Building of the Day: 280 Cadman Plaza West

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: The Business Library branch of the Brooklyn Public Library
Address: 280 Cadman Plaza West
Cross Streets: Tillary and Johnson Streets
Neighborhood: Brooklyn Heights
Year Built: 1962
Architectural Style: Modern with Art Deco ornament
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

The story: This library is much older than it looks. It’s the descendant of the old Brooklyn Athenaeum and Reading Room, founded in 1852, begun to provide instruction in philosophy and classical studies to Brooklyn’s young men. The original Athenaeum was located on Atlantic Avenue, at Clinton Street. A few years later, a new library was founded, the Brooklyn Mercantile Library Association of the City of Brooklyn, which shared the same space in the Athenaeum. This library, founded in 1857, attempted to be less philosophical and more practical, focusing on business and commercial education. In 1869, the two libraries merged, and found a new home in the Montague Street Branch of the Library. 1878 saw the Mercantile Library renamed the Brooklyn Library, the beginning of the greater Brooklyn Library System.

Fast forwarding to the 20th century, the collection started by the Mercantile Library was now called the Business Library Reference Department. In 1943, it was officially re-named the Business Library, and in 1957, the building of a new building to house the Business Library, as well as the Brooklyn Heights Branch of the Public Library was approved. The new Cadman Plaza was still in development, and this space was chosen for the building. In 1962, the building opened its doors, and has remained unchanged, but for a 1993 renovation and expansion.

It’s a valuable resource and a great library, but it is not great architecture. The library’s only redeeming features are the Art Deco style reliefs flanking the entry, and the lettering above the doorway. These are well done, but although quite Deco in inspiration, also have a Post-war kind of aggressive Politboro, propaganda touch to them, which is interesting, given the times and the fear of the Soviet Union. I wonder who did these. The building itself is pure late 50’s, early 1960’s, blah box. Actually, it kind of blends in with the rest of Cadman Plaza, which isn’t saying much, as the entire development looks as if it was dropped from space. Nothing here relates to Brooklyn Heights or Downtown Brooklyn, which was the idea. Given the space premiums in Brooklyn Heights, I’ve always been surprised someone hasn’t advocated tearing it down for a high rise, which would include a new library. I’m sure that will happen someday. I hope they save the reliefs. GMAP

What's Happening