Ottendorfer Library

Art & Culture | History

Architectural Highlight of Little Germany

Ottendorfer Library NYPL East Village

About Ottendorfer Library

 & why it made the Carpe City list

  • The building is a combination of Queen Anne and neo-Italian Renaissance Style Architecture designed by William Schickel and built in 1883
  • This was the first free public lending library AND is the oldest branch of the New York Public Library system.
  • The library and the adjacent building were a gift from Anna & Oswald Ottendorfer to the large German immigrant population of the area with an intent to nourish their bodies and minds.  The full name of the two buildings is Ottendorfer Library & Stuyvesant Polyclinic Hospital (The Polyclinic was originally called the “German Dispensary.”)
  • The architect was one of the first to use terracotta building material in New York.  Check out those busts!
  • If it is open and you have some time to kill, pop in and take a look at the iron work.

Carpe City Trivia

What is Kleindeutschland?

At the time when the library was built, this area was called Kleindeutschland which means (“Little Germany”) as it had a population of over 150,000 people of German descent.

Ein Mass Bitte!

Speaking of Germans… In the 1850s this little Kleindeutschland area which, consisting of the East Village and Lower East Side, was the third-largest German-speaking population in the world after Berlin and Vienna.  (BTW – If you don’t know the meaning of Ein Mass Bitte, you should try it out a few blocks away at one of our favorite German spots, Zum Schneider.)

Who are all of these terracotta people?

There are nine terracotta busts on the exterior featuring famous figures from the history of medicine and science.  The only non-person represented is the one named Aesculap.  This refers to the figure we know as Aesculapius, the ancient Greek god of healing.  You might know him more by snake-entwined staff as it remains a symbol of medicine today.

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