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A Short History of the Kingsbridge Library
The Kingsbridge Library will soon be moving to a new building and as we start to plan for our move, I can't help but reflect on the long and rich history the Kingsbridge Branch has had through the years.
The Kingsbridge Library lends its beginnings to the Kingsbridge Free Library, established in 1894 and housed above Hecht's drugstore on what is now 230th St. between Kingsbridge Ave and Corlear Ave. It quickly became clear that the small space was not adequate and it grew even more imperative that the library needed a new and more permanent space when a devastating fire swept over Riverdale Ave. While the library remained intact, much of the building in which the library was located was moved away or torn down.
The New York Public Library, with the help of Andrew Carnegie's generous $5.2 million gift, agreed to assign one of the first branches to Kingsbridge and incorporated with the previous Kingsbridge Free Library. It would be the second NYPL branch in the Bronx, the first of which was Mott Haven, which opened six weeks earlier. The new branch, designed by McKim, Mead & White, was located on Kingsbridge Ave on land provided by local resident, Dr. James Douglas, and opened May 19th, 1905.
In the early 20th century, the northwest Bronx experienced a growth of commerce and population greatly facilitated by the extension of the IRT subway line from Manhattan to 242nd st in 1908. It quickly became clear that the library had already outgrown its small space. Its original 4500 volumes had grown to almost 14,000 books by 1935, and residents still felt it wasn't enough to meet the needs of the growing community. Plans to remodel and expand the existing building were considered but never implemented.
The 1940s-1950s saw another period of intense growth in the area with construction of apartment buildings and the Marble Hill Houses public housing project. By now the library's holdings had grown to 30,000 volumes and the tiny building lacked the adequate space for class visits and programs. In 1958, the city finally agreed to provide a replacement branch that would provide three times the space of the former building.
On January 23rd, 1959, the new building, leased from builder and owner Francis J. Ambrosio, Malverne, L.I. opened at 280 West 231st street. In the years since opening, the neighborhood experienced yet another expansion of commercial and residential development and the neighborhood became even more diverse. The busy library became overcrowded and lacked the room to add the needed seating or computers. The library once again realized that the current space was inadequate to meet the community's needs and plans began for a new branch.
Designed by David W. Prendergast (who received a City Art Commission award for his design), the new building would take shape on property purchased by the city directly across the street from the current branch. Hoping to break ground in 2002 and open by 2004, construction was put off several times due to rising costs and need for additional funding. But after many years of waiting, the branch is finally nearing completion.
Thank you to former reference librarian Ms. Silverman who compiled a scrapbook highlighting the Kingsbridge Library's history and to the wonderful work of Reverend Dr. William Tieck in his book, Riverdale, Kingsbridge, Spuyten Duyvil, both of which serve as the basis for this post. Additional information and photos can also be found in the Kingsbridge Branch archives, the scrapbooks Ms. Silverman compiled which are located here at the branch, and in the Digital Gallery.