Building of the Day: 496 Franklin Avenue

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Bedford Branch: Brooklyn Public Library
Address: 496 Franklin Avenue
Cross Streets: Hancock and Fulton Streets
Neighborhood: Bedford Stuyvesant
Year Built: 1904-05
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival
Architect: Lord & Hewett
Other Buildings by Architect: Brooklyn Masonic Temple, Far Rockaway Library (gone), Brooklyn Hospital
Landmarked: No, but really, really should be, along with rest of neighborhood.

The story: The Brooklyn Public Library system was created by an Act of Legislature of the State of New York in 1892. Four years later, the Brooklyn Common Council passed a resolution for the establishment of the Brooklyn Public Library. A year later, in 1897, the first branch of that library opened. The Bedford Library was that branch. Bedford was one of the fastest growing upscale neighborhoods of its day, home to the first two high schools in the city, and home to fine homes and churches. It is not surprising that it would also be the place where the first branch of the Public Library would be established.

Before that time, Brooklyn was not totally without books. There were private reading rooms and libraries in clubs and organizations across the city. The Brooklyn Athenaeum, the Long Island Historical Society, and other organizations had libraries for their members. The Apprentice’s Library, founded in 1824, would go on to become the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Science, now the Brooklyn Museum. A growing library, with books on a multitude of subjects, was always a large part of its organization and mission. Pratt Institute opened the first free library and the first library for children on its campus. But so much more was needed, and the Brooklyn Public Library system was designed to bring libraries to all corners of the city. When Brooklyn became a part of Greater New York, in 1898, the library was one of the few things that remained independent.

The Bedford branch was first established in rooms in the old PS 3, which stood on Hancock Street, between Franklin and Bedford. In 1899, the school needed the space back, and the library moved to 26 Brevoort Place, the old Brevoort mansion, located near Fulton and Atlantic Avenue. From there, they also launched six traveling libraries that brought books to different neighborhoods across Brooklyn. The administrative offices of the library system were also at this location.

In 1901, it was announced that philanthropist Andrew Carnegie would donate millions of dollars for new libraries, throughout New York City. Brooklyn would receive $1.6 million, which would eventually assist in the building of twenty-one branches, including a new Bedford Branch. In the meantime, the house on Brevoort Place was just too small, and the library moved once more, in 1902, this time into Avon Hall, a large entertainment and concert hall near the corner of Bedford and Halsey. The large auditorium made a perfect reading room, and ample rooms in the hall held all 17,000 of the library’s books, divided into separate rooms for different branches of the library; children, circulating, reference, etc. The size and scope of the new building made the Bedford Branch the envy of the BPL system.

But this was always meant to be a temporary solution until the new Carnegie branch could be opened. The library was designed by the firm of Lord & Hewlett, who also would go on to design the magnificent Brooklyn Masonic Temple, in Fort Greene, in 1909. They designed at least one other Carnegie library, one in Far Rockaway, which no longer exits, as well as Brooklyn Hospital. James Monroe Hewlett was a particularly fine architect, a Columbia graduate, and former employee of McKim, Mead & White. He was also a very talented muralist, with works in banks, university buildings, and other civic buildings.

The Bedford Branch opened with great ceremony in 1905, praised by architectural critics and the Library Journal for its interior layout and design, featuring a central reception area, large reading room, and children’s section. The library has been well used ever since. When Bedford Stuyvesant became the catchword for urban decay, the library offered reading and literacy programs, and was a mainstay of the community. The library was closed for renovation when they needed it most, from 1964-1966, and again from 2002 until 2005, this time for a huge renovation that added an elevator, computer facilities, a new auditorium, children’s reading rooms, and other modern conveniences. Today, the library is still going strong, and still provides the Bedford community with the necessary tools for education and learning. GMAP

Bedford Library Postcard 1906

Bedford Library Interior, 1905. Photo: Brooklyn Public Library

26 Brevoort Place. Photo: Brooklyn Eagle 1901

26 Brevoort Reading Room, 1900. Photo: Brooklyn Public Library

Avon Hall, 3rd Library location. Photo: Brooklyn Public Library

Avon Hall, 1902. Photo: Brooklyn Eagle

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