The New York Public Library‘s Beloved Rose Main Reading Room Restored

Interior Decoration Design

The New York Public Library‘s Beloved Rose Main Reading Room Restored

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall of the Rose Main Reading Room at Manhattan’s New York Public Library (NYPL) early on May 28, 2014.At two in the morning, one of the ceiling’s gilded-plaster rosettes suddenly fell to the floor, 50 feet below, shattering to pieces. On account of that errant 16-pound wreath, ironically a symbol of strength, the space was immediately closed off for repairs. On Wednesday, after an extensive restoration, the room is reopening—along with the revamped Bill Blass Public Catalog Room.

As an NYPL trustee, I may be biased, but I believe our library is the greatest of its kind—free, open to all, and with its main branch set inside a stunning 1911 Beaux Arts landmark designed by Carrère & Hastings. Widely considered to be that building’s masterpiece, the Rose Main Reading Room spans 297 feet, or nearly the length of a football field, its ceiling a column-free expanse divided into three sections—each one enlivened by a mural of ethereal sky. The surrounding framework is a riot of carving, gilding, and classical plasterwork. Satyrs leer, cherubs wield quill pens, and winged bare-breasted women (definitely not angels) fly, arms outstretched.

The library’s Bill Blass Public Catalog Room, which underwent its own restoration.

An upward view of the painting installed in the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room.

Restoring the Rose Main Reading Room has meant installing 40-foot-high scaffolding the entire length of the interior. With the help of WJE Engineers & Architects , all 102 ceiling rosettes have been carefully tested, first with a gentle tap, then a firmer tug, and eventually a 300-plus–pound weight. Each wreath is now reinforced by a stainless-steel aircraft cable. And every surface has been inspected and refreshed.

While the space was closed, the NYPL also took the opportunity to update the adjacent Bill Blass Public Catalog Room. It now boasts a ceiling mural inspired by the three in the Rose Main Reading Room, opening the interior to a trompe l’oeil Parnassian sky. Come visit. Walk up the Fifth Avenue steps, past library lions Patience and Fortitude, through marble-lined Astor Hall, up the grand stairs, and into these spectacular spaces. Be inspired. And, of course, support your local library.

A decorative painter from the New York firm EverGreene Architectural Arts works on the space’s new ceiling mural, which was based on the Rose Main Reading Room’s originals by James Wall Finn.