Perhaps not since the thankfully doomed plan to thrust a tower on top of Grand Central has New York seen a preservation battle as fierce as the one now taking place over the future of the Main Branch of the New York Public Library. But according to a report in today's Wall Street Journal, a détente may be in sight.
At the heart of the $300 million plan is NYPL President Anthony Marx's intention to sell the shabby Mid-Manhattan Branch and the underused Science, Industry and Business Library. Both would be folded into a circulating library within the landmarked Carrère and Hastings building, which opened in 1911 and does not circulate its volumes. Scholars and preservationists have filed lawsuits and penned furious Op-Eds, collectively alleging that Marx's plan would turn the city's finest public research library into an oversized Starbucks.
But, according to documents obtained by The Journal, NYPL officials are rethinking the plans drawn up last year by starchitect Norman Foster, which called for ripping out seven floors of cast iron stacks directly under the palatial Rose Main Reading Room (pictured above) and putting the circulating library in their place. The historic stacks, it turns out, may stay:
The library still intends to build a new circulating library in the 80,000-square-foot space under the Rose Main Reading Room. But in contrast to renderings released in December, which envisioned a vast atrium, the new design will incorporate the stacks as "a prominent feature," Mr. Marx said. They would hold the circulating library's books and be configured in a way that allows patrons to "see and experience" what the stacks were like as originally conceived by the building's architects, Carrère and Hastings, he said.
Reading rooms will be emphasized, "rather than atriums," Mr. Marx said. The design is not yet complete, and the library has not yet calculated its cost, he said.
The Journal indicates, in its review of the NYPL's shifting plans, that the two circulating libraries would still find a new home in the historic 42nd Street building. The several million volumes currently held in the stacks would move into a storage facility under adjacent Bryant Park. An earlier plan, to move a portion of the volumes to a facility in New Jersey, was shelved.
Library officials are reportedly studying the repurposing of the stacks of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, whose heretofore closed stacks will allow public access in 2015.