Step Inside a Secret Library Apartment | Atlas Obscura

Step Inside a Secret Library Apartment | Atlas Obscura

– On the top floor of
a library in Manhattan, there is a secret apartment, and it’s been left empty for years. I’m Sarah Laskow. I’m a senior
writer at Atlas Obscura, and this is the secret apartment at the Fort Washington
Library in Manhattan. Back at the beginning of the 20th century, Andrew Carnegie gave the
city $5.2 million dollars to build libraries all over the city. They all look a little bit like this one, with these big, sweeping windows that are supposed to keep
the buildings light and cool. Downstairs, it looks like
pretty much any library. Upstairs though, it’s a
completely different place. Someone who works for
the library once told me it feels to them like being
in a haunted house, even. Walking up the stairs,
you can sort of feel that. There’s this water stain
coming down one of the walls, and the stairs are
pretty, but they’re dirty. And there’s this like white plaster falling from the ceiling. The first thing you see
when you get up there is this big room, and
it would have been used as a public space, maybe for lectures, or meetings, or dances. But the really cool, surprising
thing here is the apartment. It’s pretty much a dream to
live in a library, right? I mean, at least for me. The first time I came here, it was creepy. The light switches weren’t
working, so it was really dark, and we had to watch where we stepped, because they told me the
floors weren’t really safe. But one of the first things I noticed was how bright the walls are. I mean, whoever lived here wanted to make it feel welcoming and fun. It’s a pretty big, sweet apartment. I mean, I think most people
that I know in New York would be really happy to live here. You can just feel what
it would have been like. In one of the rooms, there’s a mirror, and I can imagine standing there and just checking what I
look like before going out. I did get to meet someone once who lived in an apartment like this. The buildings were
heated by coal back then, and the custodians had to keep feeding the furnaces all day and all night. Since they had to be
available all the time, it just made sense for them
to live in the library. So, these apartments were built for them, and for their families, too. Now there are just 13 of these left. I mean, this is an
enormous amount of space to go unused right in the
middle of New York City. And when the buildings stopped using coal and the custodians retired, the library would just
shut up the apartments. But now, they’re trying
to repurpose all this room by converting the
apartments to public spaces. If everything goes according to plan, the library will repurpose
this apartment, too. And, you know, everyone I
tell that to is disappointed, because it really would
be awesome to live here. Thanks so much for watching. If you wanna know about more
amazing places like this one, subscribe to our channel, or just click to watch more videos. In the comments, we would
love it if you would tell us about your dream apartment,
and where it might be located.

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  1. Tell us about your dream apartment –where might it be located? Above a library? (Good choice.) Or maybe it's somewhere a little bit more fantastical! Either way, we'd love to know.

  2. All of Atlas Obscura is giving us snippets of the world around us, sights and smells and sounds etc. Because of the personal tour, this one has has a very private and secretive feel to it. Hearing plaster or glass crunch under her feet, gazing through dirty windows and a glimpse of a speckled mirror, doors that resist being opened. Just fabulous! Thank you.

  3. Author Sharon Washington's autobiographical story takes place in her childhood NYC library apartment. I just downloaded "Feeding the Dragon" from Audible and am really looking forward to the story.

  4. They should try furnishing these and renting them out for a week, like a vacation place. Book lovers would pay a lot, and it would help make money for the libraries to restore them/etc.

  5. It's too bad they aren't refurbishing them and making something like an artist-in-residence space. That'd be a great way to maintain some of the history while still making it a functional space.

  6. The apartment would make brilliant writer's retreat. They could give to writers in exchange for mentoring local writers, running workshops or doing readings in the library. Funding might be available to cover the costs too. I'd volunteer as a published writer.

  7. I never knew that these apartments existed. I wonder if an interested party could buy one of them and if so how much? Great Story!

  8. Wow. This brings back memories! I'm a former custodian's daughter and my family lived in three apartments inside different branches of the NYPL before my father retired. The St. Agnes Branch, The Yorkville Branch and the Harlem Branch. I wrote and performed a solo play which was produced Off-Broadway this past Spring called FEEDING THE DRAGON about my childhood spent in the St. Agnes library. The title comes from when I was a little girl — watching my father stoke the big coal furnace that looked like a dragon to me. The story is now available on Audible:
    Thank you for this video and your original article, and for continuing to share these hidden NYC stories!

  9. It would be heaven for me to live above a library. Reality being what it is, that is prime real estate and if converted once again into apartments it would command high rent (but the wifi would be free). Not just for what it is but the location alone. Would hate to see the original stuff go but it would be a good income generator for library funds.

  10. I’d love to live in a library! Nothing would ever be overdue Again! And I wouldn’t have to hurry to pick & check out or have to leave before I was ready! Books & books & books! I love books. Sooo many kinds !
    Although I’d love to live in an art museum . oh the L’ouvre, the Met, Chicago institute…I could have dinner & hangout with Mona L & Nike or help M. Cassett with the Bath and bedtime and once he was asleep we could have tea. And I could meet all the subjects of artists renderings, fictional or not, I could walk with monet through the gardens at Giverny…
    Or more realistic I’d love to live on a cruise ship. I saw a feature on 20/20 or such about a woman who does just that. She’s retired, sold everything except basic needs and her sewing machine. When she is in port the staff will transfer her belongings to her next ship. Never carry’s anything! When she is on board and not interested in a port of call she can stay back & sew or knit or read or…. I wish I knew how she worked it out & affords it. She does speak about her lifestyle-logistics and experiences. Wow the people places she experiences. Staff… passengers…ports of call people…
    I’d take any one of those living situations !!! No questions I’m there!
    Bernadette 👋🏼👋🏼✌🏼& ’Nanu Nanu!’

  11. LoL… My dream apartment is on 3000 acres in the tall woods. The artificial environment of the city just makes my skin crawl. Nature=Truth. City=All manner of insanity and pretend reality. The city is an induced psychosis. In the country, books are a fun recreation and quest for useful knowledge. In the City, they are little more than an escape.

  12. How unique, creative and professional, are your intriguing stories. I stumbled upon Atlas Obscura through an FB post on corner stores in different countries. Just watched this video. This is a fresh break from the mundane.

  13. I would love to own my own house either right on the beach or on a higher ground that over looks the ocean. Of course I absolutely have to have a library in my house!

  14. My dream apartment would be somewhere connected to nature. Like built over the ocean with see thru flooring in some parts or built into the side of a mountain.

  15. I lived in my dream apartment, twice. Both were over stores in downtown areas of small towns. High ceilings, super tall windows, quirky size rooms and dripping in character!

  16. I kind of have my dream apartment right now. I'm at the end of a long twisting hallway that is one side of the apartment and the other three sides are windows so I basically have no neighbors. And I'm on the 6th floor (the top that is allowed in Uptown) so there is nobody upstairs of me. Also, I have a really fabulous view of downtown Minneapolis. My other dream apartment would probably be somewhere warm like San Francisco or Hawaii.

  17. Thanks for not letting this go to waste & benefit all with rooms for meetings, lectures, story telling time, study & reading groups etc. The last thing we need is another rental unit becoming a AirB & Bee's nightmare for funded art & writer's elite's or the rich!.

  18. Living above a library that you had access to would be amazing. It would need good floor insulation so you don't annoy anyone during the day, but wow so much reading could be done.

  19. I thought I went to a school in Talkeetna Alaska when homesteading in the 50-60, and one day several years ago I wanted to stay overnight in Talkeetna but there was no room except the teacher's living quarters above the one room schoolhouse. It was furnished retro. I later was told I was schooled in Montana Creek, but still would love to live in that Talkeetna teachers residence.

  20. My dream apartment I already lived in for one year. It is on the top floor of an apartment building facing the beautiful Tower Grove Park in St Louis Missouri. My apartment faced a grove of trees, and walking paths.

  21. There’s a three level apartment located in the peaked roof of the 43-story Smith Building in Seattle. That would be a cool place to live.

  22. I have a 5 year old daughter and it would be the BEST place to have my family live! Literal dream come true! Not to mention it's about twice the size of our current house, lol!

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