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An Historic Library Opens a New Chapter with Groundbreaking in Sag Harbor

Posted on 12 June 2013

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John Jermain Memorial Library Director Catherine Creedon in the restored dome of the historic Sag Harbor library. 

By Kathryn G. Menu; photography by Michael Heller

The John Jermain Memorial Library’s (JJML) scaffolding came down earlier this year, revealing restored exterior of brick, mortar and limestone – Sag Harbor’s historic library revealed in all her glory, its copper dome shining and visible from Main Street.

With the exterior of the library restored and structurally sound – including its celebrated dome, the centerpiece of the third floor rotunda – on Friday the library broke ground on its approximately 7,000 square-foot modern addition.

The limestone and glass addition will roughly double the size of the existing 7,400 square foot library, funded by a $9.9 million project approved by voters in 2009. About $2.5 million of the funding will go towards the addition, the remaining funding dedicated to the restoration of the historic library.

Passing through the building’s doors, the interior now reveals the library’s bones, crafted by the R. Guastavino Company – celebrated architects from the late 19th and 20th centuries who were also responsible for dome designs at Grand Central Station, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and the Boston Public Library.

“Throughout the last few days, the building has almost had a last days of Pompeii feel to it I think,” said library director Catherine Creedon standing in the entryway.

The ceilings and floors between the building’s three floors were constructed as a flat arch, self-supporting and interlocking terracotta tiles held together by a keystone. The same technology was used in the library’s interior walls, now partially visible with sections of plaster taken down as part of the construction.

The discovery of this building material was not a surprise for library officials as they began to explore the innards of JJML. Creedon said in addition to studying the original plans for the building, which opened in October 1910, library officials, Newman Architects and contractors Trunzo Builders also looked at other buildings constructed by the R. Guastavino Company.

Rafael Guastavino Moreno was a Catalan architect and builder who used the Catalan vault as the inspiration for the Guastavino tile, self supporting arches and architectural vaults using the interlocking terracotta tiles.

However, perhaps Guastavino’s most celebrated accomplishment in the library is the rotunda, surrounding a stained glass lay light. Standing on a plywood floor that has allowed workers to clean, restore and repair the dome and the lay light, Creedon was bathed in light — a feature she looks forward to sharing with library patrons when the library’s doors re-open in the late winter of 2014.

Tricia Somers of Somers Stained Glass in Deer Park restored the antique window, taking it apart piece by piece and cleaning each individual pane of glass before reconstructing it.

“People talk about remembering a column of light shining into the space and we were able to recreate that,” said Creedon. “It is a miracle to me to see it like this.”

The rotunda will be returned to its original 1910 state, down to restored furniture, original layout and a working fireplace. The exterior bricks in the historic building, have been restored along with limestone cornice, as have the windows. New mahogany storm windows have also been fabricated for the outside of the building.

Creedon said the library unearthed the four original chandeliers from the basement of the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum. Those too have been restored and will hang in their original locations — three in the lobby of the library and one in the director’s office. Historic bookcases will also replace the plywood cases in the stacks and a history room — straddling the old and new library buildings — will allow for a climate controlled archive.

That is in fact the goal with much of the library restoration — to create 21st century resources, but in a library that retains its historic aesthetic.

At least in the restored library.

The addition is modern not only in the library services it will be able to provide the Sag Harbor community, but also in its architecture. Rectangular, the limestone and glass addition will wrap around the rear of the library building. Its design is meant to be unobtrusive, highlighting the building rather than taking away from the original aesthetic.

While the library broke ground on the addition last Friday, it has already installed its new septic system, which was approved by Suffolk County earlier this week.

The new building is accessible from the ground floor, where the children’s room and teen collection will be hosted, peering out into a courtyard pavilion where outdoor library spaces will be created next to Jefferson Street. It will also be accessible through an entrance in the second floor.

In addition to office space, the historic collection and allowing program spaces to expand and breathe, Creedon noted the addition will also allow the library to expand the kind of technology it offers and also add critical meeting space not just for library events, but other community events.

“Although I walk through here and talk about the physical changes a lot of the changes have been driven by the needs of the community,” said Creedon.

In a perfect world, Creedon said the community will have access to the new library as early as next February or March.

While the public approved $9.9 million in funding over 20 years for its new library, Creedon added the library board and the administration made a promise to the public that it would raise $2 million in addition to the public funding to ensure this project was completed as it should be, with every detail considered. As of now, the library has raised $2.4 million.

However, Creedon said given delays the library faced in earning its permits from the village, as well as its commitment to a true restoration that does not cut corners, the board has recommitted itself to raising an additional $1 million.

“We have made a commitment to complete this restoration and we want to make sure we are truly living up to that commitment,” said Creedon.

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One Response to “An Historic Library Opens a New Chapter with Groundbreaking in Sag Harbor”

  1. walter staab says:

    Shouldn’t the article preceding “Historic” in your headline be An rather than A? In the case of vowel sounds, aspirated Hs should take an “an” I believe.


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