Central Library

Central Library - Local History & Photos

Central Library, 2008 Central Library, 2010 Central Library, Photo by Irving Underhill 1940-41 Central Library, Photo by Irving Underhill 1940-41 Central Library, Photo by Irving Underhill 1940-41
Branch History

Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Library has a long and colorful history. Although ground was broken for Central Library in 1912, construction was not completed until 1941. During those intervening years, Brooklyn Public Library endured World War I, the Great Depression, a drastic change in architectural plans, and a chronic shortage of funding. Despite these setbacks and detours, the Central Library became - and remains - one of the most unique and impressive buildings in Brooklyn.

In 1908, Raymond F. Almirall was chosen to be the architect for the Central Library. Almirall originally designed the building in the Beaux-Arts classical style, complete with a domed roof, a colonnaded entrance, and an exterior stairway. Poised between the Brooklyn Museum and the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch, it was to be one of the great City Beautiful sequences in American urban planning. However, funds soon dried up, leaving only the west wall along Flatbush Avenue and a hole where construction had begun.

By 1937, funds were finally available to complete construction. Almirall’s plans were discarded, and the architectural firm of Githens & Keally was hired to redesign the building in the Modern Classical style. Construction was finally completed in 1941. On February 1, 1941, the library was opened to the public for inspection. Two days later the library began regular service, and on March 29 of that year Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia formally dedicated the building.

Since its opening, the Central Library has been continuously renovated to make it more relevant and accessible to the Borough of Brooklyn. This has included the introduction of escalators, air conditioning, computers, art exhibits, and a state-of-the-art Youth Wing.

On May 6, 1997, the Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the Central Library as a landmark building.

Architecture

Shaped to look like an open book, the library exterior is made primarily of Indiana limestone. The entrance facade is concaved to reflect the curve of Grand Army Plaza. The library's most distinguished feature is the 50-foot-high entry portico. It is flanked by two enormous pylons highlighted with gilded relief sculptures. The renowned artist Carl Paul Jennewin designed the relief with the evolution of art and science as its theme. The bronze gateway displays the work of sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones, and features fifteen different literary characters and luminaries, including Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, and Brooklyn’s own Walt Whitman. Writing about the state of library architecture, critic Lewis Mumford declared “Brooklyn’s new one is tops."