The 53rd Street Library is a branch of the New York Public Library at 18 West 53rd Street just across the street from the Museum of Modern Art. It opened in 2016 as a replacement for the Donnell Library Center, which occupied a building at 20 West 53rd Street from 1955 until 2008 when it was closed and the building razed to allow a 46-story hotel/condo complex to be constructed.
The Donnell Library Center was a branch of the New York Public Library at 20 West 53rd Street. It closed on August 30, 2008.
The library was famous for housing the collection of the original Winnie the Pooh dolls behind bulletproof glass in a display in the Children’s Reading Room.
The branch also had the largest New York Public Library circulating collection of materials in languages other than English. It also featured the largest collection in the library system of magazines, hardcover, paperback and recorded books for seventh through twelfth grades in the balcony Nathan Straus Young Adult Center. The auditorium in the basement offered concerts and other cultural events.
The library opened in 1955 and cost $2.5 million, including the books. It is named for Ezekial J. Donnell (1822-1896), a cotton merchant who was an early library patron. Its exterior like other Rockefeller Buildings consists of Indiana Limestone. It was designed by Edgar I. Williams and Aymar Embury II. The formal name carved in the limestone above the entrance was "The Donnell Free Circulation Library and Reading Room."
The five-story Library between Rockefeller Center (which it resembled architecturally) and the Museum of Modern Art across 53rd Street (Manhattan) was long considered a target for development given its low rise location amidst the Midtown Manhattan skyscrapers.
In November 2007 Orient-Express Hotels Ltd. which owns the 21 Club directly south of the library announced an agreement to raze the library and replace it with an 11-story hotel.
The library was vacated in the summer of 2008. The World Languages Collection moved to the Mid-Manhattan Library on 40th Street.
In March 2009 after the Financial crisis of 2007–08 created problems, Orient Express backed out. In October 2011, demolition began on the building after Orient sold the building to Tribeca Associates and Starwood Capital Group, to erect a 46-story $400 million hotel/condo complex with a library which was supposed to open by June 30, 2014 but actually opened in March 2015 and did not include a library. It will be the flagship of the new Baccarat Hotels and Resorts luxury brand. It was later sold to Chinese insurer Sunshine Insurance Group.
The formal design by Enrique Norten of TEN Arquitectos of the new library was unveiled in May 2013. The new library is 28,000 square feet (the original library was 97,000 square feet) on part of the main floor and two lower floors. Much of the main floor space is a massive airy staircase with "bleacher steps" where people can sit and congregate. Winnie the Pooh is staying at the central library. The new one has a 141-seat auditorium (smaller than the old) and a technology hub. It opened June 27, 2016. Critics liked the new design but disliked the smaller size.
In the 1940s Pooh author A. A. Milne donated the dolls to the American publisher E. P. Dutton. The dolls were then donated to the library in 1988. In 1998 British Member of Parliament Gwyneth Dunwoody urged that the dolls be returned to the British Parliament after saying she "detected sadness" in the inanimate objects.
The Americans then became obstinate, with Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani coming to their defense. The mayor, after the visiting the library, and holding the bear with a group of children proclaimed in a "leaked" conversation that the bear told him "I want everyone in Britain and America to know that we're very, very happy here in New York City" and that it had also lauded the city's drop in crime and thought New York "capital of the world."
Other politicians were to join the fray with Congressman Nita M. Lowey proclaiming "The Brits have their head in a honey jar if they think they are taking Pooh out of New York City." Mike McCurry, spokesman for Bill Clinton proclaimed "As the President indicated to some of us, the notion that the United States would lose Winnie is utterly unbearable."
According to the New York Public Library's web site, the dolls "have recently moved from their previous home in the Central Children's Room to grand new quarters in the History and Social Science Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street and will be on display in the Children’s Room beginning in early 2009."