Over 106 years, some structures become staples of their communities.
This is the sentiment one Elmhurst civic association has expressed regarding the neighborhood’s historic library, which is set to be torn down and replaced with a larger, more modern facility.
Members of the Newtown Civic Association are puzzled by Queens Library’s decision to destroy the community “landmark,” which opened in 1906 and is one of the last remaining libraries built with funding from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.
“The existing design that they have shown us doesn’t work on many levels,” said Robert Valdes Clausell, treasurer of Newtown Civic and property manager of the Continental, a co-op building located next to the library. “Not only does it not do justice to the area of Elmhurst and the historical structure, but the actual design is a disaster. What we have advocated for is that the original library’s exterior, the part from 1906, be preserved. It deserves and warrants restoration because it will teach future generations about the history of Elmhurst, public libraries and contributions of men like Carnegie to the democratic process.”
According to a representative from the Department of Design and Construction, the Landmarks Commission deemed the library, which is set to be demolished this winter, did not warrant landmark status due to the numerous restorations it received over the century it stood in Elmhurst. The contractors are incorporating some of the bricks from the old library in the new structure, according to the spokesperson.
Queens Library officials say the new structure, which is scheduled to open in 2014, will adequately service the community, while also paying homage to the library’s legacy in Elmhurst. The preservation of the existing structure was also cost-prohibitive, according to a library spokesperson.
“Elmhurst is a thriving neighborhood that needs a state-of-the-art library to support education, job growth and intellectual development,” said the spokesperson.
While Clausell agrees with the need for more space for what is currently the second busiest branch in Queens, he does not feel that warrants a “lack of inspiration.”
Clausell, Nicholas Dovas and Thomas McKenzie, the organization’s president, recently met with officials from Queens Library to voice their concerns and offer their input.
Along with classifying the new design as a “failure of imagination,” the Newtown Civic trio has expressed apprehension regarding the new building’s potentially negative effects on traffic, parking and daily life in the community. The association has also taken umbrage at the lack of library access the community has had since the branch closed in November.
“[The new library] eliminates any parking for a facility that relies on massive deliveries and pickups of books,” said Clausell, who claims no transportation study was conducted before committing to a design. “They are also planning on opening up the back of the building to the public. This will disturb the peace and quiet of the rear of the building. They are looking for litigation and confrontation from their neighbors. It is opening up a Pandora’s box.”
According to the library spokesperson, officials are working with the Elmhurst community to address their concerns, and the new structure is expected to “be a beautiful community magnet that will add significantly to the quality of life in Elmhurst.”
Although many in the community will be saddened by the loss of their landmark, Queens historian Jack Eichenbaum believes the benefits of the modern facility will also be significant.
“Carnegie libraries are beautiful, but that library was built a century ago when the population of Elmhurst was very small,” said Eichenbaum. “That population has grown dramatically with many immigrants, and libraries are very important to immigrants. It is a shame to lose these kinds of buildings, but in this case it is counteracted by the need for a bigger, and hopefully better, library.”