Christopher Gray, Inspiration and Friend

Friday, March 17, 2017

In Christopher Gray, who died last week aged 66, New York City has lost one of its most thoughtful and passionate chroniclers, and the Library has lost a longstanding friend and trustee.

A member since the 1980s, Mr. Gray became the eminently qualified founding chair of our New York City Book Awards jury in 1995 and served on the jury off and on for a decade. In 2003 his collection New York Streetscapes: Tales of Manhattan’s Significant Buildings and Landmarks (co-authored by Suzanne Braley) was honored with the awards' Special Citation of Merit. He returned to the lectern in 2009 to contextualize and present that season's sole book award, to Gail Fenske's The Skyscraper and the City.

Christopher Gray with Gail Fenske

Mr. Gray joined the Board of Trustees in 1998 and that same year gave us the article 'The John S. Rogers House: A Brief Literature Search,' answering frequently asked questions about the Library's building and bringing to light details that a less invested researcher would miss. A favorite: How many people lived in the Library before it was the Library? Seventeen: seven family members plus ten servants. Another article he shared, 'A Guide to Researching the History of a New York City Building,' is one of the most-referenced resources on our website.

Although he stepped down from the Board in 2005, Mr. Gray appeared frequently at the Library to do research, speak at events, and make suggestions. Many who were here for our 250th Anniversary season in 2004 will recall his good-humored and well-informed party turn as George Washington, giving tours of the building and talking about the Library's relationship to early American history. His remarks from the anniversary's launch can be read here. Mr. Gray's donation provided a kickstart to the conservation of our first charging ledger and the history resource now called City Readers.

250th Anniversary tours

His most visible legacy here involves the beautiful skylight above the main staircase. I remember one event night in my early days when Christopher, standing in the Members' Room doorway, delivered the astounding news that that blank white ceiling beside us actually hid an architectural treasure. Former Head Librarian Mark Bartlett adds, "It was Christopher's wish that I see that the skylight was restored....And boy, was that man right." In 2010, the generosity of Assunta, Ignazio, Ada and Romano Peluso made possible the full excavation and rebuilding of the skylight, restoring the original intentions of the building's creators and improving it immensely for future generations.

Christopher Gray was a unique voice and presence. New Yorkers and readers everywhere will continue to value his insightful writings. We at the Library are fortunate to have known him. 

The skylight

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