MUSEUM EXPANSION OPPONENTS PACK MEETING: ‘TEDDY ROOSEVELT IS TURNING OVER IN HIS GRAVE’

By Carol Tannenhauser

More than 200 people came to the American Museum of Natural History last week, most of them to register opposition to the museum’s plans for a new education center that would impinge on the surrounding park.

Unlike a town hall, the public hearing last Thursday allowed no questions (other than rhetorical ones) or answers. Rather, there were nearly three hours of three-minute comments by community members about the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), issued by the NYC Parks Department in May, for the museum’s proposed addition. The comments were largely critical of the project, and some attendees used signs and “Save Our Park” shirts to make their feelings known.

The DEIS is the latest requirement of the lengthy and difficult approval process the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation has been navigating since plans for it were revealed in 2014. Last October, the Landmarks Preservation Commission gave the Gilder Center the go-ahead, signifying that it was “appropriate” to the landmarked historic buildings it would join and the historic district in which it would be located.

Now, any “significant adverse impacts” of the Gilder Center on the environment of the surrounding community, and ways of avoiding or mitigating them, have been assessed by AKRF, Inc., an environmental consulting firm, hired by the museum. (They also did the Second Avenue subway.) The document AKRF produced – the DEIS – was vetted by the NYC Parks Department, the lead agency for the expansion project, and other city agencies, including the Departments of Transportation and Environmental Protection.


This is the area where the new Gilder Center would go.

Regulations require that the public also be offered the opportunity to comment on the DEIS and that all “substantive” comments be recorded, reviewed, and responded to by the Parks Department, at a later date. A spokesperson for the museum said, “The final Environmental Impact Statement will reflect consideration of all oral or written comments, including updates or revisions of any analyses…” In other words, public input could help shape the final Environmental Impact Statement, which will then be submitted to various city and state agencies for final approval and funding purposes.

Here is a cross section of what attendees of the public hearing had to say (not necessarily in the order they said it):

Elected officials or their representatives –

None were present.

Roberta Semer, chair, Community Board 7 –

“We have looked at the DEIS very carefully. We have a lot of questions and concerns. We will be submitting a final, detailed report by the June 26th deadline.”

Page Cowley, co-chair, Land-Use Committee, Community Board 7 –

“…[the] proposed project needs to demonstrate the inability to contain the proposed uses within the existing building…that the complex cannot be modified or improved internally.”

Betty Lerner, community resident and teacher –

“Jeanne Gang, your architect, clearly stated at a public meeting that she could meet the goals of your expansion within your existing footprint. To sacrifice huge, magnificent, over 100-year-old trees and our carefully designed and maintained outdoor space to get a better hallway is hard to fathom, let alone support. How could the American Museum of Natural History even consider this destruction?”

Lydia Thomas, president, Defenders of Theodore Roosevelt Park –

“Unfortunately, architectural imagination has given way to inflated institutional imperatives. We sadly wonder to what extent the huge lobby reflects the desire to accommodate fund-raising parties…”

Susan Nial, community resident and attorney –

“…this document was paid for by the applicant [the museum]. To the officials who are mandated to assess this project, I suggest your failure to do an independent investigation of the representations made in this document will mean that you are failing to do your jobs. The document suggests that 750,000 more people will come in every year, yet there will be no substantial adverse impact on the environment in this community. That, I suggest to you, is ludicrous.”

Seth Gershel, community resident –

“The Parks Department is like a wholly owned subsidiary of the museum. They should be working for us.”

Michael Hiller, attorney for Community United to Protect Theodore Roosevelt Park –

“AKRF is not an independent environmental firm. AKRF is a sop to the developers…I promise you this, I will stand with this community; we will fight, and we will beat them.”

Sean Khorsandi, Landmark West –

“Any plan which does not establish limits for future expansion into Theodore Roosevelt Park is fundamentally inappropriate.”

Faith Steinberg, community resident –

“Teddy Roosevelt, who was on the original board of the museum, is presently turning over in his grave…There’s no reason that another museum cannot be built in another community where it will not impinge upon and destroy what is in existence…I’m distressed that our elected officials have contributed to this boondoggle at a time when our city has so many needs of greater consequence.”

Andrew Albert, co-chair, Transportation Committee, Community Board 7 –

“It is imperative that we do something about the buses.”

Ernest Pysher, community resident –

“We only use half of the park. We don’t use 77th Street. We’re not allowed to walk there. You need to open up 77th Street so we can use it.”

Stephanie S., community resident –

“…there are going to be endless more rats…you dig up something like this for three to five years, we’re gonna have rats running all over the place!”

On that note, a sole voice spoke out in favor of the project:

Jerrold Alpern, community resident and museum tour guide –

“The proposed new Gilder Center will be an appropriate and marvelous addition to the museum, the park, and the entire west side…[T]he building is welcoming to visitors and neighbors alike, drawing them inside and involving them immediately in the magic, wonder, and excitement of both the contents and the work of the museum.”

Remember, written comments regarding the DEIS will be accepted through June 26th at 5 pm. Send to the following addresses:

Owen Wells, Director of Environmental Review
New York City Department of Parks and Recreation
The Arsenal, Central Park
830 Fifth Avenue, Room 401
New York, New York 10065

Telephone: (212) 360-3492
Fax: (212) 360-3453
Email: owen.wells@parks.nyc.gov

Please excuse any name misspellings in advance; it was hard to hear!

Photos by Carol Tannenhauser.

NEWS | 33 comments | permalink
    1. Sherman says:

      This construction is vital to maintaining the AMNH status as a modern world class museum and tourist destination.

      I don’t see what the big deal is.

      • John says:

        Agreed. Seems a nice addition to the museum that co-opts a deminimus amount of park space. I definitely think the trade-off is worth it. For those demanding more room to stretch out, there’s an 840 acre park a block away. For the historical purists, this space was occupied by the original museum design.

      • Ken says:

        Disagree. The Museum will do fine as is for decades to go, long after you and I and the rest of the neighborhood are gone. Let me suggest a hypothetical: Give all final approval to build the Gilder Center WITH the proviso that Mr. Gilder’s name is featured NOWHERE in or near the space. My bet is the money for the Center — & the Museum’s need for it! — will vanish as quickly as Mr. Gilder begins scouting out new venues for this monument to himself. And, hey, NYC will end up with an excellent new Gilder Center for Science elsewhere in one of the boroughs.

        • John says:

          Believe it or not, our museums have evolved substantially over time and continue to do so. They are not time capsules. They expand, they shift focus, they try to appeal to modern interests and present subject matter with modern methods, technology, and facilities. That’s been true of the Met, MOMA, The Whitney, and the AMNH itself. The AMNH need not be condemned to showcasing musty dioramas forever.

          The museum should aspire to do more than “just fine” as you say. The addition will made a valuable contribution to the museum as a whole at minimal cost to the building’s surroundings. We should be cheering this project not disparaging it.

        • Billy says:

          Agreed!

      • Billy says:

        Agreed! I love new things!!! Bring it on

      • UWS says:

        Agreed! I love new things!!! Bring it on

      • Jens says:

        Don’t fool yourself. It ia an event space for the uber wealthy tp feel good about themselves. The parkland is public land. A private institution should not be allowed to take over public land on a whim. Also the design is absolutely heinous, a travesty to the gorgeous pink granite.

    2. ScooterStan says:

      Perhaps the sentence below needed to be rewritten as shown:

      “More than 200 NIMBY (NotInMyBackYard) types came to the American Museum of Natural History last week, most of them to register opposition to EVERYTHING THAT MIGHT MAKE THE NEIGHBORHOOD EVEN BETTER BUT WAS NOT THEIR IDEA IN THE FIRST PLACE AND WHICH MIGHT SLIGHTLY INCONVENIENCE THEM EVEN THOUGH IT WILL BENEFIT THOUSANDS OF OTHERS WHO ARE NOT CRUSTY OLD-TIMERS VEHEMENTLY SEEKING TO MIRE THE UWS IN A FROZEN TIME-SCAPE.

      • EGF says:

        Seriously. Notice the median age of those in attendance as depicted in the photos.

      • John says:

        “There’s no reason that another museum cannot be built in another community where it will not impinge upon and destroy what is in existence”

        I laughed at this. Build it in someone else’s back yard!

        It’s interesting to note that almost everyone in attendance is a white person over the age of 65. I’m not sure what that means, but it’s not exactly a cross-sectional representation of the UWS or the city. I’m guessing that people with young families like myself prefer to expand the interior spaces of the museum, which we use far more frequently than the park spaces surrounding the building (Central Park offers a better park experience). Just my 2c though, perhaps others in my life-cycle cohort disagree.

        • Laura says:

          For all the snarky comments about backyards, perhaps consider whether you’d let a neighbor who claimed he could move around better in his (already enormous) home and accommodate his guests so much better if he just took up a bit of your yard for an addition.

          No big deal right? You only read your newspaper under the trees, play with your kids, walk your dog, or visit with your neighbors there.

          And, by the way he’s going to send you a bill for 1/3 of the cost – in this case it’s $135 Million – but you won’t mind. You also won’t care that you’ll be paying the electric & heating bills too. Hey, you want your neighbor to be happy don’t you?

          I wish I were kidding, but it’s all there in the public record. We as tax payers get the honor of handing over rapidly disappearing green space and paying for it to be built upon.

          Yes, Teddy Roosevelt Park is literally the back yard of this neighborhood – we don’t want to see even more of our public park land cemented over. Where does it end? Why should we trade it for more concrete?

    3. Wendy says:

      How A more of public toilets inside the museum, inc. inside the new Planetarium; &, in the outside of the park ? Are most of the apt. buildings , which surround that museum — condos ?

    4. Paul RL says:

      I think Teddy Roosevelt is turning over in his grave knowing that these nutjobs are invoking his name in order to turn his own legacy (and the Upper West Side) into a time capsule.

    5. MJ says:

      I know this is a hotly debated topic on WSR, but I do think a lot of the commenters here are missing the point about why people don’t want this expansion to go through as proposed. It’s not a NIMBY-grouchy-get-off-my-lawn-you-whipper-snappers reason (though I will say I’m not looking forward to years of construction ahead).

      Here is the reason: it is NOT the museum’s park. It is OUR park. As in, it is YOUR park. They are taking YOUR land which they lease FROM YOU and are building a structure on it that is arguably unnecessary. The proposed building is not a research center where people will science their way into a bright future. It’s a grand entrance-way to entice more visitors to this side of the museum. If someone could explain to me how that will further science, I’m all ears. Mostly this sounds to me like they got a lot of money to build a new addition, it will bring in way more people ($$$) and that’s what they’re doing.

      And arguments that “Central Park is only another block away” totally discounts the unique role Teddy Roosevelt park plays in this community. There are no cyclists, no runners, no hot dog vendors. It’s simply a quiet oasis in this lovely city of ours and it is meant to be enjoyed by YOU, the residents. There are fewer and fewer of them around, if you ever take the time to notice. And they are important.

      Now, just because YOU don’t sit there and read a book on the side of the park not dominated by shouting kids or snarling school buses, or sip a coffee while listening to the wind drown out the sounds of the passing cars; just because YOU don’t want to teach your small child how to bike in a calm and safe environment; just because YOU don’t go there sit under the trees, to listen to the girl strumming her banjo on the park bench; just because YOU don’t want to wander in and look at the flowers after perusing the farmers market that sets up shop on its borders every Sunday without fail; and just because YOU don’t care that it serves an important role in the community, does not mean it is not precious to those of us who do.

      Enough with the insults, and enough with the derision about “old people” (I’m under 40) complaining about this expansion. This is an important part of our neighborhood and we do not want to see it destroyed. I don’t think anyone’s against progress (seriously, that has got to be the silliest argument yet). But we’re also not just going to go along with this absurd idea that the museum can ONLY further science if it rips up the park and permanently alters this patch of OUR (YOUR!) park.

      The museum has a lot of unused space inside its already massive walls. I love the museum, but if this was really about needing more space, they would do well to clean up their existing buildings first. I’m sorry, I’m not buying it, and neither should you. This park matters. It is not something that should be so easily and thoughtlessly destroyed in the name of “progress” (in quotes, as I do not believe this building has much to do with that).

      Thanks for reading to the end, if you did.

      • Kristi Thomas Boyce says:

        ^^ DAMN. Mic drop.

        But seriously. Yes, yes yes. Count me as one of the millennials 100% against this development, and annoyed at people making ageist comments on here. The elderly people in our community greatly value the neighborhood, have indispensable perspective, and are physically on the ground fighting for it. Working full-time, it’s hard for me to attend events and get involved on the level that I’d like to. The elderly are fighting the good fight on my behalf, and I’m so grateful for them. This is what community working together looks like.

        But yes. The museum is CAVERNOUS. So much unused and underutilized space that it honestly shocked me the first time I went through it. Spend on the Gilder Center money on giving it a much-needed facelift and leave the park alone.

        Even better – open up 77th side for use! Can anyone for the life of me explain why we have beautiful lawns of grass that nobody can access? No picnics. No spreading out with blankets to read.

        Every day, my dog stares mournfully at the squirrels prancing through the lawns on 77th and up the trees. Even if pets were only allowed at certain hours per CP’s rules, it would be an improvement.

        It’s always struck me ironic that the park bearing Teddy’s name is largely one that people can’t enjoy.

        But yeah. Gilder Center. Such an obvious ploy for a swanky soiree center a la the Guggenheim lobby. Nice try, AKRF.

      • John says:

        I appreciate the thoughtful comment.

        I ultimately believe that sacrificing a very small portion of the park for this project is well worthwhile. There will still be plenty of park space to enjoy all the things you love. This is a case where we can largely have our cake and eat it too.

        If the end result is to bring “way more people” into the museum, as you claim, that seems to be proof-positive that the addition is valued by the public. If increased visitors generate more interest in science, so much the better. If the project generates more revenue for the museum, that isn’t exactly a bad thing either.

      • Jay says:

        We aren’t losing anything because of this addition. The new addition is going over a concrete pad that I rarely see used other than some kids sitting on a bench while their group gets checked in.

        The museum has expanded before because it’s a great resource to the community and the city. The NIMBYs present at these meetings would have protested the new Rose Center simply because they’d prefer the UWS to be a museum in itself. Change is scary for the old folks. I understand, but you are doing the future a disservice.

        • Terry says:

          Not true. We are losing seven tall, healthy, beautiful oaks and the cool shady tree canopy. This is NOT just “a concrete pad”– The new building will cover a stretch of lawn with trees and plantings on the right side, an area with two magnificent oaks and greenery in front of the Weston Pavilion entrance, and a lovely triangular garden separating the walkway. None of this is seen in the misleading photo above. We treasure the tall shade trees, pretty flowers and plantings, and quiet neighborhood green space and don’t want to lose them.

    6. JP says:

      I am a UWS resident, under 40 and not white. And I am very much against this expansion plan. There is a reason that the Museum has been keeping these plans and hearings as quiet as possible – they know that if the public gets full and transparent information on what is planned and the consequences then the force of opposition will be overwhelming. It has been up to the neighborhood residents to publicize the Museum’s plans to the neighborhood and city. The Museum does NOT own the parkland upon which it intends to construct nor will its expansion be created primarily for educational purposes. It will be an event space. And this project will be funded largely with our taxpayer money. Once you lose parkland, you do NOT get it back.

    7. Wendy says:

      I was just at a get-together with one of the UWS’s elected officials, who told me that building this addition will allow the two sides of the museum to connect, which would be a huge improvement to the museum. Right now you have to walk all the way around to get to the hall of gems, for example. The outside area affected is somewhat small and not really utilized at the moment. The construction would take 3 years. which is really the most inconvenient thing about the project. If, as a quid pro quo, they would allow residents of 10024 to enter the museum free, like the Museum of the City of New York does with its neighborhood, that would be a good tradeoff imho.

      • UWSmom says:

        All I can say is that if they are touting this as a way to get to the hall of gems faster, heaven help us. That hall, like many of the exhibuts but even more so, is a disaster. Run down and crummy. And it is really not that difficult to get there, you see many things on the way, and any challenges getting there are good for crowd control and good because that hall is a shabby embarassment. The museum has not demonstrated that they can adequately maintain or run their current space. And they have a lot of unutilized and underutilized space. I am for progress and under 50 and a parent. I use Teddy Roosevelt Park regularly. I would be happy to endorse an expansion if I thought it would help the museum and the communuty. But it will not. It merely rewards the museum for poor management. There is an old saying, don’t put gold buttons on a torn coat. The museum needs to show that it can run something well before they take on more than they already cannot handle. They should knock down some interior walls if they want to improve flow, not add to the disjointed chaos.

        Sweetening the pot with free admission for 10024 seems foolish. We are long term museum members and the museum needs the money, and anyone in NYC can get in free by joining with an NYCID.

      • Jens says:

        So spend the money on an internal redesign. Just the gigantic hallway off the existing Columbus Ave entrance is completely useless and absolutely absurd.

    8. Bob Lamm says:

      Whether one supports or opposes the museum’s expansion plan, the ageism expressed in certain comments is ugly. Ageism is bigotry, whether the ageism of older people toward younger people or vice versa.

    9. Regina Karp says:

      The American Museum of Natural History is on the wrong side of history regarding their effort to grab public green space. Shame on an institution that purports to care about the environment.

    10. Dr. Cary Goodman says:

      The museum’s toxic plan has been resoundingly rejected by our community, yet our public officials refuse to listen. They don’t bother to attend or even send representatives to official, public hearings. The Republicans aren’t the only ones behaving covertly. Our local Done Deal Democrats hatched this expansion plan in private at the behest of museum lobbyists. The best way to get rid of it, is to elect a new Council member who is pledged to freeze the funding for this proposal. Neither the incumbent, nor the former community board chair have come out against this perfidy. If elected, I pledge to cut off funding and claw back our taxes to defeat this land grab.

      • Jay says:

        I hope there aren’t too many people wasting their money giving to your campaign, or whatever you call it.

        • Jens says:

          840 acres overrun by a density of tourists never seen before. And there is toxic waste down there.

    11. PT says:

      Get a LIFE. In a few years no one will remember what the park looked like before the new building went up, as I have mentioned before there is 840 acres of park across the street.
      Bottom line it is just a tiny park of the park that will be built on.

      • Billy says:

        LOL! That what I just said – Good for you

      • Laura says:

        This is the ultimate slippery slope. So a “tiny part” of the park is built on now, what about when the museum decides they need to expand further? Allowing this project to proceed gives the AMNH carte blanche to build bigger and bigger and sends a message to other institutions and developers that NYC’s public parks are up for grabs.

    12. Jens says:

      They are forecasting years of construction. The main entrance is being mived to Columbus Ave. Goodbye greenamrket or being able to walk or ait in the Columbus Avenue side. They are also forecasting 15,000 more visitors a week or 750,000 mote per year. That is a significant bruise to quality of life on the Upper West Side. This “educational” center could have been placed anywhere. But some big ego needs his name splat in the middle of the existing museum. Your tax dollars at work supporting his ego and tax write off.