Get ready for some wonderful surprises when you enter the new and vastly improved New York Historical Society on 77th Street and Central Park West.
After three years and $70 million dollars worth of renovations both inside and out, this venerable institution has let in the light of the 21st century.
Editor’s note: for opening day on Friday, November 11, there is free admission for children under 13, veterans and active service members when the museum opens at 11:11 a.m., and for all visitors after 6pm.
The Society, the very first museum in Manhattan, was established in 1804 in the City Hall area. The building at Central Park West and 77th Street was constructed almost 100 years later by the well-known firm of York and Sawyer, architects who had trained with McKim, Mead and White. These architects were known for their formidable bank buildings, and the Society’s building followed the model: solid, serious and not particularly welcoming.
With this new renovation, which the museum is billing as no less than a “revolution,” the building has been absolutely transformed, opened up to the light of Central Park West, and filled with exhibits that make learning history a truly interactive adventure for the visitor .
Walking into the CPW entrance, past a wonderful new statue of Abraham Lincoln on the steps, you enter into a huge 3,400-foot-space where admissions, orientation and a permanent exhibit are combined. Over the ceiling of the admissions area hangs a piece of the ceiling of Keith Haring’s original Pop Shop in SoHo—clearly, you’re in for a very updated take on history.
The new permanent Robert H. and Clarice S. Smith New York gallery is a thrilling introduction to what’s in store. There’s the well known history painting Pulling Down the Statue of George III that is motion-activated and is a perfect place to begin exploring the start of our republic. Enormous screens surrounding the gallery flash slides of some impressive items from the Society’s collection—including Audubon prints and maps used by George Washington. On one wall, theres a rotating exhibit of the Museum’s collection of 6000 photos taken by New Yorkers on 9/11 and on another a salon-style installation with art works and objects “narrated” by touch-screen monitors. And, having run out of wall space, the curators have cleverly used the floor to graphically illustrate the concept of urban archaeology—12 man-hole type installations throughout the space with arrowheads, military buttons and other artifacts of New York life.
In the new and vastly impoved theater space, the museum boasts the largest film screen in the city showing New York Story, an 18 minute introductory film narrated by native New Yorker Liev Schreiber that traces the journey from new world outpost to today’s city.
The pre-renovation New York Historical Society was not big on the list of kid-friendly New York attractions. What a difference three years make! Now the brand new DiMenna Children’s History Museum is designed to be a kid-magnet: 4,000 square feet of interactive exhibits, lots of hands-on fun and a cozy library where there’ll be a story hour every Sunday. The designers of this, the only children’s history museum in the city, have called what they’ve created “serious fun”. It’s the fun part that rules. Sure to be a favorite is the facebook set up for Alexander Hamilton complete with his profile, friends and events. Check out the upcoming programs for kids at the DiMenna—for opening weekend there’s a talk by an urban archaeologist called Potty Talk: Tales from a 19th Century Privy.
The exhibits that the museum has chosen to open with are Revolution: The Atlantic World Reborn which surveys the almost simultaneous uprisings in France, American and Haiti; Making American Taste: Narrative Art for a new Democracy , the kind of mix of art and history that has always been a Historical Society strong point; Freedom Now, photos by the British photographer Platon focusing on the struggle for civil rights in the US and Beauties of a Certain Age, 19th century artist Peter Maries’ watercolors of the women he considered to be the best examples of female beauty of his time.
And now let’s eat. The new Caffe Storico, operated by Stephen Starr, the owner of Buddakan and Morimoto in the meat-packing district, will be open for lunch and dinner even beyond regular museum hours. Starr’s latest restaurant—he has almost a dozen all over the country– is meant to be a tourist attraction on its own. The Caffe, overlooking Central Park, will feature Italian cooking with an emphasis on house-made pastas and cichetti, the Venetian version of tapas. The chef in charge is Jim Burke who comes to the museum from Philadelphia with a long list of achievements including having been chosen a James Beard Award finalist.
For more information on the NY- Historical Society’s exciting new look and programs, go to their website nyhistory.org.
For some more pictures, check out our previous post.
Images via New York Historical Society.