Are you an old hand when it comes to New York? If so, then you may have already visited MoMA, the Met, the Natural History museum and the rest. Admittedly you could visit these temples of art and culture every week for the rest of your life and still not work your way through the hundreds of thousands of artefacts on display. But if you’re looking for a different and more intimate NYC museum experience, the five below are definitely worth a look…
The Skyscraper Museum
Lower Manhattan’s Skyscraper Museum explores New York’s complex architectural history and examines skyscrapers as “objects of design, products of technology, sites of construction, investments in real estate and places of work and residence”. The only museum of its kind in the world, the exhibition areas feature plenty of glass, stainless steel and mirrors in order to give visitors the feeling of standing many storeys above the streets below. Catch the current MILLENNIUM: Lower Manhattan in the 1990s exhibition while you still can – its long run will come to an end this month. Permanent exhibits include two fascinating mini-Manhattans; highly detailed, hand-carved wooden replica models of Midtown and Downtown, made by an amateur model maker from Arizona before he had even visited the city – and The Rebuilding of Ground Zero, a display of plans and 10ft scale model of the first proposed design for the Freedom Tower.
The Skyscraper Museum, 39 Battery Place, New York. Open from 12 – 6pm, Weds- Sun.
Gracie Mansion – otherwise known as “The People’s House” – is the official residence of the Mayor of New York, which at various times over the years has been an ice-cream parlour, a country estate, classrooms and even a public loo, though it’s now only used for official city business.
Tours of the mansion are available and last just 45 minutes, but an amazing amount of history is imparted by the knowledgeable guides in this time, including a great insight into the renovated 19th century interiors. Rooms are richly decorated with sumptuous fabrics and bold colours, including a turquoise library and patented mustard-yellow in the parlour, and are stacked with chandeliers, candelabras, mantels, mirrors, scenic painted wallpapers and examples of early American furniture. The tall windows of the grand upstairs bedrooms offer sweeping views of Hell Gate – a tidal strait in the East River – over to Queens.
Gracie Mansion, East End Avenue at 88th Street, New York. Tours are available most Mondays. Reservations are required in advance.
New York Transit Museum
The New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn Heights is housed in an old 1936 subway station and is the largest museum of transit history in the United States. A great place for kids and transport geeks alike, the museum features a refurbished 1960s “Fishbowl” bus cab and a simulated traffic intersection complete with “street furniture” including parking meters, fire hydrants, traffic lights and co-ordinated Walk/Don’t Walk signs. Best of all though is the chance to creep through the 19 restored subway cars backed up down the tunnels, from the 1980, 70s, 60s and earlier, complete with original lighting and ceiling fans, and advertisements, maps, typography and signage from the times.
Visit the museum store for some great subway-themed souvenirs to bring home, including vintage maps and posters, or even a subway map poncho.
New York Transit Museum, corner of Boerum Place and Schermerhorn Street, Brooklyn Heights, New York.
The Museum at FIT
The self-proclaimed ‘Most Fashionable Museum in New York’, Museum at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) houses a permanent collection of more than 50,000 garments and accessories dating from the 18th century to the present day, though the emphasis is mainly on the contemporary and the avant-garde. It’s probably best known, however, for its ambitious and award-winning special exhibitions like the Japan Fashion Now, Eco-Fashion: Going Green and Gothic: Dark Glamour shows of recent years.
This season’s much-discussed exhibition – The Body: Fashion and Physique – comes to an end on 5 May, so get there soon to explore how the fashion industry has historically treated the female form, seeing it as a flexible entity that can be made to fit the prevailing trends of the time, whether squeezing it into narrow boned corsets or emphasising proportions with bustles and hooped skirts. Best of all, the museum is completely free.
Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Seventh Ave at 27th Street, NYC. Closed Sundays, Mondays and holidays.
Museum at Eldridge Street
Head down to the Lower East Side for a fascinating flavour of the lives of early Eastern European Jewish immigrants at the Museum at Eldridge Street, a restored Moorish Revival synagogue that now operates both as a place of worship and a museum focusing on American Jewish history and the story of the Lower East Side. After the second world war many people fled the city for suburban life, the synagogue began to lose its congregation, and it soon fell into serious disrepair. By the time renovation started in the late 1980s it was only fit for pigeons, but twenty years later in 2007, after $20 million worth of meticulous restoration, the synagogue re-opened and received nearly every major preservation award going. Described as ‘gasp-inducing’ by the New York Times, highlights include the hand-painted ceiling decorations and magnificent stained glass windows.
Museum at Eldridge Street, 12 Eldridge Street, New York. Open Sun––Thurs 10am – 5pm and Fridays from 10am––3pm, though check the website as sometimes special events necessitate early closures.
Virgin Atlantic operates daily flights to New York from London Heathrow.