New York Library Receives $50 Million Facelift for 100th Birthday

February 4, 2011

By Alanna Malone


New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building
Photo courtesy WJE Associates

New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building slide show


Three years and $50 million after work first began, the New York Public Library has revealed the fully renovated facade of the landmark Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue. The project, largely funded by the city, in addition to federal, state, and private sources, repaired 7,000 instances of corrosion, cleaned the 150,000-square-foot exterior, and restored ornamental details.

The Beaux-Arts style structure, designed by the firm Carrère and Hastings and completed in 1911, now “gleams like an alabaster palace,” said NYPL president Paul LeClerc at the official unveiling on February 2. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Landmarks Preservation Commission Chairman Robert Tierney, and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramaer, among others, joined LeClerc at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Chairman Tierney said the restored iconic building, which became a National Historic Landmark in 1965, is a “textbook for preservation.”

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Timothy Allanbrook of Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, the Illinois-based preservation firm that oversaw the project, gave a presentation on the renovation process. The team completed a comprehensive, hands-on investigation of the facade in 2006, revealing severe deterioration of the Vermont marble, particularly with the Corinthian column capitals, lion head keystones, and scroll modillions. The firm used CAD-based drawings developed from the original architect’s elevations during the project. The goal of the firm’s restoration scheme was to balance “safety, patina, cleanliness, and cost,” Allanbrook said.

The restoration began in 2008 and included more than 2,000 marble stone blocks to replace damaged sections. Master Stone Carver Shijia Chen, of Brooklyn-based B & H Art-In-Architecture Limited, sculpted the replacement elements, such as the noses and chins of the lion heads, while Mark Rabinowitz, at Santa Fe-based Conservation Solutions, oversaw all of the sculpture repairs. Sections of the roof, the plaza stairs, balusters, doors, windows, and grilles were also restored.

About 200 gallons of Vulpex concentrated soap were used during the cleaning process, and Allanbrook hopes that 18,000 square feet of nearly invisible bird netting will keep the sparkling facade fresh. He also recommended moving the bus stations away from 5th Avenue to decrease the marble’s exposure to bus fumes.

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