The Gould Memorial Library is considered one of Stanford White‘s masterpieces. Located on the historic Bronx Community College Campus, the library is encircled by another White-designed structure, the Hall of Fame of Great Americans. In addition to White, another famous name is associated with these buildings: Guastavino. The father-son engineering duo known for their innovative tile arch system is responsible for the grand dome that tops the library rotunda and the arched ceiling that curves along the Hall of Great Americans. This week, Untapped New York Insiders got to explore this site with White’s great-grandson, Samuel White. While walking through the lower level of the library, we uncovered another hidden example of Guastavino tile!
The Guastavino Company was founded by Spanish immigrant and engineer Rafael Guastavino, Sr. (1842-1908) and was eventually run by his son, Rafael Jr. The Guastavinos were famous for their innovative “Tile Arch System” devised to create impressive vaulted arches. These arches were extra secure and stable thanks to layers of terra cotta tiles arranged in a zig-zag, usually herringbone, pattern and secured with special cement. The pattern of the tiles allowed for Guastavino domes to be self-supporting. This method was also fireproof, an important perk.
At the Gould Memorial Library, the main Guastavino attraction is the domed ceiling of the rotunda which served as a reading room. On the Untapped New York Insiders tour, Samuel White explained that what you see is a decorative plaster dome that sits in front of the structural dome underneath. The design, White explained, was inspired by the ceiling of a chapel at the Château d’Anet in France. Behind the rosette-covered plaster ceiling, you would find the signature Guastavino tile pattern.
That’s what Insiders saw when they ventured down below the rotunda. Beneath the rotunda reading room is the library’s auditorium. This space is still used for lectures and events and was getting ready to host a graduation ceremony after our Insiders tour. In a service hallway that leads off of the auditorium, Insiders were treated to a view of exposed Guastavino tile work on the ceiling. Just like in the rotunda above, glass skylights here have been sealed and replaced by electric lights.
After a pass through the hallway, which isn’t usually on the normal tour route, Insiders headed to the Hall of Fame of Great Americans to see more of White and Guastvino’s architecture. This was the first hall of fame to be created. It features 98 busts of figures like Clara Burton, Abraham Lincoln, and the Wright Brothers. Looking up, visitors will see Guastavino’s herringbone tiling along the whole length of the 630-foot open-air monument’s curved ceiling.
Even if you’ve never been to the Gould Memorial Library, you’ve likely walked under a Guastavino ceiling. Examples of Guastavino’s work can be found in over 200 historical buildings in New York City. Here at Untapped New York, it’s a thrill every time we find a new one, especially when they are hidden. His recognizable tile pattern can be seen in multiple places throughout at Grand Central Terminal, at the Municipal Building in Lower Manhattan, and at the Boathouse in Prospect Park among other notable places.
You can watch a recording of the Gould Memorial Library Untapped New York Insiders tour led by Samuel White in our on-demand video archive! The archive boasts over 200 webinar recordings and virtual tours. The archive can be accessed by all Untapped New York Insiders. Not an Insider yet? Become a member today and get your first month free with code JOINUS.
Gould Memorial Library Tour