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Karen’s Quirky Style: Let’s all go to the library!

BY KAREN REMPEL | I stayed at the iconic Washington Square Hotel on my first trip to New York, in 2014, because of its literary history and proximity to the Blue Note. I soon encountered the marvelous Jefferson Market Library nearby, towering grandly over Sixth Avenue.

Naturally, I assumed ancient castles were scattered throughout the city. I didn’t realize how unique the Withers and Vaux 1877 design was, but I fell in love with this Gothic brick pile as soon as I climbed the worn marble steps spiraling up the clock tower and was bathed in gem-colored light flashing through the stained-glass windows.

I schemed to get a library card there on my next trip to NYC, in 2015. I had New York City Ballet tickets delivered to the Airbnb I stayed at on W. Ninth Street. I brought the ticket envelope over to the branch. Using that and my British Columbia driver’s license, I received my library card with no questions asked about the permanence of my residence. I was a New Yorker!

Getting a library card was a touchstone for my New York love affair, and it was confirmed in a one-two punch by Jerri’s Cleaners across Sixth Avenue at W. 10th Street. In Vancouver, most apartment buildings have laundry facilities. I had never heard of “wash and fold” until I came to New York. It was such a thrill to get my first Jerri’s Cleaners laundry bag. I’d only seen this in the movies. I felt like a true New Yorker! When I went back to Vancouver after that trip, I missed the great guys at Jerri’s like crazy. I still have the laundry bag! And I still have my NYPL library card.

I’ve since learned that the Jefferson Market Library is one of the city’s most remarkable buildings. Clearly visible for many blocks above the lower buildings on the wide avenue, it’s steeped in fascinating history. Whenever I step onto Sixth Avenue, I always check the time on the clock tower. When I’m in my apartment, I hear “Ol’ Jeff,” the fire bell, ring the hour throughout the day, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

With its High Victorian Gothic design, the JML is a striking Greenwich Village landmark, and rightfully designated a National Historic Landmark. Originally a courthouse, and protected by preservationists several times throughout its history, it was rebranded as a library in 1967. This branch of the NYPL houses a special collection on New York and Greenwich Village history. As with any friend or enemy, it takes time to notice all its details and follies.

For this month’s photo shoot, the fountain seemed to beckon. I’ve previously seen it alternatively choked with garbage and planted with flowers. On the day of the shoot, the white granite fountain had a few inches of brackish water in the basin.

But what really struck me this time were the reliefs carved into the yellow sandstone above the fountain. The one visible in the photo is of a heron in the reeds, a frog captured in its beak. Further up in a triangular peak is a charming relief of an old man sitting on a rock beside a tree, surrounded by ferns and foliage. He looks like he’s taking a rest after a long journey, perhaps ready to relax with a book. His hat hangs on a branch and his walking cane is by his side.

I was devastated when the branch closed for renovations in 2019. The pandemic slowed things down even more, but joy is on the horizon. The JML is expected to reopen this summer, according to the NYPL Web site and confirmed by the library manager on location, Frank Collerius. Stay tuned to The Village Sun for the exact date.

There are too many fascinating stories about the library’s courthouse history to tell in these pages. For an idiosyncratic account of some of the highlights, and more fantastic Philip Maier photos, see karensquirkystyle.nyc.

Style Notes

Armand Ventilo Collection plum silk chiffon maxi skirt with exquisite, multihued blue-and-green beaded floral spray embellishment and lavender petticoat. Private artist warehouse sale, originally sourced in Italy.
Emerald green silk satin camisole with spaghetti straps. Post-production clothing sale, Vancouver.
Lime green glitter 5-1/2″ platform strappy dress sandals by I.N.C. Macy’s Herald Square.
Nanni black leather belt with brass ring closure, brass studs and multicolored gems. Private artist warehouse sale, originally sourced in Italy.
Garnet necklace with silver rondelles and pomegranate beads. Penny Whillans Designs, Victoria, B.C.
Vintage 1940s pomegranate-red moonglow lucite earrings encircled with rhinestones, with screw backings. Pippin Vintage Jewelry, 104 W. 17th St.
Amethyst and turquoise bracelet. Mademoiselle Mirabelle, 330 Bleecker St. (now closed, but Mirabelle Boutique is still open Uptown, at 1310 Madison Ave.).

8 Comments

  1. zaphyrella zaphyrella June 4, 2022

    i loVVVE this EnTrY sOooOo much i kould screeeam– can’t wait til this treasured spot reopens!… & when i first moved here, a writer / teacher from New School pointed out, the weather vanes! (top of the tower!)… i must check that they are still there!

    • Karen Rempel Karen Rempel June 5, 2022

      Thanks, Zaph!! I must check out the weather vanes too!

  2. Pat Pat June 5, 2022

    Once again, an excellent entry that opens our eyes to the wonders of NYC!
    I love libraries, in general, and the Jefferson Market in particular. I love all the details you point out — many of which have escaped me, like the reliefs carved into yellow sandstone above the fountain. I will be sure to look for the heron, the frog and the old man reading his book. And the gray-colored stone of the fountain lets the elegant purple and emerald green of your outfit pop!

  3. Karen Rempel Karen Rempel June 5, 2022

    Thanks, Pat! I’ve always loved libraries too. My mom took my sister and me to the local library to get books every week, even before we could read. I really feel getting a library card in a new city is the first step to feeling at home. 🙂

  4. Louise Louise June 5, 2022

    Great photo Karen and I love your writing about the library. Of course made me wish that I could go visit! I really enjoy sensing your great love of so many things ‘New York’ in your writings.

  5. Sugar Barry Sugar Barry June 6, 2022

    And be sure to ook out second-floor windows to view the exquisite Jefferson Market Garden,
    a gorgeous companion to our beloved JML.
    We love this gem of a block in GV..🌹🌺

  6. Lew McFarland Lew McFarland June 7, 2022

    It’s been months since I’ve visited either the Jefferson Market Library or the Garden —
    both are wonderful. Your article reminded me to get back over there asap. A confession:
    I do not have a library card — so when it opens, that’s where I will get my first library card.

  7. Jeff Jeff June 7, 2022

    I love seeing your style notes and pictures in this column, but especially the little tidbits of history. You’re always giving me new info to share when I tour visitors around.

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