NYPL Dithers Over Withers
Who would suspect that The N.Y. Public Library is allergic to landmark preservation? It's been documented, though.
• • Landmark-lookout Margot Gayle remembered an epiphanic moment at a Greenwich Village Christmas party in 1959, before New York City had established the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The Third Judicial District Court House, designed in 1874 by architect Frederick Clarke Withers, had left public service in 1958 and the city had slated the entire block for sale for private development. Muscling together several supporters (such as the Mayor, the Manhattan Boro President, the City Planning Chairman, author Jane Jacobs, and other influential individuals), Margot Gayle led the effort to rescue this delicious piece of 19th century gingerbread - - a fantasy of turrets, gales, gargoyles, stone carvings, and whimsy - - built of deep red Philadelphia brick and creamcheese-colored Ohio stone.
• • According to Margot Gayle, The New York Public Library "was EXTREMELY COOL" to the idea of occupying a converted building until Mayor Wagner threatened to withhold their capital funds [N.Y. Times, 3 April 1994]. What the library really wanted was the Sixth Avenue location, gingerbread-free and with a NEW monolithic milk-carton-type of structure rising upwards, as ordinary as a laundry-chute, and as charm-less as Susan C.Y.A. Kent.
• • Is it any wonder that the N.Y.P.L. has let the facade deteriorate so shamefully since they moved in? Even cockroaches show more respect for dear Old Jeff.
Architect Frederick Clarke Withers [February 4, 1828 - January 7, 1901]
• • While the High Victorian Gothic Jefferson Market Courthouse, located in the Greenwich Village Historic District, is the best known of Frederick Clarke Withers' New York City works, he had many New York commissions. Among these are the commercial building at 448 Broome Street (in SoHo); the high altar and reredos in Trinity Church; the lich gate of the "Little Church Around the Corner" (Church of the Transfiguration); and the City Prison which replaced the original "Tombs." Withers, primarily considered an ecclesiastical architect, published the influential book Church Architecture in 1873.
- do not let your landmark be pockmarked * attend on Nov. 29 -
PHOTO: Frederick C. Withers
New York Public Library