Thursday, February 17, 2011

The New York Public Library's Monumental Flagpole Bases

Included in Carrere & Hastings’ design for the monumental white marble New York Public Library were two decorative bronze flagpole bases on either end of the broad balustraded terrace outside the main entrance. Designed by Thomas Hastings, the ornate sculptural bases teemed with allegorical and symbolic representations in keeping with the Beaux Arts style of the building itself.

Sitting on pedestals of Tennessee marble, each base rests upon the shell of four bronze turtles, representing Time. Figures of Discovery, Conquest, Civilization and Adventure sit at each corner, while between each figure is a medallion of one of the four races: Asian, American Indian, Caucasian, and Negro. Above each figure is an owl, symbolizing Wisdom and encircling the base of each pole are the signs of the zodiac.

The bases were executed in the studios of the Menconi brothers and cast at the Tiffany Studios foundry in Long Island City. While Raffaele Menconi was the sculptor of the finished bases, his brother Joseph assisted with the plaster models. Italian-born Raffaele had a reputation for his clear understanding of the 16th Century Italian Mannerist style basic to Hastings’ design.
One of the Menconi plaster models in preparation for forging.  The medallion of the American Indian and Caucasian can be seen between the figures as well as the turtles below symbolizing Time -- NYPL Collection
The 85-foot tall poles of Oregon pine were put in place on December 10, 1911 and on December 26 the American flag and the New York City flag were hoisted. To support the weight of each five-and-a-half-ton pole along with its ponderous bronze base, a concrete foundation 14 feet deep was necessary.

The extraordinary bases were broadly acclaimed the most beautiful in America.

At 1:00 am on April 27, 1941 the pine flagpoles were replaced with two tapered steel poles as memorials to Mayor John Purroy Mitchel who served the city during World War I years of 1914 through 1917.

As part of a $50 million Library restoration completed in February 2011, the magnificent bronze flagpole bases were cleaned and preserved.  Often overlooked in the visual overload provided by Carrere & Hastings’ epic marble masterpiece, the bronze sculptural flagpole bases are extraordinary works of art.


  1. very pretty indeed...

  2. Which figure represents civilization? Is that a book being held by the female figure? Is she "civilization"

  3. Discovery holds a globe, Conquest holds a sheathed sword, Civilization holds a book, and Adventure holds a quiver.