I have friends who, knowing that I work for DCPL, will say things like “I grew up at the Decatur library,” or “When I was working on my Masters, I lived at the library.” We all know that these folks are using figures of speech in order to convey the depth of their attachment to the library as a particular place that was important to them at a certain time in life. But what if it were true? What if you really did live at the library? What if you actually did grow up there?
Perhaps it’s my general interest in off-beat living spaces such as tiny houses, tree houses and Airstream trailers but I admit to being absolutely fascinated with this recent article from 6sqft, a website devoted to the architecture and building design or New York City as well as interesting aspects of the city’s real estate. The story profiles the living arrangements of the building superintendents of two of New York’s better known libraries. There was a time when these people actually lived inside the libraries themselves. For example Patrick Thornberry, superintendent of the grand New York Society Library, lived there with his family from 1943 until his retirement in 1967. Along with a lovely apartment, the family enjoyed access to a penthouse garden as well the library stacks and reference rooms after hours. Even today, the building possesses great charm and distinction. In fact, Thornberry’s daughter, Rose Mary, chose to have her wedding there in 1965. This library is, by the way, one of the oldest in the country – if not the oldest – and is one of the few remaining libraries in the United States that functions on a subscription basis, that is, members pay a fee for access to the collections and services.
Also included in the 6sqft story is a brief account of John Fedeler, live-in superintendent at the 42nd Street branch of the New York Public Library, otherwise known as The Schwarzman Building. This is the home of the immense marble lions known as Patience and Fortitude who flank the entrance and brand the building as one of the most recognizable in the world. The classic Beaux-Arts building is spectacular in every way and the Fedeler family inhabited a lovely four bedroom apartment on the Mezzanine floor. Fedeler’s son (also named John) reported years later that singing and stomping around the apartment were strictly forbidden until library staff had left for the day. Strictures such as this one apparently didn’t deter the Fedeler children from such occasional antics as using outsize reference volumes as bases for indoor softball games.
As far as I know, library building supervisors no longer, as a rule, live in the buildings that they oversee but some people still live in buildings that were once libraries. Here, for example, is the story of an Atlanta couple who renovated the old Kirkwood library and turned it into a private home. Another couple in Rockport, Massachusetts converted an historic Carnegie library building into a private residence complete with a gorgeous tiled rotunda. Here‘s an image into what is now the kitchen.
As a child of decidedly bookwormish tendencies, living in the library would have been a dream come true. How about you? Did you ever want to live at the library?