Old York Library

Who we are

What is probably the most important and certainly the most idiosyncratic collection of historical materials on New York City ever privately assembled will be turned over to public scholarship on Thursday, September 7, with the dedication of the Seymour B. Durst Old York Library and Reading Room at The Graduate Center of The City University of New York. The late Seymour Durst, a New York City real estate developer, started the collection in the early 1960s while vacationing in Paris, where he purchased a photobook on New York City. The book was a German edition, and Mr. Durst was smitten with the thought that, if the Germans and French demonstrated such an interest in the city, its own residents had largely taken it for granted. By the time he died in 1995 the Old York Library filled nearly every nook and cranny of his five-story East Side townhouse.

The appellation, “Old York”, is both a reference to the city’s dynamic history of growth and development nd an epithet for its decline. The diverse contemporary and historical material collected here is not only eant to illuminate the city’s rise from colony to “World Center”, but to inform present and future enerations of New Yorkers.
In all, there are about 9,000 titles, encompassing four centuries of New York City history, plus about 3,00 glossy photos, 20,000 postcards about New York, historical maps, and thousands of pamphlets, uidebooks, magazines, newspapers, and various New York ephemera. The photos include materials from the orgue of the now-defunct New York Herald Tribune. Many of the postcards are mailed versions with messages hat provide personal reactions to landmark locations and events. Among the more rare items are: one of the en copies of the 1814 Commissioners Grid Map that outlined the City’s path of development for the rest of he century; the six-volume first edition of Stoke’s Iconography of Manhattan Island, showing maps and iews of the city before 1915; and the Manuals of the Common Council, 1841-1870, a.k.a. “The Valentine anuals.”

Bottom Lines

Although a quiet, reserved person, Seymour Durst was not shy about sharing his views with others. He was passionate about his concerns for rezoning manufacturing districts in Manhattan as a way to encourage much needed housing. He successfully fought against the development of Westway, which over time would have made the current redevelopment along the Hudson impossible. He also ran ads at the bottom of page one in The New York Times on a wide range of concerns. By the time of his death in 1995, he had used his “Bottom Lines” some 200 times to share hisconcerns on topics ranging from inadequate housing, poor zoning rules and his dislike for city planning like in his native 13 French regions.


Build More Tunnels and Ferries to New Jersey. There’s no place to live in Old York.
New York builds bureaucracy, not housing; bureaucracy is more profitable.
Convolution of 42nd Street office project architecture: neo-classical to neon-classical.
New York cuts back on education, hospitals, social services; but subsidized 4 million sq. feet of needless office space in Times Square.
While the Senate debated, 82 people were shot - Dirty jokes are taboo. Guns are O.K.
We need low fat legislatures- Limit elected officials to only 1 term.
Guns are the greatest environmental danger- Where are the environmentalists?
Legal age in NY State for voting - 18; for driving - 16; for shooting - 12.
Shouldn’t the gun lobby pay the $28 million for NYC schools metal detectors?
Dukes in the Senate, Lords in the House. Must be dethroned - Limit reigns to 1 term.

Contact Us

The Seymour B. Durst Reading Room at the Graduate Center of the City of New York is available by appointment only during the following hours:

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Monday | 9:30-5:30
Wednesday | 9:30-5:30
Thursday | 10-2

To contact the library please fill out and submit the form or send us an e-mail directly at info@oldyorklibrary.org

Tour of the Old “old york library”

Entry Hall

STANDING BULLETIN BOARD: Puck cartoons, maps, photographs, unusual correspondence, and favorite postcards. Important mailing campaigns by Mr. Durst concerning various NYC issues (most prominent: housing, preservation, and the Federal debt.).

WEST WALL: Map of NYC Environs - 1782. Used by he British. Facsimile reprint 1900 and assembled from 24 sections.

DISPLAY: 1897 Harper’s Weekly article about the building of the public library at 42nd & 5th ave.

EAST WALL: Painting - 57th St. Bridge, Ludwig Bemelmans.

DISPLAY: 1897 Harper’s Weekly article about the building of the public library at 42nd & 5th ave.

BOOKCASES: Humorous and cartoon works by Max Beerbohm, Charles Addams, Al Hirschfeld, Peter Arno, Robert Paul Smith, et al.

Ist Floor Entrance on East Wall

Planning Room & Pictorial Room

Over the entrance: Planning clock (symbolic of unintelligible planning). A work in progress.

The pictorial room contains over 500 pictorial & photographic works representing NYC. Works published by Moses King: photographic depictions by Joseph Byron, Andre Kertesz, Ruth Orkin, Jacob Riis, and many more: also, books & souvenirs from the two NY World’s Fairs.

Ist Floor Rear - Postcard & Guide Room

RIGHT SIDE & NORTH WALL: Postcard collection. Over 10,000 postcards grouped by area: Restaurants and Saloons: Broadway; Central Park, etc.

EAST WALL BOOKCASE: Books group under the heading “PLACE”. Sites, locales and establishments, i.e. The Algonquin, Sardi’s Greenwood Cemetery, Rockeller Center, The Statue of Liberty and The United Nations

REMAINING BOOKCASES: Guide books, vintage as well as contemporaneous. Organizaed by topics: General Interest, Shopping, Entertainment, Historical, et al.

2nd Floor Front Room


BREAKFRONT: Holds Architecture, Old Directories and Almanacs. Photograph books by Berenice Abbott and books by Vernon Howe Bailey noted NYC Illustrator.

DESK: Houses early textbooks and other educational materials: Noah Webster Primers.

VER FIREPLACE: Painting - Arrival by Air - Evening, Ludwig Bemelmans.

2nd Floor Center Room - Dining or Main Room

There are over 2000 books in this room, organized into 18 major subjects (modeled after Thomas Jefferson’s theories on library organization) Most of the library’s subjects are represented here. Additional subject volumes have supplemental shelves on other floors. Subjects represented here include: Early History, History Recent (20th Century) Travel & Voyage, Reminiscence, Ethnic & Sociology, Geographic Areas, Institutions, Medical History, Military History, Religion, Literature, Environment, Crime, Politics, Society & Women. The subjects: Guides, Press, Biography, and Commerce & Finance have only a small selection of materials here as other rooms are devoted to their collection.

2nd Floor Kitchen Closet - NY Historical Society

No space can go unused - this closet is space reserved for New York Historical Society collections and publications.

2nd Floor Rear Room - Infrastructure Room


Books on the physical city. Subjects include: Bridges & Tunnels, Canals, Transportation, Port, Utilities, and Water Supply. Also Borough Atlases, extremely large and heavy books minutely documenting the topography, ownership and/or use. Note: display of large photographs and statistical graphs exhibiting restricted manufacturing districtrs where housing is prohibited.

3rd Floor Center Room - Reference Room

Contains books about books & books about other libraries, i.e.: the formation of the NY public Library from the Astor, Lenox and Tilden Fdns. Materials on NYC Government (most notably the Manuals of the Common Council), Economics, Developmetn, NYC Trivia books, et al. Projected location of the “Magazine Article Collection,” (articles about NYC extracted from magazines and journals.)

3rd Floor Center Rear Room - Art & Theater Room

Works about museums & galleries, theatre, and related guide books. As well as art books by such noted artists as Joseph Pennell and Reginald Marsh, poetry and verse and some architecture are also included as part of the ART collection. The subject Theatre occupies half the space and include histories programs, biographies, theatre plans, & scripts. Separately grouped are the subjects: Music and Entertainment and included works on such institutions as Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Opera, and subjects like the Jazz Era and the famed 52nd St. Biographies of Broadway Personalities: David Belasco, George Cohan, Florenz Zeigfeld, Billy Rose, et al.

3rd Floor Rear Room - Times Square Room

A monument to the past unsavory elements of Times Square. Much material on the development of 42nd Street.

4th Floor Hall - Architecture Closet

200 Books about the NYC Architecture. Collected works of McKim, Mead, and White and other noted NYC architectural firms.

4th Floor Left Front Room - Press Room

Collected bound periodicals of Harper’s Weekly, The New York Times, The Times Mid-Week War Pictorial, et al. Books about the major NYC dailies as well as other, more obscure periodicals. Bios of noted newspaper people including colonial printers Peter Zenger & Benjamin Franklin; covers the days when the major daily newspapers were on Park Row.

4th Floor Right Front Room - Commerce & Finance Room

Books about Commerce & Industry, Retailing & Department Stores, the Financial Markets, Wall Street, etc. Real Estate and the Legal profession are included in this room. Biographies of important NYC industrialists, labor leaders, bankers and merchants: Henry Baker, Pierpont Morgan, John Lewis and Bernice Fitz-Gibbon. Also included is the Main Room extension for the subject Society.

4th Floor Center Room - Newspaper Room

“It is far better to have the actual thing than to have to read from microfiche.” - a visitor Gathered here are more than 800 old and rare newspapers, collected for their contemporaneous views on NYC history and events. Ranging from an issue of London’s The Tattler, (1690) to extensive coverage of the unfolding scandal in 1871 of “Boss” Tweed and Tammany Hall. Extensive issues on the Civil War and collected front pages from WWII. Filling out the room are the extensions for the Main Room subjects: Literature, Politics, and History Recent (20th Century history).

4th Floor Rear Room - Biography Room

Biographies of individuals and NY Families. Diaries, Reminiscences, and Genealogy.