Built in 1911, the main branch of the New York Public Library (formerly the NYPL Humanities and Social Sciences Library), christened the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building in 2008, is the flagship research center for New York’s library system. A National Historic Landmark, the building was built upon the foundation of the old Croton Reservoir, which fell into disuse with the advent of the city’s underground water distribution system. The structure of the Main Branch is crafted out of over 20,000 pieces of marble stone spanning over 390 feet along Fifth Avenue and is guarded by two marble lions, named Patience and Fortitude by former Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, crafted by the famed sculptor Edward Clark Potter.
The architects of this branch and many others were John Merven Carrère and Thomas Hastings of the firm Carrère & Hastings in New York City. According to NYC Architecture, Carrere died in a taxicab accident in New York City, the trustees of the New York Public Library permitted his body to lie in state in the building so closely associated with his name.
The Main Branch is non-circulating and thus requested books are brought through a complex conveyer belt system from the closed stacks underground. According to the “New York” website, this underground system is said to stretch underneath Bryant Park and it is because of this that the park has very few trees. The Main Branch, through its many public rooms, is also a popular place to study. The most notable of these rooms is the Rose Main Reading Room, a long hall containing research tables and reference books that line the wall.
The library’s collection includes 5,000 year old cuneiform clay tablets, a Gutenberg Bible and, and a menu from Mark Twain’s 75th birthday party held at the Delmonico’s Steak House in what is now called the Financial District.
Throughout New York literature, the Main Branch has made many appearances such as being the subject of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Library Scene, Manhattan,” in How to Paint Sunlight or E.B. White’s “Reading Room” in Poems and Sketches.
Lewis Carroll: The library holds a collection of Carroll memorabilia, including an early image of Alice Liddell, the namesake of Alice in Wonderland taken by the author himself, now stored in the Berg Collection. Author Linda Fairstein’s Lethal Legacy, is set in the library and is based around a copy of a rare 1866 edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Truman Capote: The building was the location of a scene with Holly Golightly from Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. At the request of Capote, his other papers, both published and unpublished, were given to the New York Public Library and were archived.
Jack Kerouac: Most of Kerouac’s works of visual art housed in the Berg Collection of English and American Literature at the New York Public Library are some form of sketch, including 22 pastel sketches, 23 pencil sketches, a pornographic sketch, and a mixed media sketch entitled “Mexico Street Neons.”
Andrew Solomon: This Pulitzer-nominated author called the reading room at this location one of his favorite places in New York City to study.