New Push to Landmark 42nd Street Library’s Jewel Box Reading Room

The Rose Reading Room in the New York Public Library Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. | JACKSON CHEN
The Rose Reading Room in the New York Public Library Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. | JACKSON CHEN

BY JACKSON CHEN | A library advocacy group garnered more than 1,000 signatures in a matter of days on a petition to landmark the iconic Rose Reading Room and several other interior spaces in the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street.

The Committee to Save the New York Public Library, led by its president Charles Warren, launched its petition on January 10 in hopes of getting the attention of Landmarks Preservation Commission chair Meenakshi Srinivasan and the NYPL’s president and CEO Anthony Marx.

“Everybody wants this… these are some of the most magnificent rooms in the City of New York and only a couple of them have landmark protection,” Warren said of interiors within the Schwarzman Building.

So far, only the Astor Hall on the first floor, the McGraw Rotunda on the third floor, and the staircases that connect them have been designated as interior landmarks. The committee’s petition calls for landmark status for the Rose Reading Room on the third floor and the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room that leads into the reading room.

Warren and his supporters are also looking for a total of nine other individual designations of other rooms within the library, including:

  • The D. Samuel and Jeane H. Gottesman Exhibition Hall
  • The DeWitt Wallace Periodical Room
  • The Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division Room
  • The Celeste Bartos Forum
  • The Edna Barnes Salomon Room
  • The Brooke Russell Astor Reading Room for Rare Books and Manuscripts
  • The Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Gallery
  • The North-South Gallery
  • The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art and Architecture Room

The committee’s efforts already have the support of preservationist groups such as the Historic Districts Council and the New York Landmarks Conservancy. In 2013, those two groups were joined by Community Board 5 in requesting landmark designation for several interiors of the Schwarzman Building, an effort that yielded no results.

In May 2014, an ornamental plaster rosette fell from the ceiling of the Rose Reading Room and triggered the NYPL’s full inspection of the reading room and the space immediately next to it. The reading room only reopened in October 2016, and the committee now hopes to secure its permanent protection through city landmark status.

The Rose Reading Room after its recent renovation. | JACKSON CHEN
The Rose Reading Room after its recent renovation. | JACKSON CHEN

While not a landmark, the NYPL has kept the Rose Reading Room in prime condition since its opening in 1911 and is currently working on restoring a chandelier in the adjacent Bill Blass Public Catalog Room.

“For over 100 years, the New York Public Library has been a great, proactive steward of the 42nd Street library and its magnificent and historic Rose Main Reading Room,” the library’s director of media relations, Angela Montefinise, said in an email. “We will continue to make preservation of these spaces a priority to ensure that they inspire the public now and for generations.”

Warren agreed that the interiors have been well looked after by NYPL, but still wants to see landmark designations within the building, which would cause the NYPL and the LPC to work jointly in taking care of the historic interiors. The committee president said the LPC’s recent calendaring of the interior spaces of both One United Nations Plaza and the Waldorf Astoria could indicate that the Schwarzman Building’s interiors, most notably the Rose Reading Room, might be on their way, too.

A spokesperson for the LPC told Manhattan Express that the agency received a referral for landmark designation “several years ago,” when the Rose Reading Room was closed for renovation and could not be formally considered.

“Now that it has re-opened, the agency can review the space as a potential Interior Landmark,” the LPC’s Damaris Olivo said in an email message.

Olivo emphasized that the LPC “worked closely with the New York Public Library in their intent to restore the space” in the work just completed and that since the building itself is landmarked, “any proposed interior work can be monitored by the Commission.”

“It’s one of the biggest, grandest rooms in New York, in America really, and it’s almost two blocks long,” Warren said of the Rose Reading Room. “This is like not having Grand Central Station designated as a landmark.”