Designations for groups of animals can seem a little arbitrary: a coterie of prairie dogs, a pod of whales, a murder of crows… But when it comes to lions, there could be no group name more fitting than pride.
In the case of the NYPL lions that guard the entrance to the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue, pride trumps any other word that might be used to describe them. One could even say they are the pride of New York City.
Sculptor Edward Clark Potter carved the lions from Pink Tennessee marble, and they have stood guard at the entrance of the magnificent Beaux Arts edifice since it opened in 1911.
During the depression, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia named these New York City library lions Patience and Fortitude, calling on them to be beacons of hope for those suffering through the financial crisis. Patience sits on the south side of the main entrance’s grand stairs, and Fortitude sits opposite Patience. Prior to the naming, the library lions were nicknamed Leo Astor and Leo Lenox after the library’s founders, John Jacob Astor and James Lenox. The subject of all manner of photo records, the lions have posed with numerous celebrities, appeared in Hollywood movies, and they’ve been photographed by countless tourists – in selfie form and otherwise.
Over the years, library staff members have decorated each NYPL lion with wreaths during the holidays and floral garlands during the spring. They’ve been festooned with top hats, baseball caps (Mets and Yankees), graduation hats and all other types of accessories. In 2004, the lions were given a facelift in the form of a thorough and professional cleaning, bringing back their original pristine patina.
While on Fifth Avenue, stop by and say hi to these proud guardians of one of the world’s great libraries. While you’re there, don’t hesitate to take a walk into the library itself. We’ll have more information on this extraordinary institution in articles to come.
- 42nd street
- 5th Avenue
- beaux arts
- Edward Clark Potter
- Fifth Avenue
- Fiorello LaGuardia
- Leo Astor
- Leo Lenox
- new york public library
- the Great Depression