After almost two decades after its initial conception, the Hunters Point Library has amassed a long list of people who deserved thanks for its existence.
So the emcee of the library’s opening ceremony Dennis Walcott had a tall order. Walcott’s tenure as president and CEO of the Queens Public Library only stretches back a quarter of the project’s timeline.
“You’ll hear a lot of arc of history conversations — people who have been here many years ago, people who are no longer with us now but who fought hard for this library and people who are currently with us who fought hard,” said Walcott in his opening speech.
A crowd of several hundred gathered around the glittering silver exterior to tour the library for the first time on Tuesday afternoon.
The library’s price tag of $41.5 million explains both its architectural allure and the budgetary setbacks which delayed its construction. Now the 82-foot-high concrete prism, dotted with lopsided glass cutouts will provide the Long Island City waterfront with another immediately recognizable landmark.
At the grand opening, Mayor de Blasio, local electeds, and other library and city officials involved with the project commemorated the many people who jumped in the ring to push the forward project over construction and planning.
The politicians lining the podium each presented a different snapshot of the challenges facing the project. Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, who has been in office since 1984, recalled having conversations with fellow parents as the idea for the library was starting to gain steam.
It was going to be great to have a new library for their kindergarten-age children to have, she remembered one saying with a laugh.
“Even though we didn’t get the benefit of it, that’s part of the privilege of living in New York City. You don’t just do it for you and your own family, you do it to pass it on to the people who are coming after you,” said Nolan.
LIC Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who has been working on this project since he was a staffer at the Queens Public Library, said that library “is the single most important project of my life.”
During his time as a librarian, Van Bramer said that he first heard from Fausta Hippolito, a Long Island City mother of two who worked to gather signatures and support for the project when the nearest library was the one inside the CitiBank building.
Ippolito was one of a few key players in the library who received tribute from the majority of the speakers over the course of the ceremony. Another popular acknowledgment was Lorraine Grillo, the Department of Design and Construction commissioner.
“If you want to get things done, call Lorraine Grillo,” said Nolan.
In this case, Grillo helped construct a library that will not only function as storage for its 52,000 books, but a community center and a tourist destination.
“Today is of vital importance to the community in that it confirms the commitment to the continuity of humanity,” said Gary Strong, former president of the Queens Library.