In 1901, Andrew Carnegie donated $5.2 million (equivalent to over $100 million today) to New York City in order to fund the construction of an estimated 30 libraries within the New York Public Library system. At the time, the Carnegie libraries were heated by coal, which meant a live-in custodian was charged with keeping the fires burning. Although most of the apartments have already been converted into usable space, Atlas Obscura recently featured some of the remaining residences, which may be renovated for public use in the future. Take a look at some photos of the derelict apartments by The New York Public Library's staff photographer, Jonathan Blanc, after the jump.
Throughout the city, some 30 Carnegie libraries were once home to live-in custodians like John H. Fedeler, who lived at the 42nd Street branch of the New York Public Library in the 1930s. His son grew up in the library and gave an interview to the NY Times describing life in a vast seven-room apartment under the reading tables. “The Fedeler apartment faced on the library’s central court,” he said. “At night, when all the library lamps were dark, father would sit in the great armchair in the great living room, telling of his sailing days. He tried to keep the children out of the reading rooms with a story about the red-headed ghost that walked the library attic above the reading room, and sometimes between the reading tables. The red-whiskered ghost became very real.”
The Fedeler family had to move out in 1940 when the library needed new space, which was the case for many of the families residing in city libraries. Additionally, the buildings were slowly updated to electric heating and cooling, which meant that there was no longer a need to keep the coals lit.
Recently, in 2005, the last known live-in custodian moved out of NYPL’s Webster Branch library located in Yorkville. Today, there are an estimated 13 abandoned apartments left in various libraries around town, most of which have fallen into a rather depressing state of disrepair. However, some of the old apartments – Washington Heights and Woodstock – are already undergoing renovations in order to be used for public services such as ESOL classes or after school programs.
Images by Jonathan Blanc, courtesy of the NYPL