The Iconic NYPL Stephen A. Schwarzman Building Tour

Hi friends, welcome back! I finally crossed an item off my NYC bucket list, visiting the renowned New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. I’ve walked by this National Historic Landmark so many times, but haven’t gone in until this excursion. This is the most famous library in NYC and guarded by the iconic lions, Patience and Fortitude, along Fifth Avenue. The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building differs from the other NYPL branches because it is solely a research library and does not have books available to check out. My Battery Park library branch doesn’t look nearly as grand as this one!

This library was built in nine years from 1902 until 1911 and cost over $9 million dollars. Per the inflation calculator I used, that would be around $275 million dollars in today’s prices. This Library was designed in the Beaux Arts style famous for symmetry, columns and pillars, stone materials, and highly decorative surfaces. When the library officially opened in 1911, over one million books were in collection and over 30,000 people walked through on opening day.

As of today, there are 92 branches including research centers throughout Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island (Brooklyn and Queens aren’t part of the NYPL), over 53 million items in the collection, and over 18 million visitors a year. The New York Public Library is the second largest public library system in America, and fourth largest in the world. To give you some perspective, with some books I place on hold I’m the 700th person in line to borrow the book!

I was hoping to join the free, one hour tour at 11 am, but when I got there at 10:15, the fifteen-person tour was already full. One day I’ll go back and take the tour now that I have my fill of pictures. The library also offers a free, fifteen-minute tour at 10:30 am and 1:30 pm of the Rose Main Reading Room limited to twenty-five people. I luckily made it in time to join this tour and take pictures of the Rose Main Reading Room. This is the most iconic room in the library and only available by tour or if you are researching.

The tour check in was on the third floor in the McGraw Rotunda, so I checked out the impressive murals while I waited for the tour to start. The ceiling in the McGraw Rotunda depicted Prometheus, the Greek demigod giving man knowledge and fire. If you visit, make sure to look up everywhere you go because even the ceilings are exquisite!

The murals in the walnut paneled McGraw Rotunda show the history of the written word, starting with Moses with the Tablets of Law, The Medieval Scribe, Gutenberg Showing a Proof to the Elector of Mainz, and The Linotype-Mergenthaler and Whitelaw Reid.

We walked through the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room before heading into the main attraction…

The beautiful Rose Main Reading Room. I was only able to stand on the side and not walk through, but the room was stunning! This room stands atop seven levels that store the research materials, and a conveyer belt type system gets the book to the patron once it’s requested. I read about the conveyer belt system and the library in the book The Lions of Fifth Avenue, but I’m hoping the hour tour shows more of the system.

In 2014, one of the 16-pound plastered rosettes on the ceiling fell off and shattered, and the room was closed two years for repair. In the picture below, the rosettes are on the perimeter on the ceiling in the middle of the green squares. Nobody knows how it fell off, but all 102 rosettes were tested and reinforced during renovation to make sure they wouldn’t fall. During renovation, this room was completely covered with scaffolding up to the ceiling and all of the shelves were emptied. It’s hard to imagine, but this short YouTube video shows more about it. Also during the renovation, storage was created under Bryant Park to house even more research articles.

The Rose Main Reading Room is about the size of a football field and features 52-foot ceilings. I love how bright the large windows make this room. If you are only looking to see the Rose Main Reading Room, I’d highly recommend taking the fifteen-minute tour lead by the Library’s docents.

As I mentioned earlier, this library is a working research library, so quite a few rooms are reserved and unavailable to visitors. As much as I would have liked to see every room, I can definitely imagine how hard it would be to complete research with tourists coming through and snapping pictures.

Astor Hall, the main entrance off of Fifth Avenue sure stuns with all the marble. Usually at Christmastime there is a beautiful tree and garland, but due to construction it wasn’t up last year. I love these grand staircases and balconies.

I had a grand time visiting the New York Public Library – Stephen A. Schwarzman Building and touring the Rose Main Reading Room. I’d highly recommend stopping in on a trip to NYC. If you aren’t joining a tour, you can see most of the interior in about thirty minutes, but can spend as little or as long as you’d like. It’s free to visit and you could always stop at Bryant Park afterwards to grab a quick bite, or head north a few blocks to Rockefeller Center or further on to Central Park. Hopefully I’ll make the exclusive tour list and have more to report back with on this magnificent library!

35 thoughts on “The Iconic NYPL Stephen A. Schwarzman Building Tour

  1. Great tour of a great building Lyssy. So glad, we were able to visit it on our last visit to NYC. One of our party even got a library card, just cuz. Thanks for sharing. Allan

    1. Thank you! So glad you were able to see it, it’s such a grand building. For some reason it took me three years to get my library card here, now it’s one of my most prized possessions.

  2. This library is a spectacular piece of architecture. I haven’t been there but it is definitely worth a visit and tour The Rose Main Reading Room brought back memories of the main public library in Indianapolis and working on projects in grade school and high school. The Schwarzman Building should be somewhat familiar to many because it was featured in the movie Day After Tomorrow. Thanks for the tour!

    1. Glad you enjoyed the tour! The whole building truly is a work of art! There’s nothing like a grand library filled with so much information and knowledge. I had it easier growing up with all the research on the internet haha. I need to watch Day After Tomorrow again now that I’ll recognize more sights, it seems to always be on TV.

      1. No worries. Sometimes my WordPress acts up when I read other peoples posts

    1. I agree, it would be so hard to read in there! There’s something beautiful to see everywhere you look.

  3. What an amazingly beautiful,place Lyssy and somewhere I definitely would like to visit. When we were over in NYC it was during the time the Rose Reading Room was closed for repairs and I wasn’t even aware of the Stephen A. Schwartzman Building tour so that will be something else to add to my must do list, next time I’m over. Thanks so much for bringing it to my attention with your splendid photos and description.

    1. Nothing beats a free tour in such a gorgeous building! 😀 so glad you enjoyed and I hope you get to NYC soon to see it!

  4. Lovely library, especially the Rose Main Reading Room. I wonder what would be the waiting time for a book when you are 700th in line to borrow it. Insane. Beautiful tour, Lyssy.

    1. So glad you enjoyed! It can take a few months to get a very popular book. I have about 20 books on hold right now, sometimes they all come in at the same time haha! But the NYPL got rid of late fees, so now I don’t have to stress if that happens. You can also freeze your hold to prevent it coming in when you’re gone, so sometimes you could be 5th in line but everyone else is frozen so you get the book very fast.

    1. It’s such a gorgeous building! I was always intimidated to go in, but I’m so glad I did!

    1. Thank you! It is such a convenient location, I used to work a few blocks away and would walk over on my lunch break. I’m looking forward to going back and exploring more.

  5. This building looks amazing! I wouldn’t want to be the one sitting in the room when part of the ceiling fell off. What a freaky thing. Hopefully no one was hurt when that happened.

    1. It’s such an incredible building! They said it happened in the middle o the night so no close calls, I’m guessing they would have a security camera to capture it. Would be crazy if they didn’t! I didn’t realize the rosettes were so large, apparently they’re the size of a bear’s head.

  6. It’s such an incredible building – wow! We did this tour when we were in NYC back in 2017 but my photos are terrible, so thank you for bringing back the memories 🙂

    1. So cool! Now that I have pics I can really focus on the tour guide haha. Isn’t it amazing how much better photos are compared to 2017. I feel the same way about my pics when I went to Greece that year.

  7. Glorious architectural detail, no matter where you look. When you mentioned the year the Schwarzman was built, I imagined the architects and engineers sitting around a table saying, “So, let’s build a library…”, and THIS is what they came up with? Who knew books deserved such lavish accommodations? Noticed in the fourth photo there’s netting on the ceiling, maybe to prevent birds from nesting (or more loose pieces from falling, ha). My favorite part of the Rose Main Reading Room design may be the “Tromp-o’leoil” painting of the sky on the ceiling, meant to fool you into thinking you’re looking through glass. The same effect works well in several interiors in Las Vegas, including the Shops at Caesar’s Palace and the Shops at The Venetian. Finally, I can’t help thinking of “The Day After Tomorrow” and the original “Ghostbusters” when I see the Schwarzman Library. The building is featured prominently in both films (and likely dozens of others). Thanks for a thorough set of photos – wouldn’t have known you weren’t part of a scheduled tour!

    1. I thought you’d appreciate the architecture! I am glad they constructed such an elaborate library, the books must be happy too ha! My guess is the netting is to prevent those gross pigeons from making a mess on people entering the library. The ceiling in the Rose Main Reading Room sure is beautiful, I think all the natural lighting helps it feel a bit more realistic. I have seen both of those movies, although not in some time. Glad you enjoyed the tour!

  8. It is a beautiful presentation of the interior architecture of the library, I did not imagine it to be so sumptuous. Unfortunately I haven’t been further than Bryant Park, where the library is used as a great backdrop.

    1. The library is so grand! I’d never seen anything like it. Hope you can explore it one day 🙂

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