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NYPL Reading Hall With 100-Year-Old Mural to Reopen After 2-Year Renovation

By Noah Hurowitz | September 13, 2016 5:02pm
 The Rose Reading Room and Bill Blass Public Catalog Room underwent two years of renovations.
Rose Room and Blass Room
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MIDTOWN — Two halls at the New York Public Library’s main branch are set to reopen in October after being closed for more than two years to undergo major renovations, including the restoration of a massive 100-year-old mural, according to a library spokeswoman.

The Rose Main Reading Room and the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room, both located in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building at Fifth Ave and 42nd Street, will reopen on Oct. 5 following $12 million in upgrades to its ceilings and lighting fixtures, and the restoration of a 27-by-33-foot mural in the Blass room, according to a statement from library officials.

The work is wrapping up several months ahead of schedule and will be done in time for the annual Library Lions fundraising gala, according to NYPL President Tony Marx.

“The Library has eagerly anticipated the reopening of these glorious rooms, architectural gems which for over 100 years have been home to scholars, writers, students, and all members of the public who want to access our renowned research collections, learn, and create,” Marx said in a statement. “As great stewards of all of our libraries, we are proud of this important project, which ensures that these spectacular spaces remain as inspiring as they were on they day they opened.”

The renovations began shortly after an incident in May of 2014, when a plaster rosette fixed to the ceiling of the Rose Room came crashing down overnight, falling 52 feet to the floor below. The crumbling ceiling prompted the library to examine the structural integrity of the room’s ceiling and launch a restoration effort, according to a press release.

The ceiling work consisted of reattaching the fallen rosette and reinforcing with steel cables to the other 900 or so rosettes on the ceilings of both rooms, according to the press release. Workers also restored the chandeliers in the Rose Room and installed energy-saving LED lights, officials said.

The library also contracted an art firm to completely recreate the giant mural, by James Wall Finn, in the Blass Room after appraisers decided that the original mural on the room’s ceiling was damaged beyond repair.

Since opening with the rest of the Schwarzman Building in 1911, the Rose Room has provided New York’s readers and scholars a quiet place to research and study beneath the room’s ornately decorated, 52-foot ceiling. 

The Blass Room is outfitted with computers for patrons wishing to search back issues of the library’s catalog and request materials from the archives, according to a spokeswoman. During the renovations those computers were relocated to a second-floor corridor of the building, officials said.

The ceilings of both rooms feature murals depicting sun-drenched skies dotted with fluffy clouds, which have sat above such literary greats as Norman Mailer, E.L. Doctorow, and Elizabeth Bishop, all of whom were frequent users of the room, according to NYPL officials.