An Untapped reader submitted a question to our mailbag this week about the Metropolitan Museum of Art, asking when the exterior staircase to the building (on Fifth Avenue) first looked as it does today. “From what I can ascertain,” she wrote, “the date appears to be 1902, and just wondering if you can kindly confirm that for me?”
Last year, we unveiled many secrets of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (we still have two secrets we aren’t allowed to publish), and for this question, we consulted our experts on the museum and came up with this answer for our reader:
The Plaza steps were added by Kevin Roche in circa 1970. Previous to that, the museum front looked as it did in the photo above (which we think is from the 1930s). Richard Morris Hunt (and his son, who ultimately carried out the construction of the Great Hall wing) had originally designed a rather narrow set of steps leading from a vehicle drop-off, and sometime in the 20th century the “dog house”–a funny little vestibule which you see in the photo–was added to prevent drafts into the building. Roche removed both the dog house (replacing it with modern air-curtain technology) and the undersized original stairs, and added the large, sprawling exterior stair that exists today and is a landmark in its own right.
While the rest of Roche’s plaza design to the north and south is being drastically modified as part of the new David H. Koch Plaza, the exterior stairs will of course remain intact as a well-loved element of the Museum’s Fifth Avenue identity.
A 1930s photo from the NYC Department of Records shows the setbacks in the ground level of rusticated masonry for each of the two side-bays of the building (where you see narrow horizontal slit openings). Rather than extending the “returns” of his plaza steps into these voids (which would have been awkward), Kevin Roche mimicked the same rusticated courses in brand-new masonry that continues across the façade in an unbroken line, subtly modifying what appears to be the “original” building.
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