THE LENOX: There’s a new’s a new book group in town!


THERE”S A NEW BOOK GROUP IN TOWN!:  This post is about the institution of a brand new MWC book group – The LENOX BOOK GROUP.   The brainchild of new MWC’er Marsha W., this recurring activity will focus on works that have some relationship to New York.  However, they can be from any genre – biography, non-fiction, fiction, mystery, historical fiction, classic, short story, memoir, travel, thriller, etc.; you name it!  At this time, the group is focusing on the SECOND THURSDAY of the month, with more details to follow on the #lenox-book-group channel on MWC-SLACK. 

The LENOX is rounding out our selection of third Wednesday book groups – and will meet at 11:30am-3:30pm.  Marsha has volunteered to host the first session and will provide her address to MWC’ers on the #lenox MWC-SLACK channel.  Bring your own lunch – thank you to whomever came up with that idea (think it was Aimee B).

The plan (so far) for how this will work is that members will each take a turn moderating a book.  The group will try to choose books 6 months in advance.  Members will have the opportunity to suggest books and everyone can vote on those they’d like to read.  We will try to have at least 6 lined up at a time so that people have the opportunity to borrow them from the library if they don’t want to purchase them.  Book group members will take turns hosting.  To get things started, Marsha will put the book selection on the #lenox book group channel.  Or maybe she’ll decide to do something else as the group is just beginning!

You know, this is a big opportunity to read wonderful books about the extraordinary place we live which has an endlessly fascinating history.  It will enrich your life as a New Yorker.

The MWC’s newest book group – the LENOX – is named after the ORIGINAL name of one of the NYPL lions.  ASTOR was the other. That’s because the original Lenox and Astor libraries in NYC merged in 1895 to form the New York Public library and their combined collections were moved into the “new” building on Fifth in 1911.  The building was largely paid for by the sizeable estate of former NY Governor Samuel Tilden.  Those iconic beasts didn’t start to be called “Patience” and “Fortitude” until they were unofficially “renamed” by Fiorello LaGuardia during one of his Depression era radio broadcasts in which he was exhorting New Yorkers to maintain those qualities during that very difficult time. Having book groups named after two such historic, illustrious New Yorkers, John Jacob Astor and James Lenox, is a big thrill – it makes it seem like the MWC is also part of NYC history!

Antique illustration of Lenox Library, New York

The LENOX LIBRARY was on Fifth Ave at 70th/71st streets from 1870-1912 (and the current Fifth Avenue building looks an awful lot like it!) However, after James Lenox’s death in 1880 the library’s finances were getting pretty shaky and after the consolidation with the Astor Library in 1895 it wasn’t clear what the point was for it to exist at all.  So, the building was sold to Henry Clay Frick and he built his NYC home on the site and moved in in 1914.  Sadly, he didn’t get to enjoy hew uber-gorgeous beautiful home for too long as he died five years later in 1919.  His widow, Adelaide, used the house periodically for the rest of her life, until her death in 1931. Their home became The Frick Museum which opened in 1935.

The history of the ASTOR LIBRARY is very similar.  Towards the end of his life, John Jacob Astor was cogitating over what to do to ensure his immortality and during this time he became acquainted with a private librarian (Joseph Cogswell) who persuaded him to start collecting books.  A very large collection was amassed by the time of Astor’s death in 1848.  By that time there was an official organization and a board and, thanks to Astor, a substantial endowment.  It was decided to build a free-standing library, in what we now call the East Village, which opened in 1854.  There were two expansions on either side of the original building and, given all that extra room for many more books, in 1895 the Lenox Library was consolidated with the Astor Library.  Together, they became the New York Public Library.

After the “new” library built its still used building on Fifth Avenue, in 1911 the consolidated book collection was moved into it.  At that point the Astor Library building on Lafayette was pretty much abandoned, although the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society(HIAS) used it until 1920. (HIAS still exists, by the way, and is a magnificent organization working in refugee relief. They are currently very involved in providing relief and relocation to Ukrainian refugees.)  After HIAS left the Astor Library building, for 40+ years it remained unused, uninhabited and became truly decrepit.  In 1965 there were plans to demolish it. However, two very important things happened in 1965.  The first was that the New York Landmarks Preservation Law was passed and the Astor LIbrary was one of the first buildings to be landmarked.  The second was that at that very same time the NY Shakespeare Festival was looking for a home so they bought the old Astor LIbrary and made it into the PUBLIC THEATER.  For which it is still used today.  By the way, the former home of Governor Tilden on Gramercy Park now houses the National Arts Club. 

Meanwhile, atop the facade, as part of the original construction, you can see the famous, historic names of those New Yorkers who founded the library.  Look at the picture above.  However, recently, after his 2008 gift of $100 million, Stephen Schwarzman, CEO of the private equity company Blackstone Group, was granted his request that the main library building be named after him and that his name be etched in six (SIX!) different places.  A sign of the times … sigh.





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