Situated in a historic building on a lovely stretch of the one-and-only Fifth Avenue, the Museum of the City of New York is full of remarkable artifacts that speak to the rich and varied history of this special city. Visitors here will encounter fascinating galleries full of objects that date from the seventeenth century to the present, and include paintings, photographs, sculptures, New York-themed memorabilia, and more. Temporary special exhibits are frequently staged here, too.
Museum of the City of New York History
The Museum of the City of New York was founded in 1923 by Henry Collins Brown. Brown was born in Scotland during the middle of the nineteenth century, and moved to the United States when he was 13 years old. Brown would live out the majority of his life in New York City, working as a writer and historian of the city. The Museum of the City of New York was first housed in Gracie Mansion, which was not yet established as the official residence of the mayor of New York City.
By the mid-1930s, museum officials had amassed quite the collection of artifacts, and with the help of city officials, who donated land for the project, the Museum of the City of New York moved into its current home on Fifth Avenue. This building was designed by the architect Joseph H. Freedlander in the Georgian Colonial-Revival style. It was named a New York City landmark in 1967.
What’s at the Museum of the City of New York
The Museum of the City of New York features a permanent collection totaling some 750,000 items. Among these objects are all manner of sculptures, paintings, photographs, prints, memorabilia, and more. The museum also possesses a wide variety of decorative arts objects, costumes, textiles, and Broadway-related paraphernalia. It even has a significant number of historic toys on display.
Particular highlights of the Museum of the City of New York’s permanent collection would have to include such objects as handwritten manuscripts of the playwright Eugene O’Neill, memorabilia pertaining to George Gershwin’s career, photographs taken by Jacob Riis, and nearly 3,000 Currier and Ives lithographs. The museum is also home to paintings by acclaimed artists such as Gilbert Stuart, John Trumbull, and Childe Hassam, just to name a few.
In addition to its impressive permanent collection, another hallmark of the Museum of the City of New York is its special exhibitions. The Museum of the City of New York regularly sponsors and hosts an array of exhibits that explore a constellation of New York City-centric topics. Recent shows have covered themes as diverse as the groundbreaking music of 1980s-era New York, the history of social activism in New York City, and the photography of Robert Frank and William Klein.
The Museum of the City of New York’s shop is a great place to stop as you conclude your visit. There you’ll find all sorts of New York-related goodies to choose from. Whether you’re looking for a suitable souvenir or the perfect gift, it’s probably available in this tastefully curated store.
Tips for Visiting the Museum of the City of New York
- The Museum of the City of NY is included on several money saving tourist passes including the New York Pass, NY Explorer Pass and NY Sightseeing Pass.
- The Museum of the City of New York’s signature introductory film, Timescapes, is well worth the time. This powerful documentary traces the evolution of New York City from its earliest days right up to the present age. It lasts just under 30 minutes, and runs every 40 minutes beginning at 10:20am.
- As you busy yourself diving into all the Museum of the City of New York has to offer, don’t forget to look up! That is, you won’t want to miss Starlight, the striking installation that hangs above the Rotunda’s circular staircase. Comprised of over 5,000 lights, it’s a show-stopping piece you’ll definitely want to photograph.
- The Museum of the City of New York’s location is second to none, and makes it an ideal complement to a longer day of sightseeing. It’s right next door to El Museo del Barrio, and directly across the street from Central Park’s beautiful Conservatory Garden. It’s also just a half-mile or so up Fifth Avenue from the Guggenheim Museum and Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, and one mile from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- There are plenty of ways to arrive at the Museum of New York City that don’t involve a car, so if you can avoid having to park a vehicle in this part of New York City, go for it. However, if you need to drive here, be advised that there are a number of parking garages in the area. Check out the museum’s official website for a list of suitable garages nearby.