Put it in the books! City to change Van Nest Library name

Branch manager David Nochimson in front of the Van Nest Library, which city library brass have finally agreed to call the “Pelham Parkway-Van Nest Library.” No word yet on how they’ll get the new name to fit on the sign.
Photo by Aracelis Batista

Pelham Parkway locals will finally have a library to call their own – sort of.

The president of the New York Public Library, citing “unprecedented” neighborhood support, says he is now willing to acknowledge what for locals has been clear for decades –that the Van Nest Library is in fact in Pelham Parkway.

Pending letters of support from local politicians and community groups, the Van Nest Library will soon be officially renamed the “Pelham Parkway-Van Nest Library.”

Misnamed for years

The new name will reflect the branch’s location one block from the leafy Pelham Parkway strip, where locals have pushed to forge their own neighborhood identity.

“I believe this name will better reflect the communities who share this location,” Library President Anthony Marx wrote in a May 19 letter to local elected officials.

Neighborhood activists in Pelham Parkway have long charged that the Van Nest Library was not, in fact, in Van Nest at all. The branch moved north from prime Van Nest turf on Rhinelander Avenue to its current Barnes Avenue in 1967.

Mixing up ‘Pelhams’

Community Board 11, which covers both Pelham Parkway and Van Nest, had been clamoring for the renaming for years to no avail.

Even the Van Nest Neighborhood Alliance, a coalition of Van Nest locals, had signed off on the change.

“This is a no brainer, “said Jeremy Warneke, the board’s district manager. “They should have changed it when the library moved in the first place.”

But the city’s library brass had long refused to turn the page. The NYPL had argued that changing the name might cause patrons to confuse the Pelham Parkway library with the Pelham Bay Library, which opened in 1976 three miles east.

“We do remain concerned about possible confusion that may be caused by having two branches in close proximity with Pelham in their name,” wrote Marx in his May 19 letter, “and would be grateful for any suggestions to remedy that.”

Those suggestions likely won’t be coming.

“Anyone who knows the Bronx knows that Pelham Bay and Pelham Parkway are two distinct neighborhoods,” said Councilmember Jimmy Vacca, whose district covers both areas.

More letters needed

Vacca was one of a series of local elected officials –along with Rep. Joe Crowley and state Sen. Jeff Klein –who sent letters to the NYPL demanding the name change.

The NYPL now says it will begin the approval progress for the new name so long as it receives letters of support from local stakeholders, many of whom have already supported the renaming.

“It’s a formality,” said Vacca. “All they want is letters of support, and we are all already on record as wanting this.”

Not exactly perfect

Pelham Parkway’s neighborhood activists who originally called for the name change would have liked to see the library renamed the “Pelham Parkway Library”, with the “Van Nest” removed entirely.

But after years of fighting to put their nabe “on the map,” they’re still claiming victory.

“It’s not exactly what we wanted,” said Edith Blitzer, president of the Pelham Parkway Neighborhood Association, “But half a loaf is better than nothing.”

Reach Reporter Ben Kochman at (718) 742–3394. E-mail him at bkochman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @benkochman.

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