Museum of the City of New York: A Century Preserving the City’s Rich History

by Denise Marie

Since it was first named in 1664, New York City has captured the imagination of the world. It is one of the most vibrant, cultured and fascinating cities on Earth and a great way to get to know it a little better is to spend an afternoon at the Museum of the City of New York.

This museum was founded in the early 1920s to document and preserve the history of its surroundings, and today, it offers a rich and thorough glimpse through the centuries of life in the Big Apple.

Museum History
Founded in 1923, the goal of the Museum of the City of New York was to preserve the history of the great city. It began collecting and preserving many of the cornerstones of New York life, such as paintings, furniture, decorative arts and theater artifacts.

Originally, the collection was located in Gracie Mansion, which is now the official residence of New York’s mayor. In 1932, it moved into its current home on Fifth Avenue.

While there are many works of art in this museum, it is not an art museum. Its goal was to be a window on the past, and that is an excellent description of what it is today. There are nearly three-quarters of a million objects in the museum, each one helping to tell the story of New York.

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Museum Collection
Among the most interesting artifacts in the museum are some of playwright Eugene O’Neill’s original manuscripts, hundreds of glass negatives from the works of noted photojournalist Jacob Riis and a suit worn by a New Yorker to George Washington’s Inaugural Ball.

Some of the museum’s permanent collections include interior designs from William Baumgarten & Co., who designed the Vanderbilt Mansion on Fifth Avenue, as well as some of the stunning rooms at the historic Plaza Hotel. They also include many of the stunning photographs of Mel Rosenthal and Edmund V. Gillon who both documented life in the teeming city, taking picture of everything from crumbling inner city neighborhoods to the beauty of New York’s architecture.

Special Exhibits
Aside from the permanent collection, the Museum of the City of New York also has special exhibitions all year long. These exhibitions cover many remarkable chapters in the New York story, focusing at times on a neighborhood such as Coney Island or Greenwich Village, or on a particular part of life, such as jewelry, graffiti, clothing or children’s toys.

The exhibitions change throughout the year, so be sure to check the museum’s website for information about current or upcoming shows.

Admission to all of the special exhibitions at the Museum of the City of New York is included in the general admission.

Visiting the Museum
This museum is located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street right across the street from Central Park and the Conservatory Garden. It is easily accessible on New York’s public transit system.

There are discounts on general admission for seniors and for students, and children 12 and under are free. There is also a special price for families. The museum has a gift shop and a café and it is open seven days a week.

For visitors who want to make the most of their visit, there are free tours of the museum three afternoons a week, led by a museum docent. No reservations are required. There are also paid group tours available, led by museum curators and specialists. There are even behind-the-scene and after-hour tours which can be arranged through the museum’s information desk. These paid tours are for groups of up to ten people, and must be reserved in advance.

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