The New York Public Library (NYPL) has opened a new exhibition, Preserving A Masterpiece: From Soaring Ceilings to Subterranean Storage, that documents the history of the 105-year-old Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. Carrying significant historical pedigree, the building currently has three rooms that have been granted NYCLandmark protection: Astor Hall, the main stairway and the McGraw Rotunda. Running through September 18, the exhibition will focus on the ongoing restoration of the Rose Main Reading Room.

Preserving A Masterpiece will be located on the third floor of the Schwarzman Building and boast more than 75 photos, most of which have never been revealed in public. The images—which go all the way back to 1902—will shed light on the building’s past as well as current preservation efforts. The structure makes use 530,00 cubic feet of marble and the massive scale of its structure is on full display in early images.

Behind the scenes photography will explore the two-year restoration of the ceilings in the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room and Rose Main Reading Room, as well as the 50 foot scaffolding that was used to carry out the work. Further images will show the construction of a second level of collection storage underneath Bryant Park and the new 55,700-square-foot level of the Milstein Research Stacks, which is due to bring the library’s capacity to approximately 4.3 million volumes.

In addition to this, two ornate plaster rosettes from the Rose Main Reading Room ceiling will be on display. Interestingly, when one was pulled down during an inspection to test the ceiling’s strength, more than 430 pounds of weight was required, proving that the ceiling has maintained its structural strength during its 100-year lifetime. 



“The Library is proud to be a dedicated, great steward of all of its buildings, including and especially the iconic and historic 42nd Street Library and its beloved reading rooms,” said NYPL President Tony Marx. “Looking at photographs of this building from its beginnings to its current state is a powerful reminder of what makes it so special, so extraordinary, and so important.”  

Related Stories