This is the twenty-third in a series of guests posts that feature Archtober Building of the Day tours!
Standing on the highest natural point in all of the Bronx, Bronx Community College boasts the building known as architect Stanford White’s shining achievement—the Gould Memorial Library. Inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia Library, the library forms the centerpiece of White’s late-19th-century master plan for the campus, originally the “country” campus of New York University.
Preservation architect Lisa Easton, who has worked with Stanford White buildings since 2004, explained that around the turn of the 20th century a campus master plan manifested the vision of higher education’s purpose in a “grand manner.”
Listed as a National Historic Landmark, Easton pointed out that the interior of the building is landmarked as well. Tiffany Studios created the library interior. “It’s a jewel in there,” Easton said. In the library’s grand central rotunda, which formed the reading room of the non-circulating library, Connemara marble pillars support the domed roof. The library fell into disuse in 1969 when anti-Vietnam War demonstrators set a fire in the building. Today the stacks surrounding the rotunda are empty of books.
In the right light, a look upward just above the glass-floored ambulatory that encircles the rotunda can reveal the Tiffany windows that masked the stacks from view.
More than a just a library, the building also houses a downstairs auditorium that can hold upwards of 700 people. Outside and around the back of the building, overlooking the Harlem River, a colonnaded Hall of Fame, the first such built in the United States, contains busts of notable statesmen, scientists, authors, inventors, and other men and women deemed people of “great citizenry.”
Today the Gould Memorial Library is a gem of a building without a use. Built with only one means of ingress and egress, current laws limit occupancy of the building to 74 people at one time. “But it’s restorable,” Easton noted, “and that’s important in an age when it’s easier to build something new rather than restore.” She added that grants have been secured from the Getty Foundation Campus Heritage Grants program to fund repairs to the building and bring it up to current code so that new uses can be discovered for this Stanford White masterpiece.
About the author: Carol Bartold received the MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York and a BA with Honors in Music from Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Virginia. An accountant by trade, she is the bookkeeper at AIANY|Center for Architecture. As Senior Reporter for MyHometownBronxville.com, a local news website, she covers municipal government, education, business, and land use. She has sung professionally at Sarah Lawrence College with the Women’s Vocal Ensemble and Chamber Choir, and with the Concordia College Camerata. Her essay “At Full Thrust” was published by Prairie Schooner blog.