Greenwich Village's 'Joan of Arc' Tells Library Lionheart: Love It or Leave It

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Greenwich Village Block Association Challenges The New York Public Library's Scheme to Waste $2-Million of Taxpayers' $$$ to Ravage a Beloved Landmark on Sixth Avenue

The Greenwich Village Block Association came out swinging, as neighborhood residents sent "fighting words" to N.Y. Public Library President Paul LeClerc over the library's ill-conceived plans to squander $2-million to re-do the interior of the Jefferson Market branch, a landmark that was built in the 19th century as a courthouse.

Designed by Frederick Withers as part of the Jefferson Market judicial complex in the mid-1800s - - a triangular site that once held a jail, a police precinct, a firetower, and a marketplace in addition to the court - - this architectural triumph won the distinction as "one of the ten most beautiful buildings in America."

Vacated as a courthouse in the 1950s, and faced with the wrecker's ball [which had already demolished the jail and market-stalls], this beloved building was saved by a group of Greenwich Village activists and designated a national landmark. Though the interior was reconfigured as a neighborhood branch library and put into use, the exterior facade has not been maintained by the N.Y. Public Library.

"The Jefferson Market Library is the signature building in Greenwich Village. Its preservation and adaptive reuse was the catalyst for the creation of the Greenwich Village Historic District. While we appreciate that the New York Public Library (NYPL) houses a branch here, it is the structure that occupies a unique place in our affections," explained Marilyn Dorato, GVBA President in a letter to LeClerc.

According to Cynthia Crane Story, a cabaret queen and lifelong Village resident, who had helped to rescue this architectural treasure in 1959, several years ago a problem with the exterior masonry developed and unsightly scaffolding was erected. Residents naively supposed that the NYPL would locate funding for repairs expeditiously. But we were mistaken. The “shroud” of scaffolding stands and the building continues to deteriorate! Repairing the library’s “bricks and mortar” should be a priority - - rather than initiating an unsolicited interior redesign.

Former City Councilmember Carol Greitzer was aghast when, at a recent meeting attended by more than 250 local residents, NYPL representatives coolly informed attendees that it intended to forge ahead and may close the library for extended periods. Reporters also noted that, at an October committee meeting, both NYPL representatives and CB2 members treated residents’ concerns with disdain and derision.

Community Board 2 member Doris Deither emphasized that the controversial “teen center” is unnecessary in whatever form and whatever size the NYPL intends to make it.

Elaine Abse, a retired school guidance counsellor, has written to public officials and pointed out that there is no need to segregate teenagers or to isolate the general population from them. A “teen ghetto” in the library is a frivolous use of public space - - as well as a waste of $2-million of tax-payers' money.

The GVBA and an army of volunteers have agreed on this: While the NYPL is the current guardian of our cherished Venetian Gothic building, the structure belongs to us. Specific elements of the renovation scheme may be worth consideration, but the NYPL must consult with the community in a transparent, respectful manner.

For information from the library, call them at 212-243-4334.

Will the lionhearted library leadership lie down or roar? A public forum is scheduled to take place in Greenwich Village after Thanksgiving.

Dates & details:

  • * * The Greenwich Village Block Associations [GVBA] is a community wide coalition of organizations dedicated to preserving and improving the quality of life for residents of this historic neighborhood.


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