This is how the museum describes itself, and frankly, I can’t say it better. What drew me to the museum was an exhibit called Glamour, New York Style. The museum has an extensive collection of garments relating to New Yorkers. Most of the items in this exhibit were from the Museum's own collection. It was all displayed in one room, but what a room it was. From a dress worn at a dance celebrating George Washington’s inauguration to Marion Anderson’s golden Schiaparelli gown, this is a collection designed to dazzle.
Now, as wonderful as this temporary exhibit was, there is so much more to see. On the lower level is an exhibit called Protect about the New York City Fire Department. Follow its history and traditions through four centuries. If you are with children or are a child at heart, New York Toy Story will bring you into the childhood of the children of New York.
On the second floor, you can visit Trade, which you enter by walking what looks and feels like a gangplank. You learn about the Port of New York from its far-distant past to its very active present. If furniture and décor is of interest, the Period Alcoves present some design ideas. They cover over 200 years of homelife in New York City.
What museum on New York City would be complete without an exhibit on Broadway. In Perform, you will be introduced to the performers in the front, as well as the background. Where would the performers be without the costume designers? See the different stages of their art, from concept to the finished product. This was the 13-year-old's favorite exhibit.
My favorite exhibit, however, after the costumes was the Rockefeller Rooms. These rooms, transplanted from the John D. Rockefeller Mansion, are outstanding. You really feel as if you have entered the mansion and are looking through the doors into the rooms. Not in this century, however; this is the opulence of the Victorian era, as they date from 1881.
The gift store has an eclectic mix of items. You can get a two-for-one entrance with a copy of the Museum Magazine. The Fifth Avenue bus going back downtown also stops right out front of the museum. Allow at least two hours for this museum.
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March 8, 2006
--A history of how the city has been lighted, including a small room with shifting light levels demonstrating the difference between candlelight, gaslight, early electricity, and contemporary electricity, as well as a section on the technology of theatrical lighting
--An exhibit on current Broadway shows, including filmed interviews with aspiring actors, props and costumes from various shows, and some insight into how shows get produced
--An exhibit of beautiful photographs of skyscrapers
--A biographical exhibit on former mayor Ed Koch, which focused on how the city's economy turned around over the course of the 1980s.
These exhibits were for the most part fairly small, consisting of one or two rooms, but they were well done, offering a surprising amount of insight into the topic. We went to the museum with several friends, including two kids, ages 8 and 12, and everyone found something genuinely interesting.
The permanent collection is less geared towards photographs and more geared towards stuff. There's an old-fashioned fire engine in the basement, and a beautiful, lavish Edwardian doll's house on the third floor, along with a small but dense exhibit of old toys. There are also several period rooms, ranging from the early Dutch colonies through the turn of the century, and on the top floor of the building are the 1881 Rockefeller bedrooms.
The museum is, overall, a celebration of New York both in its subject matter and in its form: it is an eclectic, energetic, amusing place, perhaps a little too excited about itself but ultimately appealing.
From journal Tomfoolery on the Upper East Side
June 23, 2005
From journal Doing New York City My Way