In May 2014, the world came crashing down on the 3rd floor of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building — aka the Main Branch, aka the New York Public Library.
OK, not the world exactly but a 16-inch plaster rosette, which broke away from the 52-foot-tall mural-clad ceiling of the library’s majestic Rose Main Reading Room during the middle of the night. However, for visitors and frequent patrons of the soaring space that spans the length of two city blocks, the incident, which prompted the closure of the Rose Room for over two years, was nothing short than devastating.
After all, while the New York Public Library’s flagship branch — opened in 1911, the imposing Beaux Arts structure adjacent to Bryant Park was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1965 — is a world-class attraction within itself, the Rose Room has long served as its tourist-snaring heart. And beyond its popularity with out-of-towners, the splendorous sanctum is beloved with New Yorkers of all stripes: writers, researchers, students, historians, academics and those simply seeking a place of quiet place of refuge amidst the oppressive hustle and bustle of Midtown Manhattan.
While the rosette incident was by no means catastrophic from a structural standpoint and the ceiling itself was found to be in good condition, New York Public Library brass viewed the fallen ornamental plaster as an opportunity to completely shutter the Rose Main Reading Room altogether for an extensive $12 million repair and restoration effort.
Earlier this month on Oct. 5, the library officials reopened one of New York City’s most breathtaking interior spaces to the public. Obviously, the somewhat torturous wait was well worth it. The Rose Main Reading Room looks more magnificent than ever — largely the same, but better.
In addition to recreating and replacing the rosette, a team of restoration workers went about reinforcing all of 900 of the century-old rosettes spread across the reading room and the adjacent Bill Blass Public Catalog Room to ensure no more ornamental flourished would come crashing to the ground. In the latter room, a sprawling ceiling mural by renowned decorative painter James Wall Finn that had been deemed damaged beyond repair by a fine arts conservator was faithfully recreated by EverGreene Architectural Arts. (The similar celestial murals by Finn located in the Rose Main Reading Room had received extensive touch-ups during a restoration overhaul in the 1990s.)
And just like several iconic public spaces in New York City including Grand Central Terminal, the Rose Main Reading Room received an energy-efficient lighting makeover: the 18 tiered brass chandeliers that flank the space, such a grand and defining element of the room, were outfitted with LED bulbs.
What’s more, while restoration experts were busy spiffing up the public areas of the Rose Main Reading Room and Bill Blass Public Catalog Room, work commenced behind the scenes on various modernization projects including the installation of a new, state-of-the-art conveyor system — or “book train” — that ferries research materials up from the library’s vast subterranean storage area tucked away underneath Bryant Park directly to the reading groom. Spread out across 360 feet of track, the $2.6 million-system consists of 30 individual cars capable of holding 30 pounds of materials each.
The library’s charming but outdated pneumatic tube system, while still very much visible in the catalog room, hasn't been functional since the 1980s.
As a press release issued by the New York Public Library notes, the Wi-Fi-equipped reading room still very much remains a designated quiet space for research, study and other scholarly pursuits, there’s a small viewing area for visitors to openly gawk — in a hushed manner, of course — and take non-flash photos.
Referring to the Rose Main Reading Room as the "greatest public room in the city," New York Public Library President gave an impassioned speech at a ribbon-cutting reopening ceremony held earlier this month: "This public library, the greatest of public libraries in the world, is the foundation stone of a learned, informed, civil society. It is the institution open to all, ensuring that all can come and learn from our great collections and our great staff. It is the basis of the democracy that we must continue to replenish. It is the institution committed to inclusion and opportunity. This Room is the symbolic center of that basic commitment, the values of openness and opportunity, of inclusion."
And with Halloween just around the corner, it’s worth noting that the Rose Main Reading Room does indeed appear briefly in the original “Ghostbusters” film along with the landmark library’s 5th Avenue-facing exterior, which, funny enough was undergoing extensive renovations at the time of filming. However, according to ScoutingNY, the famous scene involving a “free-floating, full-torso vaporous apparition” was not filmed in the library's underground stacks but at a Los Angeles soundstage.
In 2010, New York-based "prank collective" Improv Everywhere (the same group responsible for the annual No Pants Subway Ride) staged a (fully approved) “Ghostbusters”-themed stunt in the Rose Main Reading Room as part of the Don’t Close the Book on Libraries public advocacy campaign launched to draw attention to a looming $40 million budget cut, the largest in New York Public Library history, that would have devastated New York City's public library system. In the end, the viral video-based work of the mock paranormal exterminators helped to save the day as funding was largely restored to the library by the city government.