding the entrance were sculpted by Edward Clark Potter and were originally named “Leo Astor” and “Leo Lenox": for the the library's founders, John Jacob Astor and James Lenox, both of whom had contributed their enormous libraries to the main branch as well as substantial funds. It took a year to move and install the books that were in the Astor and Lenox libraries.

Mr. Lenox’s collection of books and paintings made up the library that had previously occupied the block on Fifth Avenue between 70th and 71st Street on land that was part of the Lenox family farm since the 18th century. When his library property became available after the Main Library opened, Henry Clay Frick, the Pittsburgh steel tycoon and partner of Andrew Carnegie, bought it and built the mansion that is the Frick Collection today.
Lenox Library, Fifth Avenue between 70th and 71st Street, c. 1905.
Many writers have used this library in which to not only research but to write their books. All of the speakers last night said they still use it. Annette Gordon-Reed told the guests last night that she became so used to being there and developed such a reverence and fondness for it that she still comes back to work. Among the library’s millions of users have been Norman Mailer, E. L. Doctorow, Jacqueline Onassis. Cornel West, Bob Dylan, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Susan Fales-Hill, Caroline Weber, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Marlene Dietrich, Harold Prince, Tom Wolfe, Colson Whitehead and Jennifer Egan, who won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

As I was leaving the library last night after dinner on the steps was a man playing what is called an Earth Harp – something I didn’t know about. Its strings, which unfortunately I couldn’t photograph because of the dark (and the fineness) extended about a hundred feet across the terrace to poles set up under the trees.
More dining along the hallway overlooking the entrance gallery. A Library Lion made especially for the occasion by Lego.
Playing the Earth Harp on the Library steps last night.
Mr. Carrere, incidentally, died two months before the dedication in March 1911, in an automobile accident. His partner Mr. Hastings, however, kept the firm’s name and went on to a distinguished career which included the design of the Frick mansion in 1913, and died in 1929.

In the 1930s, Mayor LaGuardia referred to the two stone lions as “Patience” and “Fortitude” because, he said, that was what New Yorkers would need to gird themselves through the Great Depression. That and some good books, always available to all citizens for free to this day, at the New York Public Library.
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