Naming rights (part 1)

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Lion sculpture pairs the world over — including those in front of the Art Institute of Chicago and inside the main entrance of the Boston Public Library — are staging a sympathy strike with their fellows at the New York Public Library. If they were lying down (couchant), they have risen up, and if they were standing, they are now reclining following the news that the flagship NYPL building on Fifth Avenue will be renamed for an admittedly generous benefactor.

The story is almost a month old, but in all the shock and indignation and whatnot over the Eliot Spitzer scandal, I failed to find a single letter to the editor of the New York Times about this.

The story is that Wall Street financier Stephen A. Schwarzman, who is also a library trustee, has donated $100 million to the library, toward a projected $1 billion expansion of the library system.

So the iconic Fifth Avenue building — currently officially known as the Humanities and Social Sciences Library but referred to as the “main branch” by locals — will be called the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building when construction is completed in around 2014, the Times reported. The building is protected by landmark status, and so his name will not appear on its facade.

But still…

$100 million is a lot of dough, but if they guy loves the library that much, why not leave the name as is? I suppose it’s hard to blame Schwarzman who told the Times that the NYPL proposed renaming the building — but he said he replied, “That sounds pretty good.”

I bet no one calls the building by its new name, but still…

The Times story went on to say that the library isn’t the first cultural building to bear a donor’s name, but I bet it’s the first civic building that effectively sold naming rights.

About the lions: they’ve been renamed a couple of times in the nearly 100 years they’ve been guarding the building. They were modeled by sculptor Edward Clark Potter on the recommendation of August Saint-Gaudens, one of the foremost sculptors in the U.S. at the time.

According to NYPL PR, they were first called Leo Astor and Leo Lenox, after NYPL founders John Jacob Astor and James Lenox. Later, they were known as Lady Astor and Lord Lenox (even though they’re both male lions). In the 1930s, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia named them Patience and Fortitude, for the qualities he felt New Yorkers would need to survive the economic depression.

But in this day of slapping a benefactor’s name on just about everything that doesn’t move (watch for a forthcoming post, with Toronto example of how ludicrous this practice can be), I’ll bet “Patience” and “Fortitude” don’t last much longer.

(Photo of NYPL lion is a freely licensed media file from the Wikimedia Commons.)

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One thought on “Naming rights (part 1)

  1. Anonymous

    Hi. Not as big a deal as you might think. Many of the buildings in the NYPL system are already named, and have been for years and years. As you mention, nobody calls them by the full name. The Performing Arts Library in Lincoln Center is the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center. Schmoburg Center for Research in Black Culture is named for Arthur Schomburg. And, in fact, the entire library system is named, and has been since 1899. It is actually The New York Public Library, Astor, Lennox and Tilden Foundation Inc. named for the men who’s fund created the library system. (NYPL is not public, it is a private corp.)

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