An Emotional Goodbye to the Hall of Gems; ‘A Lot of People Seemed to Be in Mourning for the Space’

For 40 years, the mineral and gem hall at the Museum of Natural History was a dark, calm refuge for families worn out from a day of yelling at dinosaurs. Since the museum announced it would close for a full renovation, it’s been making a lot of New Yorkers nostalgic, and even teary-eyed. Someone even wrote “We Will Miss This Place” on one of the poles in the hall. The halls closed for good last week.

Writer Lucy Boyle interviewed people about their connection to the hall in New York Magazine’s The Cut. She said the Harry Frank Guggenheim Hall of Minerals and the Morgan Memorial Gem Hall were “the hushed temples of many a New York childhood, including my own.”

“The reason I’ve always loved the Hall of Gems so much is because as far as public spaces in New York go, it really catered to sensitive people,” said Scotlan Goldbeck, who took refuge in the Hall during a difficult time in high school and had her first date with her husband there. “The city is so loud and intense and this was a reprieve from that.”…

“As a kid, you’d go to all these other spaces in the museum and get sensory overload, but then end your trip in this quiet mysterious place where you’d come down after the blue whale high,” said Amy Boyle, my sister, now a museum educator with whom I spent many Sundays at the Natural History Museum guided by our father, who had a special fondness for the Hall…

Visiting on the Hall’s last day on Wednesday, my sister found the atmosphere of the Hall was less like a science exhibit than a wake. “A lot of people seemed to be in mourning for the space, lost in their own memories,” she said…

One lifelong New Yorker in her 30s had a similar moment in her final pilgrimage. “My mother used to take me to the gem room every day after nursery school, and its serene vitrines and carpeted embrace are intertwined with my memory of her,” she told me. She ended up going back twice before it closed, changing travel plans to return…

Read the whole thing here.

Some people even started a petition to try to get the museum to cancel the renovation.

Those of us who grew up visiting it have had the enormous pleasure of sharing it with our children, and the space has made such a stronger impression on them than any sleeker, higher-tech display could possibly do—in other words, this is not only a matter of nostalgia for our generation but of preserving a truly unique space in a city that has sacrificed far too many of them.

Below are some photos of people in the hall shortly before it closed last week. It’s set to reopen in 2019 with a new design that Boyle compares to a bright “Apple-store-like gallery.”

So long, friend #hallofgems #minerals #amnh #williampederson #geode #newyorkcity #rip

A post shared by Coco (@coco_goodbyenewyork) on

#hallofminerals #hallofgems #museumofnaturalhistory #savenyc #design #curbed

A post shared by Sara Moss (@theparticular) on

Gonna miss this amazing place! #amnh #1970s #hallofgemsandminerals #hallofgems #staircase #rocks #vanishingnyc #70s #americanmuseumofnaturalhistory #ehdsquad @emilyhsudesigns #emilyhsudesigns #1976 #endofanera

A post shared by Lorinne Lampert (@lorinnelampert) on

paying my respects to one of the sacred nyc places. closing this week and will be completely gutted (same here). #hallofgems #gutted

A post shared by emilyn brodsky (@emilynbrodsky) on

Final day in the hall of the gems at AMNH..happiest place on earth. You will be missed 😪😢. #amnh #hallofgems #sadgoodbyes

A post shared by cats 🔮crystals (@cats_and_crystals) on

Top photo via AMNH.

HISTORY, NEWS | 13 comments | permalink
    1. Judy Harris says:

      The dinosaur hall used to be a magic place of darkness with a few amazing skeletons looming over you, now it’s a horror of bright lights with so many things to look at you can’t focus on any of them, with people blocking your every view. I have no hope that the change to the gems gallery will be for the better.

    2. ST says:

      Didn’t know the evil museum got the goahead to renovate already. Just like every other real estate deal now. The fix is in.

    3. PedestrianJustice says:

      We must never take our neighborhood treasures for granite.

    4. Wendy says:

      Oh,, I’ll miss that Gallery. n.b. Whittier College, in CA – the geol. Professor guy would say “hysterical” geol. instead of ‘historical” sometimes. There’s a children’s book I might remember soon, @ a young Woman in England — who made some discoveries @ fossils. Did she, NOT “Miss Rumphius” thwack a Crocodile on the snout ? Both books have almost WHIMSICAL illustrations. n.b.BBC world service on similar topics : geology….Too many flashing camera lights; &, NOISY Children in MNH of N.Y.C. recently. I miss some of the V &A Museum, &, the Natural History Museum in London, Enng.. May be a HUGE crystal thing in the latter museum, now.

    5. Cat says:

      I’m not really affected one way or another by this, but does this mean that the renovated museum will not have a ‘hall of gems,’ or is everyone just mourning this version of it?

      • Kat French says:

        Read the article. It’s being renovated.

      • Dale says:

        It is being renovated since it was in desperate need of repair and it was also a dead end and didn’t flow back into the museum. That will also change.

        • Cat says:

          Thanks for the info! I wasn’t a big fan of the dark room, but I forgot about the flow issue. I’m sure anything will be an improvement.

    6. Kat French says:

      I took in a last visit, too, and I appreciate the calm oasis of the present exhibit. However, it is SO inaccessible. All the steps — added for architectural interest? — make it impossible for those with mobility issues (or strollers) to enjoy. While I cringe at the idea of an “Apple-store-like-gallery,” at least that will be available to all museum visitors.

    7. Tony says:

      I’m so glad that the previous renovation (a long time ago) wasn’t viewed as a loss and that this one will end us up in a better place.

    8. Patricia Gilman says:

      It is closed for renovation. It will reopen in 2019. You have the wrong info.

    9. Hugh Smyser says:

      A fundamental rule for institutional decisions should be “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Turning the gem room bright, light and Apple-y is a desecration, like turning the old Penn Station into the new one. It’s a micro version of a very bad decision for a public space.