Mark Lamster | Essays

Forgotten New York: The Lenox Library

The New York website Gothamist recently posted some wonderful images of the hidden spaces of the Frick Museum, including its antique bowling alley. (I caught the post via a link from Jason Kottke.) I love the Frick, but reading about its forgotten spaces makes me think about the truly lost space on the same site, namely the Lenox Library. This building was sober, imposing, and correct, much like the man who designed it, Richard Morris Hunt, dean of the American architectural profession. The library opened in 1875, and was hailed as one of the most sophisticated works of architecture in the nation. Frick took it down in 1913, to build his mansion, an act of vandalism that would likely not go over today. (The books it housed are now a part of the foundational collection of the NYPL.) 

Today, irony of ironies, the city's memorial to Hunt sits directly across Fifth Avenue from the Frick, with a bust of the architect (by Daniel Chester French) staring in perpetuity at the indignity of his masterwork's replacement. The floor of the monument is banded with a swastika tile pattern — a common classical motif back in 1898, when it was erected — which of course makes it only less appropriate now.  

Should the monument be moved or altered? I kind of like that it is where it is, an Ozymandian a reminder of what was once there, and also a sort of wry commentary on the city's history of preservation and the nature of the architectural profession. 

Comments [3]

I think the monument should stay exactly where it is. I walk by it at least twice a week, and I've wondered about it for years. Thanks for the architectural history lesson (once again).
Elsie St. Leger

I don't recall this being in Nathan Silver's fabulous book "Lost New York." Thanks for recalling.

And speaking of Daniel Chester French, who sculpted the Lincoln statue at the Lincoln Memorial, his home and studio Chesterwood, in the Berkshires, is a great place to spend a warm afternoon.

steven heller

Wow. Have you guys seen what this group is trying to do?


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