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Repairs overdue at Carnegie libraries

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Industrialist Andrew Carnegie bequeathed Brooklyn with 21 libraries in a bout of philanthropy that forever changed the borough’s literary landscape — but more than a century later, library officials say the aging Carnegie branches are a struggle to maintain, a challenge to operate, and, in the case of the Pacific branch, better used as a real estate play than a cultural hub.

As activists rally to save the first borough library funded by the steel magnate from the threat of the wrecking ball, we whipped up this report on the state of the borough’s Carnegie branches, based on information from library trustees and details about the buildings from author Mary Dierickx’s “The Architecture of Literacy: The Carnegie Libraries of New York City,” which this reporter checked out of the Brooklyn Heights branch — a newer 1962 library building that officials also hope to sell.

At risk:

Pacific branch

Opened: Oct. 8, 1903

Condition: Poor

Needs: $11-million roof restoration, access improvements for the disabled, new furniture and equipment, heating, ventilation, air conditioning system, boiler work, interior renovation, exterior restoration, window replacement, security and fire safety upgrades

Details: This Classical Revival-style building opened on Fourth Avenue in Park Slope as Brooklyn’s original Carnegie library and boasted a first-of-its-kind kid’s reading room.

Landmarked:

Williamsburgh branch

Opened: Jan. 28, 1905

Condition: Good

Needs: $1.5 million for new windows, landscaping, fence restoration and sidewalk work

Details: The two-story red brick building on Division Avenue is the largest of the borough’s Carnegie’s and earned landmark status in 2005.

Dekalb branch

Opened: Feb. 11, 1905

Condition: Fair

Needs: $4.6 million for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system work, exterior renovation, safety and security enhancement, basement renovation, window replacement and window restoration

Details: This two-story brick and limestone library on Bushwick Avenue became a landmark in 2004.

Park Slope branch

Opened: July 30, 1906

Condition: Good

Needs: $2.8 million for boiler and duct work, skylight restoration, roof replacement, masonry work, exterior fence restoration

Details: The landmarked Sixth Avenue building, which underwent a complete renovation last year, has a monumental entrance adorned with four grand Doric columns.

Not landmarked

Bedford branch

Opened: Feb. 4, 1905

Condition: Good

Needs: $1.7 million for a new heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system, replacement of windows

Details: Franklin Avenue’s Bedford-Stuyvesant branch opened in 1897 in a nearby schoolhouse in a cornfield before it moved to its current home in a brick building with stone trim.

Carroll Gardens branch

Opened: Mar. 3, 1905

Condition: Poor

Needs: $5.4 million for exterior renovation, boiler work, interior renovation, new furniture and equipment, safety and security enhancement, window replacement

Details: With vaulted ceilings and an entrance adorned with massive brick Ionic columns, this one-story Classical Revival building went by the name the Carroll Park branch until 1973.

Flatbush branch

Opened: Oct. 7, 1905

Condition: Poor

Needs: $1.4 million for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning work, additional restoration work, fire alarm system

Details: This Linden Boulevard library was originally two stories and was completely redesigned with an additional floor in 1937.

Arlington branch

Opened: Nov. 7, 1906

Condition: Poor

Needs: $5.1 million for exterior renovation, boiler work, interior renovation, new furniture and equipment, plumbing system

Details: The two-story Classical Revival style red brick building in Cypress Hills with stone trim still has its interior natural oak trim intact.

Macon branch

Opened: July 15, 1907

Condition: Good

Needs: $573,000 for rear wall work

Details: Large reading rooms and smaller nooks containing original fireplaces and wooden benches define this Lewis Avenue facility.

Fort Hamilton branch

Opened: Oct. 7, 1907

Condition: Good

Needs: None

Details: Bay Ridge’s freshly renovated two-story Classic Revival-style library has a hipped roof and one of its two original fireplaces.

Walt Whitman branch

Opened: Sept. 1, 1908

Condition: Poor

Needs: $6.4 million for boiler work, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system, interior renovation, new furniture and equipment, exterior renovation, safety and security enhancement, roof replacement

Details: Before getting its Carnegie digs, this branch debuted on Nassau and Bridge streets in 1900, and in 1943 took on the name of the famous borough poet.

Saratoga branch

Opened: Sept. 3, 1908

Condition: Poor

Needs: $2.6 million for interior renovation, abatement, and new furniture and equipment

Details: The Hopkinson Avenue building has a stone base and a distinctive Spanish tile roof.

Leonard branch

Opened: Dec. 1, 1908

Condition: Poor

Needs: $6.1 million to for disabled accessibility, facade restoration, roof work, window restoration, interior restoration, new furniture and equipment, safety and security enhancement

Details: Several architectural renovations have modernized the interior of Williamsburg’s 104-year-old Devoe Street structure.

Bushwick branch

Opened: Dec. 16, 1908

Condition: Fair

Needs: $4.7 million for exterior and interior rehabilitation, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system, new furniture and equipment, new roof, safety and security enhancement

Details: This branch got the Carnegie treatment after a previous location in the first floor of a church burned down.

Brownsville branch

Opened: Dec. 19, 1908

Condition: Poor

Needs: $4.5 million for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system, interior renovation, new furniture and equipment, façade rehab, safety and security enhancement

Details: Two iconic columns at its entrance give this Glemore Avenue building a stately look.

Eastern Parkway branch

Opened: July 7, 1914

Condition: Poor

Needs: $6.5 million for arched window rehabilitation, first and second floor renovation, hazardous material abatement, new furniture and equipment, and chimney stack restoration

Details: It’s no Central Branch, but this Crown Heights facility has prominent arched windows, a stone facade, and an original reading nook.

Stone Avenue branch

Opened: Sept. 24, 1914

Condition: Good

Needs: $1.3 million for new windows and doors, limestone facade rehabilitation, safety and security enhancement, side entry steps

Details: Brownsville’s Jacobethan-style brick building is different from the borough’s other Carnegie’s with two prominent entrances, and was once devoted entirely to children’s literature.

Washington Irving branch

Opened: May 16, 1923

Condition: Poor

Needs: $5.3 million for exterior and interior renovation, new furniture and equipment, safety and security enhancement, boiler work, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system

Details: This Bushwick facility is the last Carnegie branch built in the borough and it boasts a unique gabled roof.

Dead

Greenpoint branch

Opened: April 7, 1906

Closed: Shut down in 1944 due to a manpower shortage and demolished in 1970 to be replaced in 1973 with a one-story building on the same site.

Red Hook branch

Opened: April 22, 1915

Closed: A 1945 fire destroyed Brooklyn’s only Carnegie library built in Mediterranean Revival style.

South branch

Opened: Dec. 5, 1905

Closed: Razed in 1970 after library officials declared the Sunset Park facility obsolete and replaced it with a branch on the same site in 1972.

Reach reporter Natalie Musumeci at nmusumeci@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her at twitter.com/souleddout.

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Reasonable discourse

mindy from brooklyn heights says:
Thank you for this. It is very important as it shows where this is going. Libraries are not Economic Development Projects to be destroyed by Josh who last worked for that agency. They are not give aways to Real Estate Devlopers they need to be in Public Building for public uses. They are not toys to be used by the same investment bankers that brought us the financial melt-down. David Offensend former President of the BHA and COO of the New York Public Library destroyed the Donnell Library which is now a hole in the ground.
He should be fired from his position and COO of the New York Public Library. By the way he is also a big contributor to the Brooklyn Public Library.
March 27, 2013, 3:46 pm
Martha Rowen from Brooklyn Heights says:
The tactic of systematically underfunding a public institution or government service in order to then say, "Look, it's falling apart! It doesn't work! Let's privatize it" is a cynical ploy that has been used for years to transfer our country's public wealth to private pockets. This well-orchestrated plan to sell off public libraries--public resources that offer so much to all members of society and to the economy--to private developers for profit is just one more depressing example.

With proper funding, there is no reason why fine old buildings such as the Pacific Street branch can not be maintained and services brought up to date. This is true for most of the libraries on Mayor Bloomberg's growing list of giveaways to developers, such as the Brooklyn Heights Branch. Cities around the world maintain and update historic buildings; New York can (and in many cases already does) too.

New Yorkers with memories of how libraries have fostered their own development (or even changed their lives) are concerned that these opportunities not be denied to current and future generations and are crying foul. It is time for those of us who have looked on in dismay and hopelessness, to say "Enough! Libraries are where we draw line in the sand against this misguided and counterproductive process."
March 28, 2013, 11:08 am
Pat from Boerum Hill says:
This article is useful only in that it shows exactly what the Brooklyn Public Library board wants the public to believe, so all the developers on their board can pick and choose what properties they want to acquire. These figures are absolute nonsense! During a recent meeting at the 78th precinct, the chief librarian said that the Park Slope branch still needed $5.3 million in exterior repairs, then later at the same meeting Josh Nachowitz said the Park Slope branch still needed $2.3 million in exterior repairs! And now this story says $2,8 million. Really guys, really? And you're saying fixing the heating/cooling system in the Brooklyn Heights branch is going to cost $3.5 million, which anybody in the business would roll their eyes at and ask where they can get a piece of this lying pie!

Why don't you just say "We want to sell the land to our board members, and maybe we'll get some money out of it"?
March 28, 2013, 4:33 pm
Barb from Brooklyn says:
Landmark them all. Quick! Otherwise, they're doomed, as is anything that doesn't earn big bucks.
March 29, 2013, 9:09 pm

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