8399 - The New York Public Library reopens its historic Rose Main Reading Room and Bill Blass Public Catalog Room


The Rose Main Reading Room and adjacent Bill Blass Public Catalog Room were both reopened to the public
The New York Public Library reopened two historic rooms in its iconic Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street after a more than two-year closure for repairs and restorations.

The Rose Main Reading Room and adjacent Bill Blass Public Catalog Room were both reopened to the public at 10 a.m. today. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held in the Rose Main Reading Room’s South Hall shortly before then. New York Public Library President Tony Marx and Board of Trustees Vice Chairman Abby Milstein both spoke. Renowned poet Elizabeth Alexander read two poems: “The House Was Quiet and The World Is Calm” by Wallace Stevens, and “Branch Library” by Edward Hirsch.

Marx, Milstein, Life Trustee Sandy Rose – whose family funded a restoration of the Reading Room in the 1990s – and elected officials including Manhattan Borough President Gayle Brewer, Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer, New York City Councilmembers Dan Garodnick and Andy King, New York State Assembly Members Richard Gottfried and Deborah Glick, and New York State Senator Brad Hoylman, cut the ribbon.

“This public library, the greatest of public libraries in the world, is the foundation stone of a learned, informed, civil society,” Marx said. “It is the institution open to all, ensuring that all can come and learn from our great collections and our great staff . . . It is the basis of the democracy that we must continue to replenish. It is the institution committed to inclusion and opportunity . . . This Room is the symbolic center of that basic commitment, the values of openness and opportunity, of inclusion. This great space, the greatest public room in this city, is now reopened to all.”

The reopening of the rooms – spaces where researchers can access the Library’s general research materials, and anyone can do quiet reading or studying – comes more than two years after an ornamental plaster rosette fell from the Rose Main Reading Room’s 52-foot high ceiling overnight in May of 2014. The Library decided to conduct a full inspection of the ceilings of both the Rose Main Reading Room and the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room, building scaffolding and massive platforms the length of the near football-field sized room for access. Although the ceilings – built with the rest of the Library in 1911 – were found to be in good condition by WJE Engineers & Architects, P.C., the Library decided to make several improvements to the ceiling, including:

• Recreating and replacing the rosette that fell

• Reinforcing all 900 plaster elements in both rooms with steel cables

• Enlisting renowned muralists EverGreene Architectural Arts to recreate a 27 by 33 foot James Wall Finn mural on the ceiling of the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room. Unlike the murals in the Rose Main Reading Room by the same artist, the Bill Blass mural had not been restored in the 1990s, and a fine arts conservator determined that it sustained irreparable damage, loss of original paint, discoloration, patch jobs and unsophisticated over-paint.

• Working with Aurora Lighting to restore the Room’s chandeliers, including putting in LED lights.

Tishman Construction Corporation was the project manager on the $12 million restoration, which was completed several months ahead of schedule. The room will be the site of this year’s Library Lions fundraising gala on Monday, November 7.

While the rooms were closed, the Library maintained service for researchers in other rooms throughout the building. With work complete, research functions will return to Bill Blass and the Rose Main Reading Room – with improvements.

The Library, along with Gensler Architects and Tishman Construction, recently completed construction of a second level of state-of-the-art collections storage under Bryant Park, creating capacity for 4.3 million research volumes at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. The Library began moving materials into the new lower level of the Milstein Research Stacks in the spring; the process is expected to be completed in early 2017. With this increased capacity, the Library estimates that it can fill over 90 percent of research requests with materials located on-site.

The Library also installed a new, modern conveyor system to bring materials from underground storage to the Rose Main Reading Room. The $2.6 million system – 24 individual cars that each carry up to 30 pounds of materials on 360 feet of track – is more efficient and easier to maintain than the previous conveyor belt system.