Rejoice, library lovers: more sections of the New York Public Library’s Fifth Avenue building are now landmarks. The Landmarks Preservation Commission voted this morning to give protected status to two of the building’s most famous public spaces: the Rose Main Reading Room and the Bill Blass Catalog Room, both of which received a glorious refresh in 2016.
The vote was unanimous—not a surprise, considering that one of the commissioners said during last month’s hearing that this is “the most important case I’ve seen in my tenure.”
“This decision is both natural and imperative,” Meenakshi Srinivasan, the chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, said at the meeting. “To protect and preserve civic institutions is central to our mission, and this designation ensures that [these spaces] will be an outstanding public benefit to all New Yorkers.”
The push to protect these spaces began back in 2013, when Manhattan Community Board 5 asked the NYPL to consider landmark status for the enormous reading room, though that did not end up moving forward. In May, State Senators Brad Hoylman and Liz Kreuger, who supported the 2013 push for preservation, asked the LPC to reconsider the renovated spaces within the NYPL as landmarks. “Now is the perfect time to protect these spaces in perpetuity and continue the process that began decades ago with the landmarking of the building’s exterior,” Kreuger said at the time.
Things have progressed pretty quickly since then, as far as these things go; a hearing happened last month, with both the public and the LPC commissioners giving the designation enthusiastic support, and here we are now.
NYPL president Tony Marx issued the following statement on the designation:
For over a century, we have been proud, dedicated stewards of these architectural and civic treasures, and will continue to preserve and protect them with the respect and care that they require and deserve. We thank the Landmarks Preservation Commission for partnering with us in our mission to ensure that these beautiful, unique rooms inspire visitors now and for generations to come.
Hoylman also released a statement regarding the LPC’s decision, calling it a “tremendous victory” for the city. “The New York Public Library’s exteriors and interiors alike are woven into the very fabric of our city,” he continued. “Today marks an important milestone in protecting this timeless institution as a beacon of knowledge, culture, and exploration.”
Now, those two rooms have joined several other spaces within the NYPL’s most iconic branch—the grand entrance (known as Astor Hall) and its adjacent staircases—as landmarks, along with the building itself, which the LPC protected in 1967.
But some folks want the LPC to go further: The Committee to Save NYPL, a preservationist group that led the charge against the library’s controversial, never-realized Norman Foster renovation, wants the LPC and the NYPL to consider landmarking more than a dozen spaces within the building. And in its testimony at the hearing last month, the Historic Districts Council noted that other spaces within the Fifth Avenue building are worthy of designation, including the South-North Gallery, the DeWitt Wallace Periodicals Room, and the Celeste Bartos Forum.
Whether that happens remains to be seen—but for now, New Yorkers (and not just the preservation-minded ones) can rejoice that two of the city’s most stunning public spaces are preserved for the future.