Heights History: Cadman Plaza Public Library Branch, 1966

The Brooklyn Heights Public Library at 280 Cadman Plaza West & Tillary Street was full of book-smart promise when it opened May 31, 1962, offering modern technology and a streamlined system for checking out and returning books. The series of pics (below), taken in February 1966, in fact, reveal a clever conveyor belt that sent books from the main-level chute to the lower floor, where they were processed to return to the shelves. Pretty neato.

In all, the Brooklyn Public Library system is the fifth-largest in the nation, with 58 branches located within a half mile of every Brooklyn resident. It’s a safe bet that some 45 years ago, not only did the air conditioning work at the Heights branch, but there probably weren’t too many stabbings at the library, either. Curiously, the lobby area has changed little since 1966. (Photos: Museum of the City of New York)

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  • http://selfabsorbedboomer.blogspot.com Claude Scales

    1962? The WPA-ish art deco friezes of Art, Science, and so forth on the facade had me convinced that the building dated to the New Deal era. On the other hand, when I take the interior stairway and see the turquoise colored mosaic tiles covering the wall, I’m mystically transported back to the University Center building at my alma mater, South Florida, which also dates to the early 1960s.

  • yoohoo

    Claude, how could this building date to the New Deal era? The site was most likely part of the massive Civic Center urban renewal project, during which the BQE was built, and the entire area between Jay and Fulton (which became Cadman Plaza West) north of Borough Hall was razed, with only the General Post Office building remaining. Street car and elevated lines to downtown and the Brooklyn Bridge were eliminated, streets demapped, Tillary and Adams Streets widened, approach to the Brooklyn Bridge changed, and the State Supreme Court, IRS building (site of the Federal Court), Concord Village, NYC Community College and Cadman Plaza Park replacing the warren of run-down dwellings and small.

    I highly recommend Brian Merlis and Lee A. Rosenzweig’s photo books covering Brooklyn Heights and Downtown Brooklyn. I have only volume I (1860-1922), therefore can’t offer specific dates on the urban renewal sequence. Also, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle recently published excerpts from Robert Furman’s new book on the history of Brooklyn Heights. One of them (June 7) contained a drawing (ca. 1890) and a photograph (ca. 1964) of the Ovington Brothers building just off the corner of Cadman Plaza West and Clark Street, where Congregation Mount Sinai is now. The archives of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and the New York Times are among the best sources of this era.

  • yoohoo

    Correction: The first paragraph was to end with “small manufacturing buildings.”

  • bornhere

    The original Montague Street Branch of the library was a breathtakingly beautiful building, and I still remember how magical I thought it was when I was a child. It’s too bad BUG couldn’t have built their building on Cadman (or Fulton, at the time) and left the grand library alone.

  • eg

    what’s BUG?

  • Math Major

    Bug = Brooklyn Union Gas

  • http://selfabsorbedboomer.blogspot.com Claude Scales

    yoohoo: I moved to the Heights in 1983. While I knew that a substantial transformation of the area that is now Cadman Plaza had happened in the 1960s, I didn’t connect the configuration of the library building with that project. The friezes do look very 1930s-ish (I bet they hired someone who had been a WPA artist to design them). I did, as I noted in my comment above, notice a disconnect between the exterior and interior; particularly with regard to the mosaic tile covered wall.

  • Andrew Porter

    I suspect that although the library opened in 1962, it was designed a decade earlier, back when such heroic design elements were standard for libraries of the era.

    Meanwhile, I have *never* seen anyone using the little park at the extreme north end of the library, where Clinton pours its cabs into Cadman Plz W and Tillary.

  • David on Middagh

    Yes, what’s the deal with that little park? Does anyone remember ever being allowed to sit on one of the benches? Has that park been locked for generations?