Last Thursday night, a devastating fire took place at 70 Mulberry Street, a former school that housed numerous non-profits. In addition to the ten people reported injured in the fire along with damage to the facilities, one of the most devastating losses was the archives of the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA). The archive contained more than 85,000 one-of-a-kind items, collected over forty years. On Saturday, MOCA started a GoFundMe to assist the efforts in recovering and preserving the artifacts which they write, “are now in jeopardy.”
The co-chair of MOCA’s Board of Directors, Jonathan Chu, says that he is “heartbroken and stunned. As we ring in the Chinese New Year, let us pray for and rally behind the non-profits that share a home there. Chen Dance Company, Chinatown Manpower, Chinatown Senior Center, The Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA), and United East Athletic Association are immediately and directly impacted but WE ARE ALL AFFECTED BY THIS TRAGEDY. Chinatown is a community with deep roots and a very rich history; for 40 years MOCA has collected and preserved in its archives at 70 Mulberry Street more than 85,000 items that tell the stories of Chinatown and countless immigrant families. May the Year of the Rat help us put aside our differences and unify us as we rebuild our community, beginning with 70 Mulberry Street. Thank you to our first responders and heroes from the FDNY and NYPD.”
Some of those items are contained in a time capsule that is inside Hotel 50 Bowery, built by the company Chu Enterprises. Lauren Chu, Director of Chu Enterprises, who spearheaded the initiative to create the time capsule, says “In July of 2014, I spent hours in this building that houses the archives of the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA). 70 Mulberry is the where MOCA keeps an irreplaceable collection of images, textiles, and other paraphernalia, that document how Chinese people found ways to make America, their home. I poured through hundreds of photographs of Chinatown and its inhabitants to see what could be incorporated into the artwork at Hotel 50 Bowery. It was important to me that the property feature pieces that reflect its unique of sense of place, and with an authenticity that would not have been possible without MOCA’s archives.”
MOCA President Nancy Yao Maasbach told the New York Times last week that the archives at 70 Mulberry housed “One hundred percent of the museum’s collection, other than what is on view.” Even if the items are salvaged, the documents are likely to be damaged from water, perhaps irrevocably so. It will take another three weeks before non-essential response staff can enter the building and begin the process of recovery and rebuilding.
Of the collection, about 35,000 items were digitized but nothing can replace the physical experience of touching someone’s traditional cheongsam wedding dress, or the tickets that brought a family to the United States, or the treasured keepsakes that the immigrants carefully transported here.
MOCA is among the first dozen museums who came on board as an Untapped New York Insider Museum Partner, offering free admission to our Insider members. As a Taiwanese American who grew up in the New York City-area, it pains me to think of all the history potentially lost in this tragedy and I hope you will donate to support the recovery of anything that can be recovered. As Jonathan Chu mentioned, this affects all of us because the history of Chinatown and Chinese in America is undeniably tied to the history of New York and the country as a whole. The GoFundMe link can be found here.
Header photo by Jonathan Chu