Even we here at Village Preservation learn new things about neighborhood history every day. In response to an inquiry we received from someone researching family history, we were asked to provide information about a library that was located near East Houston Street in the 1920s and 1930s. While we were not sure if such a thing existed, we began our hunt. Much to our delight, we learned of the original Hamilton Fish Park Library branch, which stood at 388-392 East Houston Street between Avenues C and D from 1909 until 1958.
The library’s building was designed by the distinguished architectural firm of Carrère and Hastings, in the Beaux-Arts style. It was made of red brick, stood at three stories tall, and contained about 17,000 square feet of space. The same architectural firm had designed many other iconic buildings, including the New York Public Library’s main branch at Bryant Park. The Hamilton Fish Park branch was built by the John T. Brady Company, which had also helped construct several other libraries around the city. The library’s construction had been funded by Andrew Carnegie, who between the years of 1886 and 1919 bankrolled the construction of libraries around the world, more than 1,600 of which were built in the United States. Many of these libraries still stand, and are referred to as Carnegie Libraries. One extant example within our neighborhoods is the Hudson Park Library in Greenwich Village.
The Hamilton Park Library also had a roof deck, which was open from about May to October each year. During its inaugural 1909 season, it saw over 16,000 visitors.
The library primarily served the various immigrant groups who called the East Village and Lower East Side home, and hosted different programs and readers services to aid the community. One such example occurred in the winter of 1915, when the city held emergency workshops to help those who were unemployed. At the Hamilton Fish Park Branch, people were hired to weave baskets and repair shoes.
The branch held the largest collection of Hungarian books in New York City. In 1911 the location was visited by the Hungarian Count Albert Apponyi, who, when acting as Minister of Education, had donated 1,000 Hungarian books to the library. The branch reached other superlatives as well. Upon opening, it had the largest children’s reading room in the city. In 1912, it had an estimated membership of over 12,000 children, and around 900 books were checked out daily.
In 1958, after nearly 50 years of service to the community, the Hamilton Fish Park Library at 388 East Houston Street closed its doors. It was soon demolished to make way for the widening of East Houston Street and the construction of the FDR drive. In 1960, a new Hamilton Fish Park Library opened at 415 East Houston Street, just opposite to where the library’s original location was, on the south side of Houston Street.
This information originated from a family history inquiry. To send us your own research question(s) check out the resources section of our website.