If you are a first-time visitor to the Big Apple and aren’t sure what to expect, give yourself a basic understanding of the city by stopping first at the Museum of the City of New York. Founded in 1923 as a private, nonprofit corporation, the museum connects the past, present, and future of New York City. It serves the people of New York and visitors from around the world through exhibitions, school and public programs, publications, and collections.
The first incarnation of the museum, opened in 1923, was at Gracie Mansion on the Upper East Side, now the official residence for the Mayor of New York. The museum moved to its current home on Museum Mile in 1932, and has undergone recent structural renovations and improvements.
Since the Museum of the City of New York is relatively small, it is possible to see most of it in a couple of hours. Some of the well-designed exhibitions take a traditional tack, with numerous wall cards and papers guiding visitors through a variety of chronological tours.
The museum’s collection contains approximately 750,000 objects, including prints, photographs, decorative arts, costumes, paintings, sculpture, toys, and theatrical memorabilia. The Museum of the City of New York is also 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.
One of the most popular permanent feature of the Museum of the City of New York is the 22-minute film known as “Timescapes”, narrated by Stanley Tucci. It illustrates the history of the city from before its establishment by the Dutch all the way to modern day. 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. The chair was donated by her Brinckerhoff descendants.
Don’t miss the amazing Stettheimer Dollhouse, created during the 1920s by Carrie Stettheimer, whose artist friends re-created their masterpieces in miniature to hang on the walls. Also, stop by “Activist New York” to explore the drama of social activism in New York from the 17th century right up to the present. In a city renowned for its in-your-face persona, citizens and visitors have banded together on issues as diverse as historic preservation, civil rights, wages, sexual orientation, and religious freedom. Using artifacts, photographs, audio and visual presentations, this exhibition presents the passions and conflicts that underlie the city’s history.
The Museum of the City of New York 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 building’s courtyard entryway on Fifth Avenue makes for a fine place to sit and relax after a day of uptown sightseeing; café tables and chairs are set out for all, though the downstairs café is only accessible with admission to the museum.