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Brooklyn Public: 1941

Brooklyn Public: 1941

January 13, 1941. "Brooklyn Public Library (Ingersoll Memorial), Prospect Park Plaza, New York." Acetate negative by Gottscho-Schleisner. View full size.


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Best times of my life

Growing up in Brooklyn in the '50s and '60s was an incredible experience. The Grand Army Plaza library was a wonderful part of that. I vividly remember the project I did for my wonderful eighth grade English teacher, Mr. Rood, at Mark Twain JHS in Coney Island -- "The Gladiatorial Contests of Ancient Rome."

Every Saturday, for a year, my mother would pack a lunch for me (to be eaten in nearby Prospect Park only!), and my parents would drop me off at this wonderful library. The staff there was incredibly kind in helping me find obscure journals, books and art. They even helped me write proper citations and footnotes for each article and publication. Of course, the most fun was using the "new" copying machines, with those awful white on black, nearly impossible to read copies.

For many years, I enjoyed just walking up and down the aisles looking at their great collection of books. I recently moved to Oklahoma City and truly miss everything about this fabulous library!

Brooklyn's gift

As a child, I was thrilled to enter the Grand Army Plaza library. My 8th grade English teacher, Rose Silver, made us memorize the inscription by Roscoe Conklin Brown, President of the BPL System. I have forgotten neither the library nor my magnificent teacher to this very day.

When I began driving in the late 1960s, I would often travel "in" from Queens to bask in the splendor of this library, Brooklyn's gift to the civilized world. I am still awed by the monumental architecture of this place, and no, it is nothing like Albert Speer's creations for the Third Reich.

I left NYC in 1978. When my wife and I returned on vacations to "the city" during the 1980s with our children, we made it a point to have them take a stroll through the Ingersoll Building at Grand Army Plaza. Even the graffiti that besmirched the facade in those days could not diminish the grandeur of this soaring and stately symbol; it represented all that was good and noble within the Western World, forged, as it was, in a dark time of the Great Depression -- a precipice on which civilization itself tottered, in grave peril of being cast asunder by the 20th Century's version of the barbarian horde during the Second World War.

It would not be hyperbole to say that this building and its contents indeed represent the greatness of American genius, culture, and values.

As an aside, but of no less importance, let me address proposed library budget cuts. How sad -- for the children who need this resource to climb out of slums and ignorance; and for the adults who need this resource to continue to grow and never stagnate throughout their lives. Cutting the budget is nothing less than a sanctioned book-burning.

Remember well the words of Heinrich Heine: "Dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen" -- Where they burn books, at the end they also burn people.

The Flagship

The Ingersoll main branch is the flagship of the great Brooklyn Public Library System. Many of the smaller neighborhood branches were built through the generosity of Andrew Carnegie, whose largess in this regard resulted in over 2500 architecturally significant libraries being built in the US, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Almost 60 years after I first set foot in my local library in Brooklyn, I can still remember the smell of the books on the shelves, the wrought iron staircase that takes one to the balcony and its treasures, and the beautifully tiled fireplace in the central reading room. When I first set foot in the Ingersoll, I was even more proud to be a Brooklynite.

Outside GOOD, Inside BAD

As a nearby resident and archi-nerd, I couldn't help but think, "I doubt most of these people have actually used this building." Because the glowing reviews would pretty much stop there. Yeah, the exterior is beautiful in an eccentric "destined to be a landmark" kinda way, but the inside is pure misery. There is zero natural flow between the departments, the main lobby is ostentatiously grandiose while serving no real purpose, the kids section is so far removed from the others (with no place to sit and rest), the rest of the building is a rabbit's warren of hidden rooms and long corridors... the list goes on and on. Yes: til the break of dawn.

Reminds me a lot of the NYC Guggenheim. Visually wonderful, and an absolute nightmare to use.

Architectural illiterates!

This is a remarkable building which elevated its users into a higher plane. It meant something to go into that space (as I did when researching high school projects in the 1960s.) It was the flagship for a superb borough-wide system of excellent libraries and had the distinction of being both beautiful and user friendly. I can only surmise that those who are totally unused to a high level of design in their daily existence would be overwhelmed by its magnificence. It is "only" a library after all, but such a presence.

Nice neighborhood

The area around the library went downhill for a long time after this picture was taken. But the last 20 years has seen a tremendous resurgence. Every Saturday morning in the summer months there is a large farmers market that is full of life. Both Park Slope, and now Prospect Heights have evolved into some of America's most beautiful and livable neighborhoods. And when you see it up close, the architecture of this building is not as brutal as it may seem in pictures. Come to Brooklyn and see!

Looks like an Egyptian funerary temple.

Or something by Albert Speer.

The Library at Brooklyn

I actually like the architecture. Reminds me of ancient Egypt, in the sense that it looks like long after all the other buildings in Brooklyn crumble, this one would still be standing, giving testimony to all the knowledge of mankind.

Prewar, there was an idealism of the inherent belief in the good of mankind, so in the attempt to lift us from the Depression, we as a country built all these great libraries, schools, public works of all kinds trying to bring everyone up. And after the war, there was this fatalist realization that this wouldn't ever be possible, so why bother. It's fundamentally and economically not worth the effort, as there will never be any grand success to this ideal.

This building reminds me of that prewar idealism -- clean, sterile lines, like the architect was dreaming of 23rd century America and wanted this building to be there still, stoic to the whims of the ages, an edifice to higher education sitting like an ancient hall.

More than just books.

A building this beautiful makes me want to go in and explore.


to this and the interior shot below. Late 30s - early 40s IMO = the beginning of truly hideous architecture. I'm sure I'm in the minority here but dang, to me that thing is fugly.

"Noble things that tower above the tide"

In addition to the splendid gilded figural reliefs by Carl Paul Jennewein and Thomas Hudson Jones, the library's entrance façade and doorways are ornamented with numerous inspirational inscriptions written by Roscoe Conklin Ensign Brown (1867-1946), who served on the Library Board from 1908. He was the Board President who oversaw the design and completion of the building, and was clearly very good at crafting a lofty phrase.


A closeup of the inscription from the Brooklyn Public Library's website.

I am confused...

Is that a monument to Stalin, or Ayn Rand? Looks the same, either way.

Then and now

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