Brooklyn Heights

Beloved art from former Brooklyn Heights Library is coming back

September 3, 2019 Mary Frost
Six bas-reliefs by Italian sculptor Clemente Spampinato, which were removed from the facade of the former Brooklyn Heights Library before it was demolished, will be reinstalled at two different Brooklyn libraries. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

Six bas-reliefs by Italian sculptor Clemente Spampinato (1912-1993), which were removed from the front façade of the former Brooklyn Heights Library before it was demolished, will be enjoying a second artistic life.

The classic carvings — which depict industry and businesses, crafts, sciences, knowledge, literature and the arts — will be split up and displayed at two different libraries, according to Brooklyn Public Library.

“Two of six sets will go into meeting rooms in the new Brooklyn Heights Library. The other four will go into a new garden which will be created outside the Walt Whitman Library,” Fritzi Bodenheimer, Brooklyn Public Library spokesperson, told the Brooklyn Eagle.

The Brooklyn Heights Library will be rebuilt at 280 Cadman Plaza West at the base of a luxury tower, currently in construction. The Walt Whitman Library is located at 93 St Edwards St. in Fort Greene.

Bodenheimer said that the developer (Hudson Companies) is storing the 10-by-11-foot panels as part of the agreement negotiated when the Brooklyn Heights Library site was sold.

The library’s sale was approved by the City Council in December 2015 and the Brooklyn Borough Board in March 2016 after three years of vocal community opposition and a series of raucous land-use hearings.

Councilmember Stephen Levin, who brokered the deal and represents the area, called the library sale “the most controversial issue I’ve seen in my district since being elected in 2009.”

Many library supporters voiced concern about the fate of the carvings. Once the artwork was hidden away in storage, they worried, reinstalling it would be given low priority by the city.

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Some pushed for the pieces to be displayed at the Brooklyn Museum in the interim, keeping them in the public eye and allowing museum-goers to enjoy Spampinato’s work. Other works by the artist are on display at Annapolis, the World Golf Hall of Fame and other venues.

The $470 million, 36-story project at 280 Cadman Plaza West, which is replacing the two-story library, was designed by Marvel Architects. It will include a new 26,620-square-foot library, 134 market-rate condominium units, and a 9,000-square-foot STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) lab operated by the NYC Department of Education. The condos will include a mix of one- to five-bedroom units and underground parking.

The site will also house two retail spaces on Clinton Street: one to be leased by Brooklyn Roasting Company and the other to feature rotating pop-up food vendors curated by Smorgasburg.

As part of the deal, Hudson has also built 114 units of affordable housing on two privately owned sites in Clinton Hill. The city’s affordable housing lottery opened on Aug. 14 for these units.

Bodenheimer said that BPL has not decided if an installation ceremony will be held when the pieces are back on display.

“We have not decided about ceremonies and celebrations quite yet,” she said.

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