Sunday, August 2, 2015

Destination Library


This is the story of my love affair with a library. Actually, two libraries. The same library, but two different buildings. Let me explain.

I love libraries in general and all New York Public Library branches in particular. Every single NYPL branch has something special to admire, and I have been in and out of most of them.

I first fell in love with the Kingsbridge Branch of the New York Public Library in 2003. I would notice it from the bus ride with Hannah, and later Hannah and Noah, on the way to swimming lessons.

Seeing the Kingsbridge Library from the bus filled me with a deep feeling of happiness, sadness and longing. I often experience this mixture of emotions when I see a mid-century modern building, with clean optimistic lines, infused with a heady modernism, but gone to seed. It is a potent and poignant feeling. It is hard to replicate any other way.

This Kingsbridge library opened on January 23rd, 1959. I like to imagine that day. It replaced an old, rather stuffy looking building that had become too small for the growing population.

Eventually, I made a point to visit the library and got up close and personal with it as a library user. I was able to experience it inside and out in all of its faded glory. I used my imagination to mentally delete the out of date computers, a hodgepodge of ugly updates, the unseemly piles that were evidence of a space busting at the seams.

While book shopping I reveled in the Danish modern shelving and furniture still in use, the enormous windows which let in copious quantities of natural light through their smudged panels, the flooring, still pretty through years of scuff marks.

There was a big empty lot across the street from the library. Ground broke after many fits and starts on a brand new branch of the Kingsbridge branch of the NYPL. The construction took place behind large wooden fencing.

I was predisposed not to like the new library.

Jeremy and I joked that we wanted to buy the old library, lovingly restore it and then live there. Humor aside, if we could have done it, we would have.

My kids stopped taking swimming lessons. I forgot about the old Kingsbridge library and the new Kingsbridge library, until one day, a friend who I deeply respect told me she took her children there.  She said it was beautiful.

So I packed Hannah and Noah up for an outing. The kids were used to being taken to the library. We are a reading kind of family and a book shopping kind of family.

I couldn't help but notice the sad, but still beautiful empty shell of the old public library across the street, just begging Jeremy and I to move in. But the new library was splendid, expansive, modern and peaceful.

Whenever the NYPL renovates a library or builds a new library, it seems to fill it with brand new books. I don't know what happens to the old books. All three of us loved the new books. Noah shopped quickly, then wasted no time settling in to read. Hannah and I browsed longer.

This library is an oasis.

The kids have gotten older. They don't often go with me to the library. That's okay. I love them exactly as they are.

The Kingsbridge library, re-imagined by architect David W. Prendergast is now my favorite NYPL branch. It isn't within walking distance of anywhere I go. So once or twice a year, I make a special pilgrimage. I step in from the kinetic energy of 231st street to an elevated, breathtaking and Zen-like jewel. I am transported somewhere else.

While doing some cursory research for this post, I fell down a rabbit hole in my unsuccessful attempt to find the name of the architect who designed the 1959 building. I found surprisingly little about this little building on the Internet. It exists in a nebulous, misty place largely outside of Google. My first real research project  - with books - since college may very well be about the 1959 Kingsbridge library.

I am truly enamored with version 2011. The aging split-level structure across the way is now a physical therapy center, bowing from semi- neglect and a bastardized doorway.  But my romance with it is far from over.


This swoon worthy architectural rendering of the 1959 version of the library was one of the few treasures I found on the Internet. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.


Re-purposed and weary, my smitten heart says this is still a mid century gem.


The new building has much curb appeal.


I took a closer look at the beautiful detailing and textures outside of the entrance.


Light filled and dramatic, the library's design is at once magnificent, welcoming and calming.


I like to think that many of the details are a nod to the 1959 building, which served as the library for over 50 years.


Beautiful windows bring the outdoors in.


Books abound - of course!


Whimsy from the wonderful children's library


Nothing was left to chance is designing this modern marvel. There is a rare and special relationship between the outer architecture and the interior.

Read more about the Kingsbridge library here.

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