Museum of the City of New York

Coordinates: 40°47′33″N 73°57′07″W / 40.79250°N 73.95194°W / 40.79250; -73.95194

"MCNY" redirects here. For the college, see Metropolitan College of New York.
The main facade of the museum, facing Fifth Avenue
Gracie Mansion, the Mayor's official residence, was the museum's first location
The main entrance to the Tweed Courthouse, which was proposed as a new home for the museum

The Museum of the City of New York (MCNY) is a history and art museum in New York City, New York. It was founded by Henry Collins Brown,[1][2] in 1923[3] to preserve and present the history of New York City, and its people. It is located at 1220-1227 Fifth Avenue from East 103rd to 104th Streets, across from Central Park in the Upper East Side neighborhood of Manhattan, at the northern end of the Museum Mile section of Fifth Avenue.

The red brick with marble trim[4] museum was built in 1929-30[4] and was designed by Joseph H. Freedlander in the neo-Georgian style, with statues of Alexander Hamilton and DeWitt Clinton by sculptor Adolph Alexander Weinman facing Central Park from niches in the facade.[5]

The museum is a private non-profit organization which receives government support as a member of New York City's Cultural Institutions Group, commonly known as "CIG"s.[6] Its other sources of income are endowments, admission fees, and contributions.[4][7]


The museum was originally located in Gracie Mansion, where available space was limited.[3] One of its first major exhibits was "Old New York", presented in the Fine Arts Building on West 57th Street in 1926. The success of the project led to a search for a new, permanent headquarters for the museum. A design competition was held between five invited architects,[5] and the Colonial Revival design by Freedlander was selected. The city donated a site on Fifth Avenue, and funds for construction of the museum building were raised by public subscription.[3][8] The original plans for the museum's building were scaled back as a result of the Wall Street Crash of 1929, nevertheless, the building was dedicated on January 11, 1932.[3]

On January 24, 1967 the museum building was designated a New York City landmark.[4]

In 1982, the Museum received The Hundred Year Association of New York's Gold Medal Award "in recognition of outstanding contributions to the City of New York."

Proposed move

In 2000, the Giuliani administration told the museum that it could relocate to the historic Tweed Courthouse near City Hall in Lower Manhattan.[9] El Museo del Barrio would then have moved across the street to occupy the current Museum of the City of New York building. This decision was overturned by the incoming administration of Michael Bloomberg, which decided to use the Courthouse as the headquarters for the new New York City Department of Education, causing MCNY's then-director Robert R. McDonald to tender his resignation.[9] McDonald was replaced in 2002 by Susan Henshaw Jones, who was at the time the president of the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.[9]

There was also an attempt to merge the museum with the New-York Historical Society, which did not come to fruition, and the museum was passed over for space at Ground Zero.[10]


The Museum's new director, Susan Henshaw Jones, recommitted MCNY to its East Harlem neighborhood by planning an extension to the Museum. The groundbreaking for this extension, which included renovation of existing gallery space, as well as a new pavilion, took place on August 2, 2006,[10] and it was completed in February 2008 with a ribbon cutting later that same year.

The pavilion gallery, designed by the Polshek Partnership,[5] is 3,000-square-foot (280 m2) glass addition, which has two levels for which to display artifacts. The original 1932 Georgian Revival building was also restored during this project, as well as additions including a vault for the museum's silver collection, a research room and a room for the handling of artifacts. The total costs for the first phase of refurbishments came to $28 million.[11]

In late 2011, the Museum temporarily took over operation of the South Street Seaport Museum which reopened in January 2012.[12]


The museum's collection of over 1.5 million items[9] which is particularly strong in objects dating from the 19th and early 20th centuries[3] include paintings, drawings, prints, including over 3000 by Currier and Ives,[3] and photographs featuring New York City and its residents, as well as costumes, decorative objects and furniture, antique toys the museum was the first in the United States to establish a curatorial department for toys[3] ship models, rare books and manuscripts, marine and military collections, police and fire collections, and a theater collection which documents the golden age of Broadway theater. There are also dioramas about the city's history as well as its physical environment.[5]

Among the rare items in the museum's collection is a chair that once belonged to Sarah Rapelje, daughter of Joris Jansen Rapelje of Nieuw Amsterdam, and said to be the first child born in New York State of European parentage.[13] The chair was donated by her Brinckerhoff descendants.

The museum is known for its comprehensive collection of photographic images, which includes works by noted photographers Percy Byron, Jacob Riis and Berenice Abbott, as well as many Depression-era Federal Art Project photographs. The collection also includes still photography by film director Stanley Kubrick.[14]

MCNY is also home to several recreations of furnished rooms from the house of John D. Rockefeller, donated by the Rockefeller family.[3] Notable as well is a model of New Amsterdam based on the Castello Plan of 1660.[5]

Notable exhibits

Signs at the museum's entrance

From October 2004 through July 2009, Perform was the only permanent exhibition in New York City focused on theater in New York. It included objects ranging from Bill "Bojangles" Robinson's tap shoes to advertising materials from Avenue Q.[15]

In June 2007, the museum opened its temporary "The Glory Days, 1947–1957" exhibit, an in-depth photographic look at the history of professional baseball in New York City. The exhibit included clips of Ed Sullivan, a pioneer of CBS television entertainment, interviewing many of the players of the era, including Mickey Mantle and Phil Rizzuto. A section was devoted to Jackie Robinson, who broke the color line in 1947 when he joined the former Brooklyn Dodgers and became a leading figure in the civil rights movement both during.and after his playing career.

In May 2012, the Museum opened a new space devoted to the Puffin Foundation and its collection. The inaugural exhibit focused on social activism and New York City's activist roots.

See also



  1. Gray, Christopher (6 November 2005). "Preserving the Past, Planning the Future". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  2. Morrone, Francis (28 April 2008). "New Life for the Museum of the City of New York". The New York Sun. Retrieved 6 February 2015.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Beard, Rick. "Museum of the City of New York" in Jackson, Kenneth T., ed. (2010), The Encyclopedia of New York City (2nd ed.), New Haven: Yale University Press, ISBN 978-0-300-11465-2, p.868-69
  4. 1 2 3 4 "Museum of the City of New York Designation Report" New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (January 24, 1967)
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 White, Norval; Willensky, Elliot; Leadon, Fran (2010), AIA Guide to New York City (5th ed.), New York: Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780195383867, p.463
  6. "City-Owned Institutions – History of City-Owned Cultural Institutions". NYC Department of Cultural Affairs. Retrieved 2012-05-04.
  7. Federal Writers' Project (1939), New York City Guide, New York: Random House, ISBN 0-403-02921-X (Reprinted by Scholarly Press, 1976; often referred to as WPA Guide to New York City), pp.377-380
  8. New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission; Dolkart, Andrew S. (text); Postal, Matthew A. (text) (2009), Postal, Matthew A., ed., Guide to New York City Landmarks (4th ed.), New York: John Wiley & Sons, ISBN 978-0-470-28963-1, p.186
  9. 1 2 3 4 Santora, Mark. "Museum of City of New York Names Director" New York Times (September 24, 2002)
  10. 1 2 Pogrebin, Robin (September 28, 2006). "The City Changes. Its Museum Will, Too.". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-29.
  11. Pogrebin, Robin (August 11, 2008). "Museum of History Unveils Its Future". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-11.
  12. Del Signore, John (January 26, 2012). "New South Street Seaport Museum Reopens With Occupy Wall Street Show". Gothamist. Retrieved 2012-05-04.
  13. Sarah Rapalje (1625–1685), The New Netherland Institute, New York State Library, Albany, New York
  14. "Stanley Kubrick's 'Life And Love on the New York City Subway'". Huffington Post. May 1, 2012. Retrieved 2012-05-04.
  15. "Perform". WNET. June 15, 2008. Retrieved 2009-11-30.
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