Monday, May 6, 2013

Photo of the Day: A Landmark—and a Reproof

For years, I gaped at this imposing Greenwich Village building, with its turrets, towers, gables and carvings. As a library school student, I became more familiar with the Jefferson Market Library branch of the New York Public Library.

Bibliophiles who’ve checked out its holdings might also be interested to know that this New York City landmark, designed by architects Frederick Clark Withers and Calvert Vaux, in its prior life as a courthouse, witnessed testimony by Red Badge of Courage author Stephen Crane on behalf of a woman he believed unjustly accused of prostitution, as well as the sensational trial of Harry K. Thaw, whose shooting of Stanford White (who had had an affair with Thaw’s wife Evelyn Nesbit prior to the marriage) became one of the key plot points in E.L. Doctorow’s bestselling Ragtime.

In the early 1960s, the old courthouse (built on the grounds of one of the city's major food markets of the antebellum period) looked as if it would fall to the wrecking ball until local community members (including authors Lewis Mumford and e.e. Cummings) persuaded Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr. to convert it into a library. The contrast with the current mayor and library management—whose execrable Central Library Plan will result in the sale of the Mid-Manhattan and SIBL branches and the deformation of the landmark central library—could not be more striking.

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