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The library was famous for housing the collection of the original Winnie-the-Pooh dolls including Pooh's friends Kanga, Eeyore, Tigger and Piglet behind bulletproof glass in a display in the Children’s Reading Room.
The branch also had the largest New York Public Library circulating collection of materials in languages other than English. It also featured the largest collection in the library system of magazines, hardcover, paperback and recorded books for seventh through twelfth grades in the balcony Nathan Straus Young Adult Center. The auditorium in the basement offered concerts and other cultural events.
The library opened in 1955 and cost $2.5 million, including the books. It is named for Ezekial J. Donnell (1822-1896), a cotton merchant who was an early library patron. Its exterior like other Rockefeller Buildings consists of Indiana Limestone. It was designed by Edgar I. Williams and Aymar Embury II. The formal name carved in the limestone above the entrance was "The Donnell Free Circulation Library and Reading Room."
The Americans then dug in their heels with Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani coming to their defense.
The mayor, after the visiting the library, and holding the bear with a group of children proclaimed in a "leaked" conversation that the bear told him "I want everyone in Britain and America to know that we're very, very happy here in New York City" and that it had also lauded the city's drop in crime and thought New York "capital of the world."
Other politicians were to join the fray with Congressman Nita M. Lowey proclaiming "The Brits have their head in a honey jar if they think they are taking Pooh out of New York City."
According to the New York Public Library's web site, the dolls "have recently moved from their previous home in the Central Children's Room to grand new quarters in the History and Social Science Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street and will be on display in the Children’s Room beginning in early 2009."
The five-story Library located between Rockefeller Center (which it resembles architecturally) and the Museum of Modern Art across 53rd Street (Manhattan) has long been considered a target for development given its low rise location amidst the Midtown Manhattan skyscrapers.
In November 2007 Orient-Express Hotels Ltd. which owns the 21 Club directly south of the library announced an agreement to raze the library and replace it with an 11-story hotel. The Library, which would be relocated during the building phase from 2009 to 2011 would then occupy the first floor and two subterranean floors in the new structure and would have a separate entrance from the hotel.
The library was vacated in the summer of 2008. In March 2009, Orient Express announced it was backing out of the agreement.
In October 2011 demolition began on the building after Orient sold the building to Tribeca Associates and Starwood Hotels which plans to erect a $400 million hotel/condo complex with a library which is contractually to open by June 30, 2014.