Point Honors New York on April 7 will take place at one of the most beautiful buildings in New York: The New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue, which I visited last month in anticipation of the event. Named the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building (for the philanthropist who donated $100 million in 2008 for the building’s restoration and expansion), the Library’s front steps are presided over by two of the most beloved and iconic sculptures in New York, the Library Lions. The one to the south of the Library’s steps is named “Patience” and the one to the north of the steps is “Fortitude.” Say hello to these top cats of New York as you head into the library for Point Honors.
The Library (and much of Bryant Park behind it) is built on the site of what had been the Croton Reservoir. By the late 19th century, with the reservoir no longer in use, the state of New York approved plans to use the site for a grand new library building. John Merven Carrère and Thomas Hastings of the eponymous firm Carrère and Hasting won the competition held for designing the library, producing plans for a Beaux-Arts style building that rivaled the great civic buildings of Europe.
The cornerstone for the Library was laid on November 10, 1902. At the time of its dedication on May 23, 1911, it was the largest marble building in the U.S. — clad in 530,000 cubic feet of white Vermont marble, much of it 12 inches thick. The $9 million cost of construction may have seemed extravagant a century ago, but it is unlikely the artisanship and quality of materials used could be replicated today at any price. The Library initially opened with one million books set along 75 miles of shelves.
The main entrance to the Library is suitably majestic and is where guests at Point Honors will enjoy cocktails hors d’oeuvres. Set just inside the building past the great pillars of the portico, the marble-lined Astor Hall features a nearly 40 foot high vaulted ceiling, arch passageways and grand staircases.
After cocktails in Astor Halls, guests will then proceed along part of the grand gallery hall that spans the building’s length. The marble of the gallery’s walls was quarried within sight of the Parthenon in Athens, and the marble used for the floor is from France with trim of Italian marble. The coffered ceiling is made of molded-plaster and painted to look like wood. Be sure to stop and admire the globe-shaped lamps that line the gallery; they are the work of one of the pioneers of decorative electric light fixtures, E.F. Cauldwell.
Dinner and the evening’s program will commence in the original circulating library space, now called the Celeste Bartos Forum. Here the imposing marble used in most of the building gives way to exposed metal beams and a 30-foot high, gently curved glass ceiling. Undoubtedly influenced by architect Henri Labrouste’s celebrated reading room for the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, Carrère and Hasting used the era’s new construction technology to demonstrate how industrial materials could create a graceful, light-filled space. Today the Celeste Bartos Forum, besides being the site for many notable functions like Point Honors, is where Library patrons enjoy readings and presentations by some of the most famous writers in the world.
Among all this architectural grandeur, I was thrilled to see a part of LGBTQ history: in a gallery off of Astor Hall, there is an exhibit on view until April 6 called “Why We Fight: Remembering AIDS Activism.” This moving exhibit explores the grassroots contributions and responses to AIDS from individuals and organizations here in NYC. I learned that the New York Public Library is a vast repository of archives that tell this history. It was empowering to see this content so prominently displayed in one of New York’s preeminent academic institutions. The Library’s alignment with Point’s mission of activism, education and leadership for LGBTQ people became even more evident to me.
This is just a peek into some of the amazing public spaces within the New York Public Library. I urge you to visit the Library during public hours and explore the whole building, especially the Rose Main Reading Room, the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room and the McGraw Rotunda, all on the third floor. These are some of the great public spaces in New York, designed to make the acquisition of knowledge an uplifting and dignified experience. You could say they are the architectural expression of a Point Scholarship.
This post was written by Point Alumnus and Trustee Diego Arango
Diego studied architecture as an undergraduate student at Columbia University. He graduated in 2012, and currently works in design at Joeb Moore & Partners, a Greenwich, CT firm specializing in modern, high-end residential architecture.
He is proud to advance Point Foundation’s mission as a trustee.
Learn more about Diego.