120-year-old Carnegie library in the Bronx is now a city landmark

March 5, 2024

NYPL’s Tremont Branch. Photo courtesy of NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission

A Bronx public library that has served as a vital community space for more than a century is New York City’s newest landmark. The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) on Tuesday voted to designate the New York Public Library’s Tremont Branch as an individual landmark. Constructed in 1905, the library at 1866 Washington Avenue was financed by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and designed by acclaimed firm Carrère and Hastings, the architects behind the library’s iconic main branch at 42nd Street and 5th Avenue. The library is regarded for its significance as a critical space for the neighborhood, in addition to its architectural importance, according to the LPC.

“The New York Public Library’s Tremont branch is a classically-inspired Carnegie library, designed by the firm Carrère and Hastings in a distinctive architectural style to be recognizable to all New Yorkers at the turn of the century – a symbol of learning and opportunity that was open to all,” LPC Chair Sarah Carroll said. 

“Today’s designation is a tribute to this remarkable library, its dedicated staff, and the Tremont community, and reflects the Commission’s ongoing commitment to recognizing the rich history of the Bronx as told through the historic buildings and sites located across the borough.”

The Tremont Branch is one of 67 circulating libraries constructed for the NYPL’s three library systems and financed by Andrew Carnegie at the turn of the 20th century. With Carnegie’s funding, NYPL became the largest library system in the United States.

LPC has designated 25 Carnegie libraries across the five boroughs, 21 of which are individual landmarks and four that are part of historic districts. The Tremont branch is the fifth intact Carnegie library remaining in the NYPL system to be designated in the Bronx. The others are the Morrisania Library, the Woodstock Library, the Hunts Point Library, and the Mott Haven Library.

The branch was constructed directly across from the Bronx Free Library, which operated out of Trinity Congregation Church. The Bronx Free Library, established in 1901, closed down when the Tremont Branch opened in 1905 and donated 10,000 books to the new facility.

The Classical Revival building was originally designed with five bays, with one added during an extension between 1915 and 1916 using the remaining funds from Carnegie’s donation. The expansion created more space for the children’s reading room and book circulation.

Community branch libraries exemplified Carrère and Hasting’s stately, classically-inspired aesthetic which made these buildings easily identifiable to the public, according to the LPC.

The library features a limestone trim, with limestone keystones on the first floor’s arched windows that project a band course between the first and second floors. Other architectural features include limestone enframement on the second-floor window, a denticulated cornice, and parapet panels.

The building also has a side entrance, a basement entrance on 176th Street, and a partial third story for the janitor’s apartments.

Tremont has been a culturally diverse neighborhood since the start of the 20th century, and the branch’s librarians have long served the city’s historically underrepresented populations. In 1908, the librarians created one of the first girls’ reading clubs in the NYPL system.

Librarians and the branch regularly met with students, helped young people establish groups for reading and film clubs, taught English to immigrants, and held meetings for community members.

In the 1950s, the library was involved in literacy education for the neighborhood, becoming the branch with the most books, literature, and programs on Jewish culture, history, and the Hebrew and Yiddish languages.

In 1967, the library participated in the South Bronx Library Project, which funded Spanish-language books and programming, and hired bilingual staff as the number of Puerto Rican residents increased in the neighborhood.

In October, the LPC voted to calendar the structure.

“The New York Public Library’s Tremont branch has served the community for over a century, offering endless opportunities for New Yorkers to advocate for themselves and their education,” Anthony W. Marx, President of The New York Public Library, said.

“As one of our original Carnegie libraries designed by Carrère and Hastings, the Tremont Library is a shining example of New York City’s past, present, and future. We thank the Landmarks Preservation Commission for designating this historic building a New York City landmark, which recognizes the vital and important role the library plays in the community.”


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