Posts Tagged ‘Metropolitan Museum of Art’

When the Met’s home was West 14th Street

September 23, 2010

The stately Metropolitan Museum of Art has anchored Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street for so long, it’s hard to imagine the museum and its collections anywhere else.

Especially 14th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues—home to discount storefronts, social services agencies, and seen-better-days apartment buildings of varying styles.

But in 1873, when the Met was a mere three years old and it needed new digs following a first stint at 681 Fifth Avenue, the museum moved here, a stretch of the city that then featuring mansions and wealth.

The Met took up residence at 128 West 14th Street, in what’s referred to as the Douglas mansion. 

It didn’t last long there. By 1880, the growing museum had decamped far uptown to its present site at 1000 Fifth Avenue. Here it is in a postcard dated 1928.

And the Douglas mansion? It burned down in 1918. The Salvation Army had been leasing it as a training school; they rebuilt their headquarters on the site, and are still there today.

Brooklyn Museum, then and now

May 1, 2009

This early-1900s photograph of the Brooklyn Museum—known as the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences when construction began in 1895—shows a neo-Classic beauty of a building, looking majestic on a young Eastern Parkway (those little trees!)

And that grand staircase sure was something, rising 28 feet from street level. It was part of the original McKim, Mead & White design; the famed architectural firm also designed part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


The staircase didn’t last long. In the mid-1930s, Brooklyn Museum officials decided to make the building more “democratic” by removing it. Visitors now entered the building through ground floor doors.

brooklynmuseum2009In 2000, museum honchos wanted a grand entrance again, something that would recall the original McKim, Mead & White staircase.

This is the result, completed in 2004. People seem to either love it or hate it; there’s no in between. 

Architectural monstrosity or “Brooklyn’s new front stoop,” as the museum’s director was quoted in a 2000 New York Times article?  You decide.

A French chateau on old Fifth Avenue

April 22, 2009

In the early 1880s, W.K. Vanderbilt (grandson of Cornelius) and his wife, Alva, moved into this French Renaissance–style mansion on pristine Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street, near where various Vanderbilts had also constructed luxe gilded-age houses. 

Alva, who later became a prominent suffragist, helped architect Richard Morris Hunt (he also designed the facade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art) plan it out. She was determined to make her mark on New York’s movers and shakers.


Her efforts probably paid off. It’s a pretty impressive home.

Sold in 1926 to a real-estate developer, the mansion was demolished and replaced by—no surprise—an office building.

The Empire State Building’s airship terminal

March 23, 2009

The Empire State Building was not supposed to be just the tallest skyscraper in the world; its planners also wanted it to have a dirigible docking station at the very top. 

empirestatebuilding1 It was the late 1920s, and the grand new world of aviation was upon us. With that in mind, the idea was to have a dirigible dock at the building’s spire. Passengers would somehow disembark at the 102nd floor, where an elevator would whisk them down to the street.

But building planners forgot to factor in wind. After the Empire State Building opened in 1931, one dirigible did try to land there to test it out; it didn’t work, and the whole slightly ludicrous idea was scrapped. The spire became the dock for a broadcast tower in 1953. 

This postcard is part of the Walker Evans collection currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

When the Mona Lisa came to Manhattan

March 18, 2009

In early 1963, after a stint at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the Mona Lisa went on display at the Metropolitan Museum of New York. Below, a shot of the line outside the Met snaking down Fifth Avenue to get into the exhibit.

Accompanied across the Atlantic by a flotilla of ships, the painting had never before left The Louvre, except when it was stolen in 1911 and whisked off to Italy for a few years.


More than a million people came to the Met to view it in person before it was brought back to France in a matter of weeks. 

Where was the Third Avenue Railroad Depot?

December 4, 2008

William H. Schenck painted this lovely red-brick structure in 1860; it’s part of the Met’s Edward W.C. Arnold Collection of New York Prints, Maps, and Pictures.

But where exactly was the Third Avenue Railroad Depot? A New York Times art review from 1999 suggests it stood between 65th and 66th Streets, where the massive Manhattan House condo-in-transition has been since 1950. On the other hand, an 1881 Times article mentions a Third Avenue Railroad Depot at 130th Street. 


Wherever it stood, the depot was the site of some bizarre accidents, such as this one written up in the Times on October 19, 1871:

“Robert Bannon, thirty-five years of age, died at St. Luke’s Hospital, yesterday, by injuries he received from a roller falling on his head from the roof of the Third Avenue Railroad Depot.”

And then, on February 18, 1881:

“A serious affray occurred yesterday afternoon in the neighborhood of the Third-Avenue Railroad Depot at One Hundred and Thirtieth Street, during which one man was shot and the other was struck on the head by a stone and dangerously, if not fatally, injured.”

Yep, they were drunk at the time.