Director's Welcome

It is our pleasure to welcome you to the Museum of the City of New York, the premier institution devoted to the history and culture of all five boroughs of this great city. Whether you visit us at our landmark home at 1220 Fifth Avenue or online at www.mcny.org, you will gain new insights into this most beloved city, where its heritage of diversity, opportunity, and perpetual transformation is always on display.

The Museum of the City of New York was founded in 1923, and charged with “consideration of all things New York.” The young institution began collecting immediately, and its first location was Gracie Mansion, now the official home of the Mayor of the City of New York. The young museum found this building to be too far from the developing center of the city, and eventually a vacant city-owned lot was found on Fifth Avenue between 103rd and 104th Streets. In January of 1929, Mayor Jimmy Walker laid the cornerstone and construction commenced with funding coming from many private citizens. The stock market collapsed in September of that year, causing the Museum to scale back on the size of the building (and thus allowing room for expansion in 2008). The effort was led by James Speyer, who remained as President of the Board of Trustees until the 1940s.

Early on, the Museum began its collections of theater artifacts, furniture and decorative arts, prints, toys, and paintings and sculpture, and importantly, the Museum was the first collecting institution to acquire photographs. As a consequence, the City Museum has a particularly rich collection of the work of Jacob Riis, Samuel H. Gottscho, the Wurts Brothers, the Byron Company, and Berenice Abbott.

In the first decade of this century, the City Museum undertook its first thorough renovation and expansion, including specialized climate control for galleries and collection storage areas. A capital project of $95 million was launched in 2005, with construction phased so that the Museum would remain open throughout. Utilizing the back lot left undeveloped in 1929, the Museum first added a three-level structure, with the lower floors devoted to collections storage and the top level a brand new gallery—the James G. Dinan and Elizabeth R. Miller Gallery. Next was the completion of work on the south wing of the building, and now in 2013 is the last, two-year construction project that will redo the north wing. Two Chairmen of the Board of Trustees have led this effort—Newton P.S. Merrill and James G. Dinan. With this renovation, the City Museum benefitted from public support in the amount of $64.6 million from the Bloomberg administration, the City Council and the Manhattan Borough President; private support, and particularly from trustees provided $26.8 million.

The City Museum has collections containing many pieces of art, yet we are not an art museum. Early on, the Museum sought to be “more than a window to the past,” and that guiding spirit continues today, with a schedule of exhibitions that embrace the past and the present of this great city and looks to the future. Our collections serve as a hugely rich resource for exhibitions ranging from Amsterdam/New Amsterdam: The Worlds of Henry Hudson, to The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan, 1811-2011 and Growing and Greening New York: PlaNYC and the Future of the City.

A cornerstone of the mission in 1923 was the education of school children, and today the Frederick A.O. Schwarz Children’s Center serves over 40,000 students a year, the majority through field trips to the museum for hands-on activities.

I encourage you to explore every aspect of this website, including our Museum Shop, MCNY Images, and the Collections Portal. And, we would love to welcome you at 1220 Fifth Avenue. And do consider becoming a member—you don’t have to be a current New Yorker living in one of the five boroughs, you can just be a New Yorker in spirit.

Susan Henshaw Jones
Ronay Menschel Director
Museum of the City of New York