Museum of the City of New York Collection on Culture and Entertainment, 1817-2002 (bulk 1817-1920)

Extent: 2 boxes
The Museum of the City of New York Collection on Culture and Entertainment contains materials related to New York City’s museums, theaters, lectures, and special events between the years of 1817 and 2002.

Historical Note
New York City has always been a significant center for culture and entertainment. The museum and theater culture dates back to the late 1700s and early 1800s. New York City’s institutions have served as a vital center for discussion and commentary on music, film, theater, dance, and history. The number, variety, and quality of museums and theaters in New York City has identified the city as a cultural capitol in the United States.

New York City’s first museum was the Tammany Museum, open in 1790, which later became the American Museum. Academies often housed collections, one of the first opened in 1802 was the American Academy of Fine Arts. Pre-Civil War, the city had many “dime” museums, they provided patrons with entertainment and curiosities. The public began to associate all museums with the showmanship and theatrics of these “dime” museums. In 1844, New York Gallery of Fine Arts stood as an example of the rigorous standards of a true exhibition of fine arts. Soon after New York City galleries began to rival those of Europe. Most of the city’s museums were established by industrialists who gained their fortunes from the Civil War. During the first decades of the 20th century many wealthy patrons made large bequests to form and maintain museums.

New York City’s theater history starts with the humble roots of amateur theater during colonial times. Since then it has become one of the city’s most recognizable and important institutions. Notable institutions in the collection are Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Opera House, and Chickering Hall.

Scope and Content
The Museum of the City of New York’s Collection on Culture and Entertainment consists of a variety of materials spanning from 1817 to 2002 and relating to New York City’s museum exhibitions and events, musical theatre and park performances, and lectures. The collection features varying institutions, collections, performances, and educational topics. The main format of material in the collection are invitations, tickets, programs, newspaper clippings, and personal correspondences. The collection includes materials related to exhibitions, concerts, plays, operas, lectures, performances, films and venue openings. Several institutions feature prominently in the collection:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art was formed in 1870 by members of the Union League Club, including John Jay, William Cullen Bryant (poet), William T. Blodgett, Joseph H. Choate (lawyer), John Taylor Johnston (railroad executive), Henry W. Bellows, John Frederick Kensett (painter) and Worthington Whittridge (painter). In 1907, railroad magnate Jacob S. Rogers left five million to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, making it the wealthiest museum in the world at the time. Since its inception the Metropolitan Museum of Art has grown to be the largest and most comprehensive art museums in the United States and one of the most visited museums in the world.

Carnegie Hall
Carnegie Hall, the most famous concert hall in America, officially opened in 1891. Built by Andrew Carnegie it was acclaimed for its superior acoustics, sightlines, and intimate ambiance. The principle tenant from 1892-1961 was the Philharmonic Society of New York, later known as New York Philharmonic. During the first century of Carnegie Hall’s history it held more than fifty thousand musical and nonmusical events. Carnegie retained ownership until his death; his wife, Louise Whitfield then sold the hall to Robert E. Simon in 1924. In 1960, Carnegie Hall was scheduled for demolition, but saved by a collation of musicians, politicians, and civic figures led by Isaac Stern (violinist). It was bought by the City of New York in 1960 and became a national landmark in 1964.

The Metropolitan Opera House
The Metropolitan Opera House was built in 1883 when wealthy residents of New York City were unable to acquire boxes at the Academy of Music. It is home to the Metropolitan Opera. Broadening its audience, the Metropolitan Opera House began their first regular radio broadcast of performances in 1931. Continuing these radio and eventually television broadcast, lifted their reputation and visibility allowing the Metropolitan Opera House to remain the dominant classical music organization in United States and one of the most in the world.

Chickering Hall
In 1875, Chickering Hall was opened by piano makers Chickering & Sons in to Steinway Hall. Chickering Hall became well known after Hans von Bülow played a series piano recitals the opening year. As people moved uptown the hall lost its patrons and in 1893 the building was remodeled into retail stores.

Series I: Museums & Exhibitions
Series II: Theatres & Performances
Series III: Lectures & Entertainments

Click here to view the complete finding aid for the Collection on Culture and Entertainment

Related Collections
Museum of the City of New York Collection on Theaters

The Museum is grateful for the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities; this collection was reprocessed as part of the NEH project Illuminating New York City History through Material Culture: A Proposal to Process, Catalog, Digitize, and Rehouse the Ephemera Collections of the Museum of the City of New York. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this finding aid do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.