Initial Construction (1890s–1920s)
On September 14, 1895, the P. J. Carlin construction company broke ground for the west wing to begin the project. This initial wing was completed and opened to the public in 1897.
During construction, the main floor was raised by five feet in order to create room for an auditorium on the basement level of the central pavilion. The principal entrance staircase therefore had to be made much larger than required by the original McKim, Mead & White design.
Construction of the Museum’s center pavilion, which included the magisterial staircase cascading down to Eastern Parkway, took place between 1899 and 1905. In 1904, the three-year construction of two sections of the northeast wing began.
Although preparations started as early as 1910, the next phase of construction did not begin until 1913. This portion of the building comprised the gallery wing on the northeast side and the sky-lit court of the northeast quadrant now known as the Beaux-Arts Court. Construction was protracted, especially during World War I, and the interiors were not finished until 1926. These were the last portions of the original McKim, Mead & White design to be completed; no further work from their plan would be undertaken after the 1920s. Even with the opening of the northeast quadrant, only one-quarter of the firm’s original conception had been realized.
Meanwhile McKim, Mead & White were appointed to design the new Botanic Garden being created on a fifty-acre site southeast of the Museum. Key elements of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden were carefully positioned to align with the Brooklyn Museum: the Cherry Esplanade is located on axis directly behind the Museum, while the mall of the Osborne Garden runs along what would have been the completed building’s western side.