A statue of abolitionist and author Frederick Douglass stands in front of the newly-renovated New York Historical Society

*The radiant glow coming from West 77th Street on Wednesday evening, November 9, 2011, emanated from the first museum established in New York and one of the art world’s most favorite cultural institutions — the New-York Historical Society Museum and Library (N-YHS).  The celebratory event marked the grand reopening of the newly renovated landmark building on Central Park West at Richard Gilder Way which has kept art enthusiasts waiting for three years; but it was well worth the wait as the $65 million renovation of the Central Park West building has thoroughly transformed the face of the institution.  Anyone passing by the Central Park West museum can now easily glimpse the artwork in the new 3,400-square-foot front gallery embellished by two new life-size bronze figures of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass which serve as welcoming statues positioned in front of the iconic institution.

As hundreds of Reopening Evening Celebration revelers entered the two elegant glass front entranceways to N-YHS, renovated by the firm of Platt Byard Dovell White Architects, they encountered:  An admissions area incorporating the ceiling from Keith Haring’s original “Pop Shop,” donated to the Historical Society by the Keith Haring Foundation; a multi-media installation in the reconfigured Great Hall where the new Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History introduces major themes of American history through stories and figures from New York’s past; a selection of objects from the Historical Society’s collection; a new facility, the DiMenna Children’s History Museum and the Barbara K. Lipman Children’s History Library, designed especially to engage young visitors as History Detectives exploring the richness and wonder of America’s past; the first major special history exhibition in the renovated building, Revolution!; and an Italian-themed dining facility operated by the Starr Restaurants group, offering a light menu throughout the day and full restaurant service at night.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Louise Mirrer, Pam Schafler, Roger Hertog

The Reopening Evening Celebration featured a dedication of the Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass statues outside the N-YHS with short speeches from Roger Hertog, chairman, N-YHS, and Louise Mirrer, president and CEO, N-YHS; The Atlantic World Reborn and the screening of New York Story, a film experience narrated by the actor Liev Schreiber, in the N-YHS’s improved state-of-the-art Robert H. Smith Auditorium.  The evening also featured a lavish reception featuring cocktails and hors d’oeuvres by Stephen Starr events.

“I believe 11-11-11 – November 11th, 2011 –  will be marked as the most important date for our Society since its founding 207 years ago,” stated Roger Hertog, chairman of the board of the N-YHS, in his brief remarks.  “The world has long known that the New-York Historical Society holds unmatched collections in its museum and library,” stated Mirrer.  “More recently, people have also begun to know us for our vibrant special exhibitions, which bring complex historical themes to life.  But we have never before opened ourselves up to the public with such light and transparency, or provided the kind of immediate access to our objects and ideas that we will offer when we re-open in November.  It’s as if, at entry level, we are going from being a beautiful treasure house to a great showplace of the American experience.’”  (Photos by Don Pollard)

About the New-York Historical Society
Founded in 1804, the New-York Historical Society has a mission to explore the richly layered history of New York City and State and the country, and to serve as a national forum for the discussion of issues surrounding the making and meaning of history.  New York Historical is recognized for engaging the public with deeply researched and far-ranging exhibitions, such as Alexander Hamilton: The Man Who Made Modern America; Slavery in New York; Nature and the American Vision: The Hudson River School at the New-York Historical Society; Grant and Lee in War and Peace; Lincoln and New York; The Grateful Dead: Now Playing at the New-York Historical Society; and Nueva York.  Supporting these exhibitions and related education programs is one of the world’s greatest collections of historical artifacts, works of American art, and other materials documenting the history of the United States and New York.

The New-York Historical Society is at 170 Central Park West at Richard Gilder Way (West 77th Street). It is open Tuesday through Thursday, 10 am to 6 pm. On Friday, it remains open until 8 pm and on Sunday the hours are 11 am to 5 pm. For details, www.nyhistory.org or 212-873-3400.

Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.