Carroll Gardens

Historic Carroll Gardens Library to close for 2 years for renovations

An original Carnegie library, more than a century old

July 11, 2023 Mary Frost
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CARROLL GARDENS — The historic Carroll Gardens Library at 396 Clinton St. (at Union Street) will be closing on July 21 for renovations, which are estimated to take 18-24 months.

“The project will center around replacement of the HVAC system, providing a more comfortable building (warm in the winter, cool in the summer),” Brooklyn Public Library spokesperson Fritzi Bodenheimer told the Brooklyn Eagle. 

In addition, the first floor will get new architectural lighting and the mezzanine will be “refreshed and updated” to serve as a dedicated teen space. “It will include new lighting, acoustic wall finishes, new furniture and new flooring. There will be a media viewing area and [spaces] for reading and homework,” Bodenheimer said.

The renovations will also include upgrades to the fire alarm and safety systems. 

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The mezzanine of the Carroll Gardens Library, which can be seen in this current photo, will be updated for teens with new lighting, acoustic wall finishes, new furniture and flooring, a media viewing area and spaces for reading and homework. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

Interim service during construction 

“We are finalizing plans with a nearby community partner to offer story times, one-on-one computer help, and a book club while the branch is closed,” Bodenheimer said. “We will also provide bookmobile service (schedule to come) and of course patrons are welcome at any of our branches or online where we have over half a million e-books and audiobooks. Nearby branches include Brooklyn Heights and Pacific Library.”

Any remaining held items not picked up by July 21 will be sent to Park Slope Library, according the BPL website.

The Red Hook Library is also undergoing a major interior and exterior renovation. That branch closed March 2023 and is expected to reopen in 2025, according to BPL. 

This undated historical photo shows the Carroll Gardens Library back when it was named the Carroll Park Library. (Its name was changed in 1973.) Note the lack of trees on the sidewalk in front of the library. Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Public Library

An original Carnegie library

More than 100 years old, the Carroll Gardens branch is one of Brooklyn’s original Carnegie libraries — and the library system notes that it is one of the most beautiful. Its 14,000-plus square-foot interior “retains its original, dramatic barrel-vaulted ceiling and other historical features,” according to BPL’s website. The historic details on the main floor of the building will be highlighted through the renovation. 

Originally one of 21 libraries in Brooklyn built as a result of the generosity of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie’s endowment, the Carroll Gardens building is one of the 18 still standing in the borough. 

Carnegie was for a time the richest man in the world, and he endowed more than a thousand free libraries across the U.S. at a time when few could read and free libraries were a rarity. According to Philanthropy Roundtable, “Carnegie believed deeply in the market economy—and also that it was crucial to prepare citizens to participate in it. “More than 900 Carnegie libraries still stand, a tribute to his lasting legacy.

According to the Carroll Gardens History blog, the library has helped more than 10,000 patrons prepare for the test to become U.S. citizens, originally through the National League of American Citizenship (Mrs. Vincent Astor, chair). Before the 1970s, the branch mainly catered to the neighborhood’s mostly working class Italian American residents — many of whom were stevedores and Brooklyn Navy Yard dock workers. Today the resident mix includes French, African American and Hispanic immigrants, and a large number of settled families who visit the library for Toddler Time.

Note the fully-grown trees in front of the Carroll Gardens Library. When the library was built in 1905, there were no trees surrounding the building. (There weren’t any Citi Bikes, either.) Eagle photo by Mary Frost

Building designed by noted Brooklyn Heights architect

The Carroll Gardens Library building was designed by Brooklyn Heights resident and noted architect William Bunker Tubby in 1905. Tubby, who attended Brooklyn Friends School as a child, was the architect of the school’s first main building at 112-116 Schermerhorn St. He also designed Pratt Institute’s Student Union and South Hall.

According to the architectural website archINFORM, Tubby created important buildings across New York City and the Northeast, and was especially known for his Romanesque and Dutch Revival-style designs. He designed the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture Meeting House, the Queen Anne-style row at 864-872 Carroll St., the residence of Brooklyn mayors at 405 Clinton Ave., and the Dutch Revival house at 43 Willow St., where he lived, among other buildings of note.

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