Museum of the City of New York

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designing tomorrow bookDesigning Tomorrow: America’s World’s Fairs of the 1930s at the Museum of the City of New York is an exhibition about yesterday’s visions of the future.  Through the lens of six fairs, Chicago (1933/34), San Diego (1935/36), Dallas (1936), Cleveland (1936/37), San Francisco (1939/40), and New York (1939/40), we see what depression-era Americans imagined their nation would look like in the years to come, when financial hardships were overcome and prosperity once again reigned over our land.

Many of these dreams became realities, the spread of highways leading to outward suburban sprawl as well as the upward reach of skyscrapers that allowed Americans to live and work in the sky.  Modern conveniences such has toasters, washing machines, and televisions, introduced at the fairs, became everyday household items.  This exhibition, which originated at the National Building Museum in Washington DC, shows an optimism at odds with the general tone of its era but is characteristic of the ambition Americans have shown in hard times. Read the rest of this entry »

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New York Bound Books highly recommends a visit to see the exhibition, The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan, 1811-2011, at The Museum of the City of New York before it closes on July 15th.  We also enthusiastically recommend the authoritative and handsome companion book to the exhibit, The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan, 1811-2011 edited by Hillary Ballon, the show’s curator, and published by the Museum of the City of New York and Columbia University Press.

New York’s City Hall officially opened in 1812, elegantly clad in marble, except for the rear of the building, which was finished in brown sandstone. This was  the architects’ response to complaints of extravagance.  City Hall was then situated at the northern end of the city, and  Manhattan’s meteoric growth northward was not forseen.

New York’s Common Council (now called the City Council), however, had the foresight to appoint three commissioners to oversee the development of a rectangular grid of numbered streets and avenues that reached to 155th Street.  The MCNY exhibition and book tell the story of this spectacular and ambitious plan as it unfolded over two centuries.


The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan, 1811-2011
at the Museum of the City of New York December 6, 2011 through July 15, 2012

The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan, 1811-2011 edited by Hilary Ballon, published by the Museum of the City of New York and Columbia University Press, 2011.


Read The New York Times review of the exhibition here.

Read The Bowery Boys review of the exhibition and companion book here.

The Greatest Grid curator speaks about the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811:

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Cecil Beaton's New York, published in 1938

More incomplete than any other book on New York, here you will find nothing of history, economics, politics or religion. I have not tried to draw the Chrysler Building or to photograph the President. . . .This is more a catalogue of impressions, mostly visual, of a place that I know little about. . . .You may find mistakes here, in fact the pages may be crammed with howlers, but like any one of the quadrillions of visitors to New York, my point of view, just because it is individual, may be of interest to someone.

—Cecil Beaton, from the Preface to Cecil Beaton’s New York


Cecil Beaton (1904–1980), well known to all as a fashion and society photographer, costume and set designer, catty diarist, and social climber, is being remembered in an exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York entitled, “Cecil Beaton: The New York Years,” that runs through February 20, 2012.  The accompanying exhibition catalog of the same name, ­Cecil Beaton: The New York Years (­Museum of the City of New York/Skira/­Rizzoli, $65), features a selection of the photographs he took in New York, along with some of his designs, sketches, and caricatures.  This lavishly illustrated coffee table book reminds us what a brilliant and talented aestheticist Beaton was, the likes of whom we may never see again. Read the rest of this entry »

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The interior of Bowne & Co. Stationers at The Seaport Museum (photo: The Tribeca Trib)

The Seaport Museum, which has been closed since February, has shown its first visible hint of coming back to life after the Museum of the City of New York took over its administration with help from a $2 million grant from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.  According to the Tribeca Trib, Bowne & Co, Stationers, the nineteenth century print shop that has long been part of the Seaport Museum’s building, will reopen and will have its presses up and running and printing cards in time for the Christmas shopping season.  This sign of life has given New York history buffs and maritime enthusiasts a glimmer of hope that the Seaport and its museum will enjoy a rebirth in the coming year after a long period of decline.

For more information on the history of the South Street Seaport, see Richard C. McKay’s South Street: A Maritime History of New York. Riverside, CT: 7 C’s Press, 1969.

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