Court and State Disagree About NYPL

December 18, 2013

Yesterday was definitely a mixed bag for the people fighting to save the New York Public Library from moneyed interests in Gotham. Two plaintiffs in lawsuits to stop the horrible Central Library Plan argued persuasively for a halt to the project, and got a sympathetic hearing from Judge Paul Wooton in Manhattan Supreme Court yesterday in an all-day session with attorneys. The judge issued a temporary restraining order that will be in force until January 28, 2014.

Unfortunately for those fighting to save both the Mid-Manhattan Branch and the 42nd Street stacks, the NLPL board had an ace up its sleeve. Richard Leland, the library’s attorney, pulled out a mysterious “Letter of Resolution” from the New York State Preservation Office that appeared to give the green light for both the sale of the busiest branch library in the NYC system, and the destruction of most of the historic stacks in Carrere and Hastings’s masterpiece. Only two weeks before, Michael Lewis, professor of art history at Williams College, declared the building to be the greatest civic edifice in the United States. Apparently bureaucrats in Albany didn’t read the New Criterion’s indictment of “the tyranny of philanthropy,” as Lewis dramatically framed the problem with the Central Library Plan.

Why did the SHPO, which had twice rejected the NYPL’s proposal for demolition of the stacks in a National Historic Landmark building, change direction so abruptly? As we’ve seen before in this multi-year battle, the forces of greed are powerful and multi-headed. It’s not surprising that high-level politicians in New York state have succumbed to their pressure. But it’s certainly very disheartening.

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