Building in the Spotlight

Building in the Spotlight: The Brooklyn Museum

The Brooklyn Museum has had a rough summer of protests, austerity measures, and no air-conditioning. Lucky for its staff, they occupy one of the most remarkable buildings in all five boroughs.

It’s 560,000 square feet, or ten football fields, for one thing. For another, it houses 1.5 million pieces of artwork.

It sure doesn't look small...

It sure doesn’t look small…

But if the Brooklyn Museum sounds big, it was going to be huge. Plans for the buildings show it was intended to be four times larger, before the City got involved, and that it would be the centerpiece of an enormous education complex that was never realized.

It was even designed by the legendary firm McKim, Mead & White, the same guys responsible for Penn Station, the National Museum of American History, and buildings for Columbia University, Amherst College, and Bowdoin College. They even renovated the White House.


Just a regular ol’ train station, à la McKim, Mead & White

Daniel Chester French, the virtuoso sculptor who created the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial, even contributed a pair of figures titled Manhattan and Brooklyn nearly 14 feet tall to the façade. (French apparently never heard “Less is more.”) He, however, was not behind the Museum’s most entertaining sculpture: the world’s largest replica of the Statue of Liberty, which sits in the parking lot. (Though why anyone would want a replica of the statue when the real thing is a few miles away is beyond me.)

Hi, Statue.

Hi, Statue.

The Museum’s importance is undeniable (it even has a dedicated subway station); it has not, however, survived unscathed.

Aside from multiple additions and renovations, it suffered the loss of its original staircase (for a glass box) and its auditorium. Worst of all, in the ’50s, parts of the Museum were denuded of all their exterior decorative detail, and even their columns!


The Museum's new entrance

The Museum’s new entrance

So if some claim the building is reserved—without the exuberant of detail of other buildings the city has to offer—it’s because of the mutilation it suffered. But don’t worry, it’s best secrets are still there, just hidden.

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