Eighty Years and Counting

By Arlene Shaner, Acting Curator and Reference Librarian for Historical Collections

Rare Book Room by Dr. Robert Latou Dickinson.

Rare Book Room by Dr. Robert Latou Dickinson.

Many of you are aware that the Malloch Suite of rare book rooms (the Coller Rare Book Reading Room and the Seminar Room) has been under renovation since early this spring.  A new climate control system, restored windows and interior storm windows were all part of that project, which has now been expanded to include cleaning and sealing the oak shelving in the room to provide better protection for the rare books that are stored there and repairing and restoring the original elaborately patterned cork flooring.  As with many such projects, this one is taking longer than we anticipated, and we are now hoping that the room will be ready for use again at some point later this fall.

Looking back into The New York Academy of Medicine archives, we discovered a series of photographs documenting the building of the addition that contains the rare book rooms beginning in October of 1932.  The addition to the NYAM building was designed by the architectural firm York & Sawyer, the company responsible for the 1926 NYAM building, and the addition was built by Marc Eidlitz & Son, the same building contractor who worked on the original building.

Starting on October 7, 1932, the builders documented the progress of the construction of the addition by taking a photograph each week.  The outside façade was pretty much complete by December  23, 1932, although much work remained to be done on the interior spaces before the new areas opened for use in the spring of 1933.  The swiftness with which the building itself was constructed can be seen in this series of photographs charting the progress of the exterior work from October 14 until December 23.

An account of the building of the addition appeared in the NYAM Annual Report, published in April, 1934, along with a lovely rendering of the new space (shown at the top of this post) by the medical illustrator Robert Latou Dickinson, who worked in an office on the mezzanine floor for many years.

We are looking forward to welcoming our researchers back into the renovated Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room later this year.  In the meantime, much of the collection is still available for use and materials may be requested by contacting Arlene Shaner, the Acting Curator, at history@nyam.org or 212-822-7313.

2 thoughts on “Eighty Years and Counting

  1. Quite an interesting story of the making and re-making of a room that’s one of New York City’s hidden treasures. The lovely drawing at the top of the entry is credited to Dr. Robert Latou Dickinson, who’s later described as a “medical Illustrator.”

    While that is true, it is incomplete, and it might puzzle readers who recognize the name Dickinson for one of his many other roles, for example, as an agitator for better maternity care, as a brilliant sexologist (who collected thousands of sexual histories before the Kinsey era), as a successful surgeon and obstetrician, or as a medical statesman (president of of the American College of Surgeons and of the American Gynecological Society, as well as chair of the Obstetrics section of the American Medical Association). Working with sculptor Abram Belskie, he created life-sized anatomic models of women and children. He was also one of the early authors of the still-in-print NEW YORK WALK BOOK.

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