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J.P. Morgan’s Fixer-Upper: Conserving His Library, “A Building Unlike Any Other in New York” (video)

Having reviewed (here, here and here) the Morgan Library & Museum’s extensive 2010 renovation, I didn’t expect to be writing about another major Morgan re-do any time soon.

But while the interior was repaired, re-lit and restored under the directorship of William Griswold (now director of the Cleveland Museum), the exterior deterioration had yet to be dealt with. Issues to now be addressed include: masonry deterioration, masonry joint failure, metal corrosion, roof deterioration.

Here’s how the actual library of the Morgan Library looked when I covered the 2010 reopening, with its bookcases evenly illuminated for the first time:

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

But here’s a particularly unsightly part of its dilapidated exterior, as photographed last week:

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

For the first time in the McKim, Mead & White building’s 112-year history, the façade’s and the roof’s wear-and-tear will be comprehensively addressed as part of a $12.5-million exterior rehabilitation and landscape enhancement that begins this month, after two years of planning. The building’s restoration is to be completed this December. The enhancement of its grounds will then commence, designed by Todd Longstaffe-Gowan, with a public opening planned for fall 2020. (This is the London-based landscape architect’s first commission in the U.S.)

In the words of the Morgan’s current director, Colin Bailey, addressing the press last week: “It’s our duty to attend to these issues. They impact not only the exterior of the building, but the safety of its interior and the collections that are housed within it.”

Colin Bailey at last week’s press briefing
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Unlike the expansions being undertaken by the Frick Collection (still awaiting final city approval for its plans) and the Museum of Modern Art (poised to open its new wing in October), the exterior makeover of the historic structures of Morgan, which completed a gleaming Renzo Piano-designed expansion in 2006, won’t necessitate closing to the public. Some 75% of the $12.5-million project cost has been raised to date.

Architect Renzo Piano opening the Madison Avenue door to his 2006 Morgan expansion, at the Oct. 30, 2010 public reopening of the historic building’s restored interior
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

After Thursday’s press briefing, I wangled a personal tour of the key elements of the new project (chronicled in the CultureGrrl Video, below), guided by two of restoration’s leading lights: Glenn Boornazian, principal conservator of Integrated Conservation Resources, who conducted the needs assessment of the Library’s condition and developed a “fully articulated restoration approach” (in the words of the project’s press release); and Frank Prial Jr., the architect in charge of the project as associate partner of Beyer Blinder Belle. (That firm also worked on the restoration of the Met Breuer and is serving as executive architect for the Frick’s planned renovation and expansion).

L: Glenn Boornazian; R: Frank Prial Jr.
Screenshot from CultureGrrl Video

Come join our merry trio, via my CultureGrrl Video, as we tromp around the soggy sod of the Morgan’s 36th Street lawn, soon to be enhanced by accessible paths and walkways that “will give visitors the opportunity—for the first time in the Morgan’s history—to look closely at the exterior architectural and sculptural details,” according to the project’s prospectus. You’ll see why Prial called the Morgan’s historic building, “a work of art in and of itself.”

We wandered behind the locked gates of the Morgan’s now shuttered 36th Street entrance…


Exterior of closed 36th Street entrance to J.P. Morgan’s library
Morgan Library & Museum, Photo by Graham S. Haber, 2011

…and took a close look at the locked doors, with reliefs depicting the life of Christ. Seen in person, they seemed to be in a more compromised condition than is conveyed in this Morgan-supplied photo:

Bronze and wood doors to J.P. Morgan’s Library
Morgan Library & Museum, Photo by Graham S. Haber

Near the end of our journey, you’ll meet the Morgan lions, sculpted by Edward Clark Potter, whose more famous felines—“Patience” and “Fortitude”—guard the New York Public Library, just a few blocks away:

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