Opening June 12th: The Newly Renovated Halls of Gems and Minerals at the American Museum of Natural History

The Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals.

By Carol Tannenhauser

The path to the newly renovated Allison and Roberto Mignone Halls of Gems and Minerals at the American Museum of Natural History starts with a pair of skeletons and leads past skulls and brains and chimpanzees and prehistoric humans and meteors.

The day of the press preview was dreary, making the entry into the new halls all the more spectacular — that and the fact that the more than 5,000 objects from 95 countries on display have all been newly cleaned and were positively glittering. It felt like a major signal of New York City’s return. Someone likened the halls before the three-year renovation to a cave, where one felt like a miner. Many people loved the feeling of being sheltered in a place full of quiet discoveries.

In the new version, one has arrived at what another called “the world’s jewelry box,” where material and educational riches abound.

“The Star of India is a 563.35-carat (112.67 g) star sapphire, one of the largest such gems in the world. It is almost flawless and is unusual in that it has stars on both sides of the stone.”

Interestingly, you can see the stones we use for so many purposes, from personal adornment to kitchen counters, in their natural contexts: how they were formed and found. Once you get the hang of the system, the halls are like a classroom, accomplishing what curator George E. Harlow told WSR he hoped they would, “I want people to enjoy what they see, but also to know more when they come out than when they went in.”

Roberto and Allison Mignone.

Roberto Mignone, half of the couple for whom the halls are named, said their gift to the museum, which made the renovation possible, was a way of saying thank you for the gifts the museum gave him, many years ago.

“Before I was a trustee here, before a career in finance, before a privileged education, I was a New York City kid whose father had immigrated from Italy at about the age of 30, living in a studio apartment with three kids,” Mr. Mignone said. “And my mom, every day would walk the three kids from Hell’s Kitchen up here to the museum to get us out of that studio apartment. I’m extremely lucky that I had a mother who provided educational opportunities for us. And this has gone on for 150 years at the museum. I’m one of millions of New York City kids, who have had that experience, and this is my chance to say thank you.”

The Halls of Gems and Minerals are opening to the public on June 12th. There will be member previews. For the first time, there is a smaller gallery off of the halls showing special, temporary exhibitions. For more information on ticketing and COVID-19 guidelines for visiting the museum, click here.

“We’ll meet again in two-and-a-half years…”

Insider’s note: Behind that red sparkly object, where Allison Mignone is standing, will one day be an entrance to the currently-under-construction Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation, which will hopefully be finished by late 2022.

ART, NEWS | 12 comments | permalink
    1. Anna says:

      There was a moving Westside Rag article about this back on 11/6/17. We’ve traded the magic cave for an Apple store.
      I miss the AMNH I grew up with so much. It was a refuge and a place of wonder. The many small-scale free (FREE!) weekend events featuring dancers, musicians, atrtists, puppeteers, lecturers, the evening hours when you could explore the museum without big tourist or school group crowds.

      • William Smelnick says:

        The Apple store is efficient with its space. AMNH isn’t. That’s why they have taken our park. Maybe now that we are post-pandemic someone will point out what an outrage it is to be taking public parks, especially for a vanity project by a natural history museum.

        • D3 teacher says:

          I’m a middle school teacher who has taken many field trips to the museum. Their classroom space is woefully small, and to do the really great lab programs they offer you need to spread the students out over several days. Even then they are usually crammed onto lab tables in groups that are too large for the space. I’m sorry for the lost park space, which I enjoyed as a neighborhood resident, but I am thrilled that the museum will be able to offer more opportunities for my students and other New York kids.

        • Rob G. says:

          They have not “taken our park.” They have expanded our museum. Perhaps you didn’t notice that there is still a park there. Anyway, maybe now that we are post-pandemic someone will point out what an outrage it was to waste so much time and effort opposing something that will benefit not only our neighborhood, but the entire city.

    2. Teddy R says:

      Ugh, they ruined it.

    3. Kim says:

      I raised 4 kids in NYC. We spent a lot of time at the Natural History Museum and one of their favorite places to go was the Hall of Gems and Minerals. It was a place to explore and play in a space that was entirely carpeted and safe yet had places for kids to roam the various spaces and discover new things. It was a warm inviting space. Now? It looks like any other part of the museum and truly just like the Apple Store or a Macy’s Make Up section with the lighting and tiled floors. Sad. Something was lost when they did this.

      • D says:

        I agree. i was hoping some of that would remain. it was def more interactive and fun w the stadium seats and ambience

      • Uncle Leo says:

        “It was a warm inviting space.”

        If by warm and inviting you mean it was a dank, dark, wildly out of date exhibit hall, then yes.

        “It was a place to explore and play…”

        You’re absolutely right here, kids sliding down large rock specimens like a playground was routine in the old hall. Never ceased to amaze me the parents that allow children to treat a Museum like a jungle gym.

        What’s with this bizarre Apple Store comparison? Stop the groupthink. 1960’s brown carpeted walls are not acceptable for a world renowned Museum.

    4. Bronx cheer says:

      Another vote for the quirky older version; down with turning it into Macy’s ground floor.

    5. Burtnor says:

      Thank you, 3D Teacher, Rob G, and Uncle Leo.

      The renovation a great gift to NYC, as is the ANHM in general. All this ridiculous grousing/trolling is unbecoming in residents of a world class city.

    6. Burtnor says:

      Sorry – typo. Meant AMNH.

    7. SK says:

      Things change. Complaining won’t bring things back to the way they used to be, which were outdated by comparison to the many more spectacular halls of minerals at a number of university museums I’ve visited. This is NYC so the museum recognized and upgraded an area that was clearly in need of renovation. Being professional educators, I’m sure they took into consideration having the space for children to roam and investigate the exhibits.