New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced this week that the New York Public Library (NYPL)’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem will receive $8 million in support to carry out an extensive suite of repair and rehabilitation projects, including window and roof replacement, a facade refresh, safety enhancements, and energy-saving upgrades. The capital funding will be administered through the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY), a public-benefit corporation that oversees construction, financing and related for health and educational facilities and other public institutions across the Empire State.
“With this funding, we’re not just giving this building a face lift; we’re making a critical investment in our history and culture,” said Hochul in a statement. “For nearly a century, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture has acted as a library, a research institution, a community hub, and above all, a space to celebrate Black people in America.”
First established in 1905 as the 135th Street Library at a National Historic Landmark–designated building designed by McKim, Mead & White in the grand Italian Renaissance Palazzo style, the library began operating two decades later as a division of the NYPL known as the Division of Negro Literature, History & Prints. The rapidly growing library gained an extension in the early 1940s and was subsequently renamed as the Countee Cullen Branch. In 1972, the library underwent an extensive renovation and was renamed the Schomburg Collection for Research in Black Culture in honor Afro-Puerto Rican scholar, bibliophile, and activist Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, who served as a renowned figure in the Harlem Renaissance and had provided the center with its foundational collection in 1925. At that point, the enduring Harlem architectural landmark and vital cultural institution transitioned from a beloved branch library to a major research library of the NYPL. In 1980, a new brick-faced building designed by Bond Ryder Associates at 515 Lenox Avenue (co-named Malcolm X Boulevard in 1987) to house the center was completed and is joined by a connector to the original landmark library on 135th Street.
In 2017, the Schomberg Center emerged from a two-year, $22.3 million renovation project impacting all three buildings that currently comprise the facility: the 1980 Schomberg Building, a 1990s addition anchored by a large auditorium and exhibition galleries known as the Langston Hughes Building, and the original McKim, Mead & White branch library building, which is currently known simply as the Landmark Building.
The Schomburg Center of today remains a major research center of the NYPL—one of three alongside the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building and the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center—dedicated to “the research, preservation, and exhibition of materials focused on African American, African Diaspora, and African experiences” and is one of the world’s leading research institutions devoted to Black history and culture. In addition to its vast collection of 11 million-strong items (books, manuscripts, audio recordings, photographs, artworks, and more) the Schomburg Center regularly hosts exhibitions, educational initiatives, community events and more.
In a statement, Assembly member Inez Dickens thanked Hochul for “addressing the need to preserve this delicate, this strong, this towering garden that has served as the epicenter of African diaspora for people across the world.”
The announcement of this new round of improvements at the Schomberg center coincides with Harlem Week. A project timeline has not been announced.