Though there are many branches to the New York Public Library system, the one building that comes to most people’s mind is the beautiful edifice in Bryant Park. Just steps from your corporate housing in Midtown Manhattan, the main branch building of the New York Public Library is set along Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd streets. Its beautiful stone columns and archways welcome millions of visitors each year from around the world.
Known officially as the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, the library is in a prime spot convenient to public transit and close to several of New York’s attractions. Situated on the east side of Bryant Park, the main branch of the New York Public Library opened in 1911 and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965. But there are some things you may not know about the famous institution!
- NYC’s Water Source – Before the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building was constructed, the land it’s situated on served as NYC’s main water source. The Croton Reservoir covered the grounds of the library in the 19th century. However, as the city’s population grew the reservoir was no longer large enough to serve its water need. The reservoir was abandoned in 1880 and the library took over the land in 1895, though nothing would stand on it for several years.
- Water Fountains – Even though the library is set on the site of a former reservoir, the water fountains inside the building don’t actually work! There are additional decorative water fountains outside the building along Fifth Avenue that are now operational thanks to a gift from the charitable trust of philanthropist Robert W. Wilson.
- Hidden Storage – The library uses space under Bryant Park as additional storage for its collections. Just six feet below the surface there are 40 miles of library shelves that hold a plethora of the library’s belongings including 1.5 million books and 500,000 reels of microfilm.
- Throwback Menus – Did you know that the New York Public Library is home to more than 25,000 restaurant menus dating back to 1850? You can take a trip through culinary history by seeing what was offered throughout the decades at local restaurants. Today, these menus are regularly used as research for chefs and novelists, as well as other research professionals.
- Site of Famous Creations – Throughout history the New York Public Library has served as the site of some famous works. For example, Betty Friedan wrote the “Feminine Mystique” at the library and Robert Ripley of "Ripley's Believe It or Not" used to visit the library to look up information. In addition, the library is home to the Cullman Center which serves as a space where authors and scholars can write. The program is quite competitive and only 15 applicants are awarded space to work each year.
- Historic Paw – One thing people may not realize about the New York Public Library is that it’s home to the beloved pet of one of history’s most famous authors – at least its paw. Charles Dickens’ sister-in-law had his beloved cat Bob’s paw made into a letter opener when it died. Today, Dickens’ writing desk and the letter opener live in the library for visitors to view.