GVBA as Joan of Arc: Love It or Leave It!
The Greenwich Village Block Association's Position Statement on The New York Public Library's Plans to Renovate the INTERIOR of the Jefferson Market Library
Attn: Dr. Paul LeClerc, CEO, N.Y.P.L.:
* * * The Greenwich Village Block Associations [GVBA] is a community wide coalition of organizations dedicated to preserving and improving the quality of life for residents of our historic neighborhood. The Jefferson Market Library is the signature building in Greenwich Village. Its preservation and adaptive reuse was the catalyst for the creation of the Greenwich Village Historic District. While we appreciate that the New York Public Library (NYPL) houses a branch here, it is the structure that occupies a unique place in our affections.
* * * Several years ago a problem with the exterior masonry developed and unsightly scaffolding was erected. Residents naively supposed that the NYPL would locate funding for repairs expeditiously. We were mistaken. The “shroud” of scaffolding stands and the building continues to deteriorate. Repairing the library’s “bricks and mortar” should be a priority rather than initiating an unsolicited interior redesign. Unless the NYPL can promise a future free from rain, snow, and other inclement weather, it seems cavalier to institute interior alterations when the worsening exterior may negatively impact them. At a recent meeting attended by more than 250 residents, NYPL representatives coolly informed attendees that it intended to forge ahead and may close the library for extended periods.
* * * Sometime ago, a group of Villagers met in a “planning for needs” session to assist the NYPL to serve us. Greenwich Village has more “history per square foot” than any other neighborhood in the United States; we are a tourist mecca for visitors from all over the globe. At the “planning for needs” session participants suggested that the library expand its reference section and include ephemera and memorabilia documenting our storied past. The Jefferson Market Library should reflect the community surrounding it so that researchers can explore our history, when possible, from primary sources.
* * *
The controversial “teen center” is unnecessary in whatever form and whatever size the NYPL intends to make it.It is unclear as to how the NYPL would create an area to meet the varying needs of a divergent group of young people [ages 12-18]. In the river valleys of Western Pennsylvania, Andrew Carnegie once built libraries as expiation for his sins. Including auditoriums, swimming pools, and gymnasiums, they were welcome in mill towns that had few cultural resources. Because the NYPL is located in one of the world’s great cities, it has no such mission. A child growing up in New York City has numerous prospects for diversion and cultural improvement. A New York City teenager is typically able to converse and interact comfortably with adults. There is no need to segregate them or to isolate the general population from them; a “teen ghetto” in the library is a frivolous use of public space [and a waste of $2-million worth of tax-payers' $$$]. On the contrary, in the “general needs” session, participants wanted to encourage interaction between adults and teenagers. Villagers are educated, informed, talented and skilled. We suggested that the NYPL create a database of residents available to tutor/ mentor students.
* * * The NYPL appears to be suffering from severe misapprehensions about Greenwich Village. While the NYPL is the current guardian of our cherished Venetian Gothic building, the structure belongs to us. Specific elements of the renovation scheme may be worth consideration, but the NYPL must consult with the community in a transparent, respectful manner. Villagers will not countenance squandering public funds for an unendorsed project and will not embrace what may be passing fashion. Unfortunately, it appears that Community Board 2 may not be up to the task of leading the discussion. Reportedly, at a recent committee meeting, both NYPL representatives and CB2 members treated residents’ concerns with disdain and derision.
* * * If the NYPL determines that it can no longer efficiently use the Jefferson Market building without altering its interior in a manner consistent with the community’s wishes and needs, and if it cannot guarantee maintenance of its “bricks and mortar”, Villagers must regretfully consider other uses for the building. If the NYPL intends to serve the residents of Greenwich Village, it must understand and respect us. And if it cannot serve the residents of Greenwich Village, it should begin the task of examining itself.
— from the President & Board of Directors,
The Greenwich Village Block Associations
— November 1, 2005
Illustration: thanks to Jersey City artist Richard La Rovere [T.:201-659-0662]
New York Public Library