History of the Municipal Art Society of New York

Grand Central Terminal Press Conference

Founded in 1893, the Municipal Art Society (MAS) has helped create a more livable city by advocating for the quality of the built environment through excellence in urban planning, design, preservation and placemaking through the arts.

From saving Grand Central Terminal and the lights of Times Square to establishing groundbreaking land-use and preservation laws that have become national models, MAS is at the forefront of New York’s most important campaigns to promote our city’s economic vitality, cultural vibrancy, environmental sustainability and social diversity.  MAS is a convener of ideas and an advocate for solutions aimed at achieving a high quality of life in all of New York’s communities.  We strive to ensure that the city’s leadership fully debates New York’s prospects for improved livability and includes the public in the discussion.

MAS has played a critical role in the creation of the New York City Planning Commission, Design Commission and Landmarks Preservation Commission; and served as incubator for such civic organizations as the Public Art Fund, New York Landmarks Conservancy, Historic Districts Council, Park Avenue Armory and the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance.

Significant milestones:

1893  MAS is founded to beautify New York City parks and public buildings with murals and sculptures financed by membership dues.

1902  New York’s first major tree-planting campaign, the “Block Beautiful” movement, begins as a private MAS initiative.

1908  As New York City’s population burgeons, MAS advocates for the construction of public housing, increased services for poor residents and more public bathhouses.

1916  MAS advocacy allows political reformers to win approval of the landmark Zoning Resolution of 1916.

1920s  MAS helps defeat proposals by Major John Hylan to build the IND subway within Central Park and the Music and Art Center on its south edge.

1930s  MAS urges construction of Rockefeller Center, an unpopular, pro-Modernist position at the time.

1938  After decades of advocacy by MAS, New York City establishes a permanent City Planning Commission under its new City Charter.

1955  MAS fights to defeat the demolition of Tweed Courthouse, near City Hall.

1956  MAS begins to curate architectural walking tours of New York City, a key tool for our preservation and advocacy efforts.

1961  MAS organizes a successful public campaign to save the Jefferson Market Courthouse in Greenwich Village.

1973  MAS helps win passage of New York City’s Landmarks Law, substantially broadening the powers of the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

1978  The MAS campaign to save Grand Central Terminal, led by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, is victorious when the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirms the constitutionality of the Landmarks Law.

1979  When Radio City Music Hall is threatened with demolition, MAS fights to block construction of an office building on the site.

1980s  As Lever House is threatened with demolition, MAS helps designate it a landmark, saving the first New York City modern landmark.

1980s  MAS campaigns successfully to achieve landmark status for the historic theaters of Times Square, and ensure that all new development includes illuminated signage.

1987  MAS begins its popular Adopt-A-Monument effort to rescue public sculptures from deterioration, which was augmented by the Adopt-A-Mural project in 1991.

1991  MAS establishes a training program to assist community groups seeking guidance on planning, land use, zoning and development issues.

1999  MAS partners with New York City to sponsor an international design competition for the future reclamation of the Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island.

2001  MAS, with Creative Time, leads the creation of Tribute in Light, a memorial to the victims of September 11. MAS also organizes Imagine New York to ensure that the public’s ideas concerning reconstruction in Lower Manhattan are heard.

2006  Following six years of coalition building and advocacy that includes successfully championing a waterfront committee of the City Council, MAS launches the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance as a new organization.

2007  With support from the Rockefeller Foundation, MAS presents the ground-breaking exhibition and public program series, Jane Jacobs and the Future of New York.

2009  MAS generates new ideas for the future of Coney Island through ImagineConey, a series of public forums and online submissions.

2010  MAS releases its inaugural MAS Survey on Livability at the first annual MAS Summit for New York City, bringing together top urban academics and thought-leaders to identify the most significant challenges to the city’s future.

With the Preservation and Climate Change Campaign, MAS emerges as a leading voice promoting the link between historic preservation and energy efficiency, convincing City leaders to include preservation as a goal of its sustainability PlaNYC 2030.

MAS launches a campaign to preserve the Garment District, one of our city’s last industrial and entrepreneurial hubs.

Construction begins on Moynihan Station, a project MAS has long championed.

2011 Based on ideas generated through a community charrette, MAS publishes design guidelines for a new waterfront park on the East Side of Midtown Manhattan.

MAS launches an energy demonstration project at the Henry Street Settlement to show how historic buildings can become more energy efficient without significant aesthetic changes or large capital outlays.

MAS partners with Community Solutions to examine public housing in Brownsville, Brooklyn.

2012  MAS convenes a broad group of city-wide stakeholders to plan for a holistic approach to the future of East Midtown’s public realm and built form at the time of Grand Central Terminal’s centennial.

Drawing on over a decade of research, MAS launches an advocacy campaign to better activate the City’s 525 privately owned public spaces.

In partnership with the Landmarks Preservation Commission, MAS publishes Greening New York City’s Historic Buildings, a manual to help property owners and managers improve the energy efficiency of small historic buildings without impacting their character.

With the support of the City’s three public library systems, MAS launches Libraries  as Community Anchors, a feasibility study and advocacy campaign to better promote branch libraries as vital neighborhood resources in 21st century New York.

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Mission

MAS fights for intelligent urban design, planning and preservation through education, dialogue and advocacy.

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