March 29, 2013

Major preservation group calls NYPL plan “a real estate deal,” demands library reconsider


A major new opponent of the New York Public Library’sCentral Library Plan” is on the scene: the Historic Districts Council, a prominent advocacy group that works on behalf of New York’s historic neighborhoods.

A statement from the organization smartly proclaims that the NYPL plan “eviscerates the heart of the 42nd Street Library building while disenfranchising the millions of New Yorkers who use the Library’s services.”

We’ve been covering the NYPL’s “Central” plan for over a year: It calls for demolishing the 42nd Street library’s historic books stacks, selling off two major library facilities in Midtown Manhattan, and constructing a new circulating library in the space currently occupied by the 42nd Street library’s stacks—a plan that will cost at least $300 million.

The Historic Districts Council joins a number of vocal critics of the plan, including the Committee to Save the New York Public Library. The HDC statement also echoes criticisms made by Caleb Crain and New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman, who have called for the NYPL to look closely at alternative visions for the future. In fact, HDC “demand[s] an independent reconsideration of this plan.” The New York Public Library building as it exists today, the statement notes, is “arguably a nearly perfect design for uniting New Yorkers with knowledge.”

The statement goes on to describe the Central Library Plan as “in essence a real estate deal conceived to maximize profits through decreasing services.”

Perhaps most significantly, the Council uses its statement to dismiss the notion that the Library’s historic stacks can’t be saved. It’s an issue that has surfaced a number of times in the debate about the library’s plans. Vanity Fair architecture critic Paul Goldberger has claimed, along with the Library administration, that the stacks would be “impossible” to renovate. But the Historic Districts Council statement rejects this notion entirely:

Contrary to NYPL’s public statements, the stacks were upgraded with modern fire-suppression systems within the last 15 years and while their climate control systems could certainly be further improved, the expense of modernization is nothing compared to the cost of removal. It should be noted that even older stacks at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, which served as a model for the plan at NYPL, have recently been updated with modern climate controls and fireproofing.



Kelly Burdick is the former executive editor of Melville House.