A historic-preservation battle over Carr're and Hastings's 1911 marble palace for the New York Public Library is the subject of Scott Sherman's Patience and Fortitude: Power, Real Estate, and the Fight to Save a Public Library. The title's grandiosity is somewhat misleading: at no time was the landmark's exterior or its public spaces endangered by a controversial consolidation plan. Yet the battle over the main branch of the New York Public Library, which rises majestically along two city blocks behind a pair of stone lions (the Patience and Fortitude of the title) raises tough historic-preservation questions: What is essential to a great building's integrity? What should be done when money is not avail-able to maintain treasured resources?
As is rare for big-city libraries, the system's headquarters is almost entirely devoted to research. A Central Library Plan, devised in 2007, threatened that status, as trustees cooked up a complicated real-estate deal to shore up the institution's deteriorating finances. The idea was to close and sell two nearby branches, which sit on highly valuable midtown-Manhattan plots, and insert their consolidated functions into a new circulating library. And the architectural plan for the library's interior, as designed by Foster + Partners, would have replaced the main building's book stacks, which feed the spectacular Rose Reading room, a football-field long cathedral beloved by writers and researchers.