Alterations to the Building (1930s–70s)
For two decades, preventive maintenance of the Museum was deferred, and the grand staircase at the entrance of the building began to show signs of age. There was also growing interest in the 1930s in creating a more direct and “democratic” entrance into the Museum. In April 1934, while principals of McKim, Mead & White were out of the country, the Municipal Art Commission quickly approved the demolition of the monumental front staircase, greatly altering the architectural character of the Museum’s main facade. At the same time, the Museum’s original auditorium, located behind the stairs, was dismantled to create a new entrance lobby on the ground-floor level.
Further major renovations were proposed during the 1940s and 1950s, but budget shortfalls limited what could be done. In the 1950s, in a significant change, renovations to the center pavilion and the monumental rotunda included removing all of their Beaux-Arts decorative detail along with their columns, lowering the ceilings, and installing new lighting. The rotunda was then repurposed as a modernist sculpture gallery.
In 1967 the Institute again sought to address the Museum’s long-term needs. Of primary concern were the preservation of the collections and the comfort of visitors. The result was an extension, designed by Prentice & Chan, Ohlhausen, across the south elevation of the east wing. Ground was broken in 1977 and construction was completed three years later. The extension houses the present Education Division offices and classrooms, as well as providing curatorial offices and mechanical space for two new elevators and a new boiler plant. It also set aside areas designated for a future auditorium and environmental control equipment.