Looking Back: The opening of the New Amsterdam library

Suellen Epstein unearthed these photos of the opening of the New Amsterdam library branch, taken on May 3, 1989. The library is closed for renovations so missed its own 30th anniversary, but we can raise a toast at the reopening — now scheduled for early spring 2020. (Yes, it’s delayed.)

You may recognize Ed Koch, who would have been in the last months of his mayoralty, and the man at the podium, according to Matthew Fenton’s guess, is Robert Douglass, the founder of the Downtown Alliance (and the Downtown Lower-Manhattan Association). The other luminary in attendance was French President Jacques Chirac, who at the time was the mayor of Paris and friendly with Koch. (Chirac just died in September at age 86 and was president of France from 1995 to 2007.)

More to the point are the local kids in attendance who were dressed as the dictionary definition of library. From left to right in the elevator shot below are Nadine Brambilla, Mara Hoberman, Diana Howard and Emma Strahs (Emma’s father is the late Jim Strahs, the playwright, and Mara’s father is the film critic J. Hoberman, who was then at the Village Voice).

I couldn’t find any record of Chirac’s visit here, but there was definitely a relationship between the two mayors, who were elected just a year apart. But here is this recollection from Joan Shore in the HuffPo, who covered the two for CBS when Koch first went to Paris in the early ’80s: “The rapport between Koch and Chirac was immediate and sincere. Both were relatively new in their jobs, and both were dealing with specific problems: Koch had to transform a city that was ridden with crime and on the verge of bankruptcy; Chirac had to establish leadership in a city that had not had a mayor for decades. And so they met every day, and I had the luck to chat with Koch every afternoon. He was open, amiable, relishing every minute of his visit. Overwhelmed by the beauty of Paris, delighted to make friends with Chirac. After their first day together, they were calling each other ‘Ed’ and ‘Jack.'”



  1. Chirac’s May 1989 visit to the U.S. included, per Getty Images:

    – a visit to former President Reagan at his LA office on May 4;
    – a visit to Disneyworld and photo with Mickey Mouse on May 6; and,
    – an Oval Office visit at the White House with President G. H. W. Bush on May 8.

  2. Fabulous, thank you Sue Ellen for finding these photos-any idea why the delay in re-opening the library?

  3. It’s right on schedule. Remember: one projected year in city-run construction = three years in human time.

    • I think J. Frank has the right formula. The NYPL didn’t say why: “The branch has experienced a delay, which we’re currently working through.”