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John Astor was among the first to leave a large donation for creating a public library in New York City in the mid 19th century. Then came the Lennox Library, and then Samuel Tilden left a bulk of his fortune, which resulted in the merging of the other two libraries.

Andrew Carnegie was the next to donate money in 1901 to construct 65 branch libraries. But the organizers of the New York Public Library wanted an imposing main branch, and construction for it began in 1902.

They chose a central site at the two-block section of Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd streets. The plan called for a huge reading room on top of seven floors of bookstacks. They set up a system that was designed to get books into the hands of library users as fast as possible. In 1910, 75 miles of shelves were installed, and it took a year to move and install the books that were in the Astor and Lenox libraries.

This main branch of the library was located approximately 20 blocks to the north of where the Colosi family was living. I don’t know if they spent time at this library or not, but I’m sure they much have seen the large building and perhaps walked or drove past it from time to time.

It was on May 23, 1911, while Lucia Colosi was pregnant with her daughter Mary, that the main branch officially opened. President William Howard Taft presided over the ceremony. It had cost $9 million to build and was the largest marble structure up to that point in the United States. Two stone lions guarded the entrance. Its main reading room was the largest of its kind in the world at 77 feet wide, 295 feet long, and had 50 foot high ceilings. Its collection consisted of more than a million volumes.

In 1965 the building became a National Historic Landmark