Tales of the City

Elisa Lichtenbaum | April 28, 2017

Preview Treasures of New York: Museum of the City of New York, airing Sunday, May 7 at 7pm on THIRTEEN (May 4 at 8pm on WLIW21).

Treasures of New York: The Museum of the City of New York

From its perch near the top of Museum Mile on Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street, the Museum of the City of New York has maintained a single goal since its founding in 1923: to display and celebrate New York City’s past, present, and future. As it approaches its centennial, the Museum has developed into one of the city’s most vibrant cultural institutions. And with its new permanent exhibit, New York at Its Core, showcasing 400 years of New York City history, the Museum inspires visitors to reconnect to the city’s storied past and envision its future.

Treasures of New York: Museum of the City of New York, premiering this month on THIRTEEN, explores the fascinating history of this metropolitan marvel, from its first days operating out of Gracie Mansion to the opening of its ambitious new exhibit in November 2016.

Tales of the City

Mulberry St., Manhattan, ca. 1900

Mulberry St., Manhattan, ca. 1900. Credit: Photo by Detroit Publishing Co., Lib. of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

A world of wonders awaits people who visit the Museum of the City of New York. It holds 750,000 objects, including a 19th century Stettheimer dollhouse, 300 lithographs by Currier and Ives, artifacts from the city’s police and fire departments, and an extensive collection of photographs, costumes, paintings, sculptures, and toys. A wide variety of exhibits brings the city’s rich history to life – from the history of social activism in New York City (Activist New York) to the extravagant fashions of the city’s elite in the late 19th century (Gilded New York).

New York at Its Core is the Museum’s largest endeavor yet. Occupying three galleries, 8,000 square feet, and the entire first floor of the Museum, it follows the story of the city’s rise from a striving Dutch Village to today’s “Capital of the World.” Framed around the key themes of money, density, diversity, and creativity, New York City’s history and future come alive through the stories of innovation, energy, struggle, and the vision of generations of immigrants, politicians, tycoons, dreamers, master builders, and ordinary New Yorkers.

“One of the central goals of the exhibition is to highlight the people who made New York City history happen,” says Sarah Henry, the Museum’s Deputy Director & Chief Curator.

Some of these history makers include Helen Jewett, a prostitute whose murder bolstered the newspaper industry; Emily Roebling, overlooked builder of the Brooklyn Bridge; Wong Chin Foo, founder of the Chinese American Press; and an unidentified slave who escaped his owners, the Livingston Family — one of the thousands of fugitive slaves who bolstered New York’s economy in the 1770s.

Historical objects displayed in the exhibition also shed light on the city’s history. Chris Piazza, a Brooklyn-based artist and Restoration Specialist, shares insights on the iconic object she has restored for the exhibit: a miniature chandelier Audrey Hepburn eyed in the classic opening scene of the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

“This little chandelier sums up so much about mid-century New York,” she enthuses. “It sums up its glamour and its beauty, Fifth Avenue — the center of Manhattan whimsy and the burgeoning art world at the time – and the post-war enthusiasm.”

While dusting off artifacts from the city’s past, the Museum also looks to the future, incorporating cutting-edge technology into the exhibits. A team of digital innovators from the design group Local Projects develops high tech elements, such as touch screens that allow museumgoers to interact with the stories directly. And in Gallery Three of New York at Its Core — the high-tech interactive Future City Lab — visitors can dream up their own cityscapes and see them come to life on a 20-foot screen.

“We really want our visitors who come to see New York at Its Core to deepen their understanding of New York,” says Sarah Henry. “It’s a celebration, but it’s also really an investigation about that undefinable thing: what makes New York New York?”

More Treasures of New York

Are you a New York City know-it-all? Test your history IQ with this quiz based on items from the Museum of the City of New York’s “Core” exhibition. Visit thirteen.org/treasures to watch current and past episodes anytime.