New York Public Library, Webster Branch

1465 York Avenue
Babb, Cook & Willard

The Webster branch of the New York Public Library (NYPL) is one of 67 branch libraries built throughout the five boroughs with funds donated by steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1901 to establish a city-wide branch library system. Its Beaux-Arts style (the unofficial style of the “Carnegie libraries”), was the work of Babb, Cook & Willard, which designed eight of the city’s public branch libraries, as well as Andrew Carnegie’s mansion on the Upper East Side (now the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum). The original Webster Free Library, which pre-dated the NYPL system, was founded in 1894 with a donation from Charles B. Webster and operated in conjunction with the East Side Settlement House. Notably, the Webster Free Library established a Czech Book Collection in 1897, which by the 1920s had grown to become the country’s largest library of Czech language and culture (the collection is now held at the NYPL’s main branch). The branch continues to serve a diverse population of New Yorkers, and like all of the city’s historic Carnegie libraries, it is instantly recognizable: the large arched windows give ample light to the first-floor reading room; the iron lanterns mark the entrance; and the “New York Public Library” cornice inscription proclaims the building’s continuing civic purpose. A few blocks away at 222 East 79th Street, well worth a detour, is the Yorkville Branch (James Brown Lord, 1902), the first Carnegie Library completed in New York City that also served as a template for many of the later branches.