New York Library Association. - The eBulletin


Historic Dome Does Not Deter Library Addition and Restoration

By: Catherine Creedon, Director, John Jermain Memorial Library

Corroded ring, the damaged terracotta, and the temporary shoring ring

The humanitarian and philanthropist Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage gave the people of Sag Harbor the John Jermain Memorial

Library in 1910.  Named for her grandfather, the neo-classical building, with its striking copper dome and graceful proportions, stands at the southern end of Main Street and functions as both symbol and welcome to all who enter the community.

On June 29th, 2009 residents of the Sag Harbor Union Free School District approved a $9,987,500 referendum for the restoration of the historic 1910 building and a three-story 7,000 square foot addition; 84% of the votes cast were in favor of the project.  An additional $2,000,000 has been raised through a combination of grants and donations.

The restoration includes refinishing quarter-sawn oak doors and moldings, marble stairs, terrazzo floors, carved plaster trim.  In addition, the original tiger-oak furniture, commissioned from the Library Bureau Company, is still is use, has also been refinished by a local craftsman.   However, it is the library’s most notable feature, the Guastavino Dome with a stained glass laylight, interior tiling of terracotta, and exterior cladding of copper that proved to be challenging to repair and restore.

The original drawings for this architectural wonder are held in the Guastavino archives at the Avery Architecture Library of Columbia University.  Other examples of the Guastavino’s work can be found at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, the Boston Public Library, the University of Virginia Rotunda, and Grand Central Station.

         John Jermain Memorial Library in 1910

The library is working with a series of master craftspeople to restore the dome, including glass restorers, stone masons, carpenters, and a local roofer who was trained in France and has an extensive background in cathedral renovations.
When I look at the plans and blueprints, I see the finished library, and imagine those two-dimensional images full of life and scholarship and laughter.  However, the 3D reality tells a more complicated story:  When we removed the copper, we found that the iron compression ring that held the dome in place had corroded, and many of the terracotta tiles had been severely damaged by water infiltration.
Our structural engineers and preservationists recommended an extremely cautious approach while we replaced the original, rusted, compression ring.  We installed vibration monitors, which showed some degree of movement, making the cautious approach even more imperative.  We have now finished the work, and the readings from the monitors (which will soon be taken down) are completely stable.  Last month, the first pieces of the beautiful, new, copper (and, for the time being new-penny copper-colored) dome were installed.

The John Jermain Memorial Library is a Free Association Library Chartered by the State of New York to serve the residents of the Sag Harbor Union Free School District.  The Library is a member of the Suffolk Cooperative Library System, and an institutional member of the New York Library Association.

Anticipated completion is scheduled for the fall of 2013.  The library has been operating out of a temporary facility during the period of major construction.