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Outside in: Exterior carvings adorning old Bklyn Heights library will decorate rooms inside new facility

Old and new: Plans for the newly constructed Brooklyn Heights library include using the bas-relief sculptures that adorned the original building’s exterior as interior decorations.
Brooklyn Paper
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What a relief!

Some of the decorative bas-relief sculptures that adorned the facade of the old Brooklyn Heights library will be installed inside the reading room’s new home, Brooklyn Public Library leaders recently announced.

Officials saved the 24 original pieces artist Clemente Spampinato carved into the 1962 building’s exterior ahead of the book lender’s demolition by a developer who bought its Cadman Plaza West land from the city, in exchange for ceding space for a new library at the bottom of its 36-story tower filled with luxury condos planned for the site.

And eight of the limestone panels will decorate walls in the new three-floor library inside builder Hudson Companies’s high-rise in Brooklyn Heights, with the rest moving to a neighboring branch in Fort Greene, a bigwig said.

“When the building came down, we were obligated to take the bas-reliefs down very carefully, and keep them safely,” said Brooklyn Public Library executive David Woloch.

The library system raked in $52 million when it sold the property in the 2014 deal, $12 million of which will go toward building the Heights branch with a new glassy facade, and the rest going towards improvements at other branches, including Fort Greene’s Walt Whitman library, where most of the bas-reliefs will soon stand.

The new book lender in America’s first suburb — which is being designed by Manhattan-based Marvel Architects, the firm behind the polarizing Pierhouse and 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge complex in nearby Brooklyn Bridge Park — will also boast a dedicated spaces for tots, pre-teens, teenagers, and adults to get lost in a good book, an amphitheater, and several meeting rooms, which are where the eight bas-reliefs will be hung, according to Woloch, who said the buildings’ glass exterior will allow passersby on the street to see the artworks.

“What’s more intriguing is you can see them from the outside — their locations allow them to still be celebrated in natural light, and also be a part of the Brooklyn Heights branch,” he said.

The 16 panels moving to Fort Greene will be installed in the garden at the Walt Whitman branch, where library officials are currently renovating the roof and installing a new heating-and-cooling system.

Community Board 2’s Youth, Education, and Cultural Affairs Committee voted five to two in favor of the library’s plan for the bas-reliefs at its meeting on April 25.

The new stacks are scheduled to open in 2020, around the same time the first residents are expected to move into the luxury high-rise, according to the developer, which is also constructing 114 units of so-called affordable housing required by the city in its redevelopment of the Cadman Plaza West plot.

But those apartments are going up at a different site entirely in Clinton Hill, to the ire of many locals who blasted the plan to separate the swanky condos from the below-market-rate units as segragationist back when Hudson Companies revealed it in 2015.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Updated 5:45 pm, July 9, 2018
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