A new garden is growing in the middle of midtown Manhattan at one of the most historic places in all of NYC.
Right in front of J. Pierpont Morgan's Library on 36th Street (at Madison Avenue) is the new Morgan Garden, a small but beautiful green space that incorporates colorful, herbaceous beds and Roman antiquities.
Although the space in front of the library has had a lawn since its beginning in 1906, this is the first time it has been a full-fledged garden as Morgan intended, and since the entrance to the library was moved in 2006 to Madison Avenue and restoration work on its exterior has been taking place since 2019, few people are actually aware of this part of the museum's campus.
After six years of intense restoration work that cost $13 million, the exterior of the library is back to its original, Neoclassical grandeur.
"Our philosophy with this project was to use conservation methods that are physically and aesthetically compatible with the original materials," said Glenn Boornazian, the president and principal conservator at Integrated Conservation Resources. "The Library was built so well. Over a hundred years later, it is in relatively good condition and our work was focused on making repairs that would blend in and endure. In history, there are these rare moments where the right people come tougher: the craftsmen, the patrons, and the architects. That took place here in this remarkable building."
Of course, with a like-new facade, anything less than an impeccable garden would do. The Morgan and its landscape designer Todd Longstaffe-Gowan Landscape Design got permission from NYC's Landmarks Preservation Commission to finally put in a garden in front of the library as Morgan had once planned. (He died before he could make it happen, the museum says.)
The garden couldn't overtake the library building, however. Anything that would be planted would need to keep a low profile, according to Longstaffe-Gowan. Therefore, the garden, which now offers an accessible route to the library and inviting spaces for tours and other programs, has paths of bluestone set in patterns that derive from the Library’s floor and exterior paving, elegant pebble mosaics, beds of periwinkle, which flank the library's loggia, and colorful, low-height herbaceous beds.
Even cooler, the garden showcases several antique ornaments from the Morgan’s holdings that up until now have been inaccessible to the public—the Roman sarcophagus, a Roman funerary stele, and a pair of Renaissance corbels.
"For over a century, there has been a blank canvas sitting in front of J. Pierpont Morgan’s Library," said Longstaffe-Gowan. "Our goal was to develop a new garden that was respectful of the historical context in which it is situated. The garden is designed to create a welcoming setting that allows visitors to experience the library up close and see details they may not have seen before. Making the landscape surrounding the building more worthy of the institution will be the greatest legacy of the garden."
You can see the process of the entire restoration and garden development in a video series and also learn about the museum, library and garden on the Morgan's a new, digital guide on Bloomberg Connects.
Better yet, visitors to the Morgan can visit the exterior of the library and enjoy the garden through tours offered every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday at 12:30pm and during "Saturdays in the Garden," with museum admission. The Garden will remain open seasonally through Sunday, October 9. It for sure seems like the perfect prelude or way to finish a date at the Free Fridays at The Morgan!
To celebrate its reopening, the Morgan is hosting a free Garden Family Fair and Free Community Weekend, June 18–19. From 10:30am to 5pm, you can stop by to see it for yourself.
The schedule is as follows:
- 11am-3pm: Community Guided Tours
- Noon-3pm: "Compose Yourself!" On the Morgan’s Poetry Wall, write your own unique verses inspired by great writers such as Gwendolyn Brooks and James Joyce; "That’s A Bit Mulch… " The Grand Falloons company performs live magic, juggling, and balloon animal sculpting; "Gilded Glamor" get into character, literally, as J. Pierpont Morgan or the museum’s first director, Belle da Costa Greene, using our head-in-the-hole board created by artist Pam Koehler; and "Father of the Pride," where you craft your own lion flower for the Morgan Garden.
- Noon-3pm: live music from multi-instrumentalists Dennis Lichtman and Jerron Paxton performing early to mid-1900s American music (Saturday) and from Jeff Newell and the New-Trad Quartet performing the early sources of our nation's musical heritage (Sunday).
- 12:30-1pm and 2:30-3pm: "Off the Page": Family Storytime in the East Room—celebrate authors and imagery from the Morgan’s collection with live readings of picture books. Enjoy Beautiful Blackbird by Ashley Bryan, We Are Shining by Gwendolyn Brooks, and P is for Pterodactyl by Chris Carpenter and Raj Haldar.