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What’s New in our Making A Museum Exhibit? St. Denis Building Directory

The St. Denis Building, at 80 East 11th Street at Broadway in Manhattan, is a case study of the changing city. Built in 1853 by renowned architect James Renwick Jr., it was the first building in New York to feature terracotta sculpted exterior decoration. At that time, the neighborhood was a fashionable shopping district, and the St. Denis was a grand hotel which drew many notable guests: Abraham Lincoln, P.T. Barnum, Mark Twain, and Sarah Bernhardt among them. The gentleman’s parlor on the second floor saw Alexander Graham Bell’s first public demonstration of the telephone in New York.

By 1917, the neighborhood had fallen out of fashion. The building was sold and converted to office space with ground floor retail. The renovations removed Renwick’s terracotta detailing, rendering it ineligible for historic preservation a century later.

St. Denis’ office tenants were just as notable as its hotel guests. From the 1920s to the 1950s, many of its tenants were leftist newspapers and workers’ organizations: The Workers Party of America, the American Negro Labor Congress, and the W.E.B. Du Bois-chaired Peace Information Center were among the many groups headquartered there. The Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives, the last holdout of this generation of tenants, appears on our Directory board (Room 341). Marcel Duchamp kept a secret, unlisted studio in Room 403, and his deliberately posthumous final work, Étant Donnés, was installed there.

In 2016, the St. Denis was sold to developers with plans to demolish the building. The last tenants left in 2018, but remain listed on the historic Directory on view at the Reliquary. The variety and number of businesses listed are a prime example of Jane Jacobs’ maxim that new ideas need old buildings. The comparatively cheap rents, older fixtures, and smaller office spaces in the St. Denis allowed many solo therapeutic practitioners to see low-income patients and small businesses to get an affordable start.

The current plans for the St. Denis space are for a 12-story glass wall office building with a stacked box design. It is one of a cluster of new commercial developments in the neighborhood seeking to expand Flatiron’s “Silicon Alley” further down Broadway.

The St. Denis directory came to the City Reliquary as the generous donation of Richard Signorelli, a 15-year tenant of the building and one of the last to depart.

We highly recommend this excellent article about the history and vibrant life of the St. Denis by Jeremiah Moss in the New York Review of Books.

What’s New in our Making A Museum Exhibit? The 1939 World’s Fair Collection of Virginia McClellan Moskowitz

A major part of the City Reliquary’s mission is to elevate everyday objects and the stories of everyday New Yorkers. We love and celebrate the passion and curatorial skill of amateur collectors. With this collection of 1939 World’s Fair memorabilia, we showcase the work of an amateur collector who became a professional: Virginia McClellan Moskowitz.

In 1939, Virginia, a nurse from Mount Vernon, NY, attended the World’s Fair in New York City. The experiences and sights she witnessed stayed with her her entire life, and inspired her to collect many different types of souvenirs reflecting her fond memories.

After retiring from the nursing profession, Virginia’s love of collections led her to become Mount Vernon’s town historian. Her enthusiasm, and the local history she passed on, is fondly remembered by those she met, and her legacy is inspiring a new generation of local historians today.

The 12th Annual Panorama Challenge!

Friday, March 1, 2019 — Doors 6 p.m. — Game at 7 p.m.

At Queens Museum – Flushing Meadows-Corona Park

General Admission Tickets: $15 advance / $20 at the door

City Reliquary and Queens Museum Members: $12 advance / $15 at the door

Mark your calendars and break out your Blue Guides: it’s nearly time for the Panorama Challenge! Once again, The City Reliquary, Queens Museum, & The Levys’ Unique New York! have partnered for an exciting evening of trivia with the whole city at your feet. Meet us at the world’s largest architectural scale model – The Panorama of the City of New York at the Queens Museum!

Panorama Challenge quizzes players on all things NYC. MC Gary Dennis reads questions while our judges highlight clues on the Panorama using lasers (well, laser pointers). Players in teams of 10 (or so) use those clues (and musical hints!) to determine the correct answer.

Quizmaster Jonathan Turer returns for his eighth year with another batch of new questions. This year, categories may include: Signs in Elmhurst, Revolutionary NYC, Rock of Ages (geology), Tunnel Time, and Old Time Religion (notable houses of worship). (Start building your teams accordingly!) The ever-popular Halftime Quiz will also return!

Teams may organize as Panorama Challengers or Panorama Pros. Challengers are first‐timers or those who have not dedicated their lives to the study of NYC. Their questions will be easier!  Pros are returning contestants and die‐hard students of our city’s hidden corners. They answer twice as many questions per round (60 total!) Friendly tour guides from The Levys’ Unique New York! will help match contestants to teams.

The winning Pro team will join the ranks of legendary past winners when its name is etched on the Panorama Challenge Trophy housed at the Queens Museum!

Our judges this year include author, urban explorer, and abandoned observation deck aficionado Moses Gates, and Dean of New York City tour guides Lee Gelber, with others soon to be announced!

Proceeds from admission and concessions support The City Reliquary Museum and Queens Museum.

A free shuttle, generously provided by DaVinci Limo & Tours, will travel between the Queens Museum and under the Mets‐Willets Point 7 stop from 5:30-7 pm and 9-10 pm.

What’s New in our Making A Museum Exhibit? Empire State Building Fantasy Coffin

Fantasy coffinsabebuu adekai or “proverb boxes” in the Ga language – are wooden coffins carved and decorated to look like an animal or object with particular significance to the deceased, reflecting aspirations (luxury cars, airplanes), careers (corn for a farmer, pen for a writer), hobbies (sneakers, guitars), or position (lions and eagles for community leaders). They originated with the ceremonial palanquins used by chiefs of the Ga ethnic group.

In the 1950s, a chief who had made a fortune in cocoa processing was buried in his cocoa bean-shaped palanquin. This inspired local furniture maker Seth Kane Kwei to build an airplane-shaped coffin for his grandmother, who loved watching airplanes and dreamed of flying in one. Symbolic coffins were rapidly incorporated into Ga funeral tradition, and became popular throughout Ghana. Kane Kwei’s work became known worldwide, and turned abebuu adekai into a highly sought-after export, when it was featured in a 1989 exhibition at Centre Pompidou in Paris.

This Empire State Building-shaped wooden coffin, constructed and painted by Ghanaian coffin artist Eric Kpakpo Adotey, is on loan to the City Reliquary from its owner, Sarah Murray. Ms. Murray (who is still living; this is an unoccupied coffin) commissioned this coffin to represent her life with a symbol of great meaning to her: her favorite architectural work and an icon of the city she always aspired to, and now does, live in.

Read more about this work at Untapped Cities!

What’s New in our Making A Museum Exhibit? 1964 World’s Fair Souvenir Pins

These two souvenir pins come to us as a generous donation from Lindsay McGuire of Belfast, Maine. On her recent visit to the City Reliquary, she was reminded of her childhood visit to the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens and was inspired to donate these souvenir pins to our collection.

Both of these pins were distributed at the General Cigar Company building. The White Owl was the animal namesake of one of General Cigar’s brands, and a special White Owl New Yorker cigar was sold: “A cigar that’s the very essence of New York, and the great new Fair,” according to the advertisements. The Smoke Ring refers to a mechanism outside the General Cigar building at the Fair that sent a plume of white smoke into the sky every few minutes, thus providing a notable landmark for visitors to meet by. Visitor accounts are divided as to whether the smoke successfully formed visible rings as was intended.

One of Lindsay’s most vivid recollections of the Fair is the typo – a repeated “the” – on the Smoke Ring badge. (Did you notice it?) In addition to the smoke rings (or plumes), the General Cigar building housed a Hall of Magic in which performers showed off many illusions and tricks. One of these illusions is the repeated word “the” on the smoke ring pin, which our eyes very commonly skip over because it is separated by a line break. The General Cigar Hall of Magic urged visitors to try it on their friends!

New Community Collection: Jennifer Rice’s Vintage Confetti

Now On View:
Vintage Confetti
Through Winter 2019

The City Reliquary is proud to present the vintage confetti and confetti-related ephemera collection of Jennifer Rice. She was first inspired to start collecting when she learned that workers renovating NYC’s famed Rainbow Room found confetti from the 1940s beneath the rotating dance floor. Her collection includes packaged confetti from all over the world and items depicting confetti’s history, manufacture, cultural significance, and influence in design and branding.

Modern confetti has its roots in ancient civilizations and the act of throwing plant-based materials (i.e. seeds, nuts, twigs) to celebrate life, death, unions, or sacrificial offerings. The word ‘confetti‘ hails from the Latin conficere meaning “to prepare or to make ready.” This evolved to the French confit or confiture translating as preserved meats and fruits. After the colonization of the Americas these terms came to be more closely associated with preserving in sugar eventually evolving into 18th century Italian confetti (little sweets) or the English confectionary.
In 18th century France and Italy, Carnevale, an indulgent celebration before the start of Lent, confetti in the form of candied fruits and nuts were thrown. As sugar was a luxury item at the time, by the 1830s plaster of Paris replaced candied sweets. Written accounts and illustrations from the time, as pictured on postcards in this collection, show the need for masks also known as par a bonbons to protect the face especially during batailles de confetticonfetti battles.
Wearing masks to avoid the harm of thrown candied sweets and plaster evolved to non-harmful variations of confetti. In 1875 Italy, Enrico Mangili used the refuse of paper holes punched in paper to aid hatching silkworms to introduce the first variation of paper confetti. By 1892, plaster confetti was banned in Paris and in 1894 French poster artist Henri Toulouse-Lautrec was commissioned by London paper manufacturer J. E. Bella to advertise their “injury-free” paper confetti.
Meanwhile, in New York City, confetti in the form of candy and paper was used throughout the late 19th century, but a unique to New York variation of confetti was first used in 1886 during a parade to celebrate the dedication of the Statue of Liberty. Ticker tape, a 1 inch wide piece of paper that recorded stock quotes, came to be known for its dramatic effect when dropped from a height. Ticker tape parades were so prevalent during the first half of the 20th century and so tied to New York’s cultural identity that the Alliance for New York embedded granite markers commemorating each significant parade along the historic stretch of Broadway known as the “Canyon of Heroes.” Another NYC confetti tradition continues today with the Times Square ball drop confetti shower at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Making A Museum: Behind the Scenes at the City Reliquary

The City Reliquary is taking visitors inside our processes of acquisition, research, and preservation of our collection. As we redesign our permanent collection and bring out some of our rarely exhibited holdings, we’re also adding new objects, studying their history, and creating new informative text panels. Our exhibition hall has become a workshop and creative laboratory as well as a display space, and every week we’ll be working on new additions. We invite you to journey with us as we learn new stories of the city and craft ways to share them.

Vintage Confetti On View & Meet The Confetti King!

The City Reliquary’s Community Collections showcase provides a place for ordinary New Yorkers to display the carefully curated objects of their devotion, be they quirky, everyday, strange, or sublime. Our current exhibitor, Jennifer Rice, collects vintage confetti and related ephemera from all over the world. She was first inspired to start collecting when she learned that workers renovating NYC’s famed Rainbow Room found confetti from the 1940s beneath the rotating dance floor.

Confetti celebrations have a special place in New York City history. The first ever ticker-tape parade happened on Broadway in 1886 when NY Stock Exchange traders watching the parade celebrating the dedication of the Statue of Liberty spontaneously tossed ticker tape from their offices onto the crowd below.

And of course, the biggest confetti event in the country is New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Did you know that all the confetti is tossed by hand? The man who makes it all happen is Treb Heining, whose company has handled confetti drops at major events like the Super Bowl, Olympics, and Academy Awards. He’ll be in New York to run theconfetti operation at Times Square for the 27th consecutive year, and will make an appearance at the City Reliquary to talk about his work!

Join us on Friday, December 28, at 7:00 p.m. to learn what it takes to be the Confetti King! Entry is included with Museum admission, and is of course free for members. We’ll have the Museum open special late-night hours with plenty of time to see all our festive exhibits.

A Seltzer Works Tour – Saturday, December 15!

In the 1920s and 30s, Brooklyn was home to more than 100 seltzer bottlers and distributors. Customers seeking the digestive health benefits of filtered, carbonated New York City water could get it delivered to their homes in hand-blown glass bottles. The City Reliquary’s permanent collection includes a number of these vintage bottles, etched with logos from companies based throughout the borough – from A&M to Windy’s, Simon Finkelstein to Standard Carbonic.

We’re bringing our seltzer bottle collection to life with a special tour of the last seltzer bottler in Brooklyn – Gomberg Seltzer Works in Canarsie,, a.k.a. the Brooklyn Seltzer Boys. They do it all the old-fashioned way, from carbonation and filling each bottle by

hand, to home delivery of vintage siphon bottles in wooden crates. Attendees will learn how seltzer is made and about the delivery business past and present, concluding with a taste of Brooklyn’s iconic seltzer-based treat, the egg cream. (Made with Brooklyn’s own Fox’s syrup, naturally!)

Our 11 a.m. seltzer works tour is now SOLD OUT! But we’ve just added a second tour on December 15, 2018, at 12:30 p.m. Tickets are available now for our second tour!  Space is very limited, so don’t wait to sign up! City Reliquary Members receive discounts on all our tours and events. Join today for special access to tours inspired by the Museum’s permanent collection of artifacts throughout 2019!

The Witching Hour Approaches!

On Saturday, October 20, the City Reliquary hosts the Witching Hour, a night of live music, theater, film, ritual, puppetry, and more! The performing coven includes: art-folk band Cookie Tongue, opera singer and violinist Tribal Baroque, transspecies drag striptease by Nadahada, Musically Advanced Kinetic Systems (MAKS), experimental film by Jess Lynch, puppetry by Heaven Limousine, theater by Half Ghost Human Collective, tarot readings, and much more. You’ll want to experience the Witching Hour for yourself.

October 20 at the City Reliquary – 7-10 p.m. – $10 tickets available here