Shawmut completed a historic renovation to create the Philip Roth Personal Library at Newark Public Library (NPL), a research and exhibition installation that captures the Pulitzer Prize-winning author’s engagement with reading, writing, and community in Newark, New Jersey.

In partnership with design firm Ann Beha Architects and creative studio C&G Partners, the renovation included the conversion of a double-height reading room within the historic four-story, Italian Renaissance-style building, adding new mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection systems, as well as humidity and temperature controls, to create a museum-quality research and exhibition space. The custom-built room houses items from Roth’s personal collection and features study and conservation areas, as well as a reading room and spaces for photos, stewardship, and small group assemblies. Historical details, such as plaster molding, pilasters, wainscoting, and double doors, were repaired and restored, and new wood flooring was installed to return the room to its original luster.

“It has been an honor building this vision, one that has created a living tribute to a great American author and embodies his lifelong connection to Newark and its people,” said David Margolius, executive vice president of Shawmut’s New York Metro region. “Together with Ann Beha Architects, C&G Partners, and NPL, we have created a space that is set to serve the community for generations to come.”

Roth, a Newark native who died in 2018, announced in 2016 that he would leave his personal collection to the library, which he often cited as a refuge that also ignited his imagination. His first novel, Goodbye, Columbus, was set in the library, where the protagonist worked. Roth memorabilia and noteworthy items in his collection — including several thousand books from his Manhattan and Connecticut homes, standing writing desk, Eames reading chair, and other furniture — are on display within the new space. The Philip Roth Personal Library also features Roth’s literary awards, including his Pulitzer, as well as correspondence, typewriters, baseball caps, posters, and academic gowns.

“As a librarian I am thrilled with this incomparable gift of books that mattered to him — books he read, wrote, loved, even disliked,” said Joslyn Bowling Dixon, director of Newark Public Library. “Equally important is Roth's bequest that enables the library to offer original programming that will encourage people to ask questions, take a broader view by studying the past, and understand that literature can reflect, predict, and even explain events happening today.”

“It was so important to all of us to maintain the feel of the beautiful room while ensuring the integrity of the collection,” said Ann Beha, principal at Ann Beha Architects. “We believe we succeeded in creating space Roth would have been comfortable in while making it functionally modern and exceedingly useful.”

In addition to the Philip Roth Personal Library, the 8,860 square-foot project included the installation of an all-new, modern heating and cooling system in Centennial Hall — the building’s monumental, oak paneled lecture hall and event space, as well as restoration of historic millwork and plaster.

Media Coverage: Building Design + Construction| CommARCH