City considers landmark status for NYPL branch in the Bronx

October 18, 2023

Photo courtesy of the Landmarks Preservation Commission

The Landmarks Preservation Commission is considering designating a Bronx public library as a New York City landmark. The commission on Tuesday voted to calendar the New York Public Library’s Tremont Branch at 1866 Washington Avenue. Constructed in 1905, the library was funded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and designed by the renowned firm Carrère and Hastings, the architects behind the library’s iconic main branch at 42nd Street and 5th Avenue. Made of red brick and limestone, the library is highly regarded for its historical significance as a critical community space over the last 100+ years, in addition to its architectural importance, according to the LPC.

The Tremont Branch was the sixth of 67 circulating libraries funded by Andrew Carnegie in 1901. With Carnegie’s funding, NYPL became the most extensive library system in the United States. Many of the libraries, including the Tremont Branch, were pre-planned following Carnegie’s donation.

The Tremont Branch was constructed directly across the street 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 and was extended by one bay between 1915 and 1916 using the remaining funds from Carnegie’s donation. The extension created more space for the children’s reading room and book circulation. Due to the extension, the building now has an asymmetrical entrance.

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

The structure 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 diverse neighborhood since the turn of the 20th century, and the librarians at the Tremont Branch have long served the city’s historically underrepresented populations. In 1908, the librarians established one of the first girls reading clubs in the NYPL system.

Librarians at the Tremont Branch regularly met with students, helped young people set up groups for reading and film clubs, taught English to immigrants, and held meetings for community members.

In the 1950s, the library was heavily 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.

“The Tremont Branch library’s significance lies beyond its impressive architecture,” Sarah Eccles, a researcher at the LPC, said.”The librarians of Tremont worked hard to reach the members of their community, connect with them through books, and meet their needs while advocating for more services at the library. The Tremont library represents the symbiotic relationship libraries created almost instantaneously with their surrounding neighborhoods.”

The potential landmark will be reviewed in a public hearing, followed by a vote by the commission.


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