January 31, 2020
Approximately 700 boxes and artifacts from the Museum of Chinese in America's collection have been retrieved from 70 Mulberry Street
NEW YORK—A week after a fire severely damaged a City-owned building at 70 Mulberry Street in Chinatown that housed a number of cultural and community service organizations, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that City agencies have made major progress recovering important archives that were feared lost.
"Last week's fire was devastating, and we've sprung into action to help the community rebuild," said Mayor Bill de Blasio. "Thanks to our team of dedicated city workers and partners, we've been able to retrieve so many vital pieces of history. We will continue to work together to help Chinatown rebuild."
The cultural tenants of the building include HT Chen and Dancers, which had its offices, performance rehearsal, and classroom space in the building, as well as the archives of the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA), which had 85,000 artifacts on site. After initial reports indicated there may be a total or near-total loss of this priceless archive of Chinese-American life, City workers and volunteer conservators gained access to the facility earlier this week and determined that much the archive would be salvageable.
Over the weekend, the Fire Department and Buildings Department inspections determined certain areas of the building could safely accessed, and staff from MOCA, the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS), Department of Records and Information Services (DORIS), and volunteers from the Alliance for Recovery NYC formulated a process to safely remove the material, conduct an onsite triage based on whether the material was wet or dry and move the recovered material to appropriate offsite locations.
Throughout the week, approximately 700 boxes and artifacts from MOCA's archival material were removed and are currently being assessed and treated by conservators. Dry material is being taken to the main MOCA facility at 215 Centre Street, where 20 trained conservators and archivists are reviewing its status. All material is being reboxed. Wet boxes were placed in a refrigeration truck and moved to a location in Pennsylvania where they will be immediately frozen to reduce any additional damage and then restored.
In addition, temporary space has been secured for both cultural organizations. MOCA's landlord provided additional space on upper floors of the building that houses the Museum, where the archive recovery operation is now set up. Chen Dance Center is using La MaMa's space for temporary administrative purposes, while the City assists in its search for more long-term space closer to Chinatown.
City agencies are continuing to coordinate support and work with the rest of the organizations, including CPC Chinatown Senior Center, United East Athletic Center and the Chinatown Manpower Project, on long-term options until the building can be rebuilt or restored.
"The Museum of Chinese in America's collection is an invaluable piece of New York City and Chinese-American history," said Lisette Camilo, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services. "We have recovered over 700 boxes of materials so far and we will continue to use every tool at our disposal to save the remaining items so that this history can be preserved for generations to come."
"After last week's devastating fire, we are overjoyed to see signs that the loss may not be as great as was first feared," said Acting Cultural Affairs Commissioner Kathleen Hughes. "We are enormously grateful for the efforts of our sister city agencies and the dedicated volunteers from Alliance for Recovery NYC. Those collective and extraordinary efforts have given us hope that MOCA's priceless archives might be saved, and that HT Chen's dance programs can continue uninterrupted. There's more to be done, and we'll work with these groups every step of the way toward a full recovery."
"Staff from the Municipal Archives have provided assistance in retrieving, reviewing and beginning the restoration of the archival records retrieved from the MOCA research center. These collections are critical to understanding the history of Chinese New Yorkers, including the interplay with City government over decades. We were happy to play a part in this collective effort," said Pauline Toole, Commissioner of the Department of Records.
"The fire in Chinatown was nothing short of a tragedy, especially for the cultural tenants who have lost so much," said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. "I thank the FDNY and other city agencies for coming together so quickly to make rapid progress recovering archival material that was feared lost."
"70 Mulberry is a piece of living history. While so much of our community is still in pain, we are grateful for the City's fast and comprehensive response to provide relief to the displaced community groups, minimize disruption to their vital services, and give support the Museum of Chinese in America to recover the thousands of artifacts that have been in jeopardy. We know there's a long road ahead to bring this building back, but we remain hopeful," said Council Member Margaret S. Chin.
"Retrieving precious artifacts and photographs, seeing individual and family collections, transferring century-old ephemera into immediate treatment, and most of all knowing these historic items could be preserved is nothing less than an NYC miracle. MOCA and U.S. history was reinvigorated today. We are deeply indebted to all City administration and volunteers," said Nancy Yao Maasbach, President of the Museum of Chinese in America.
"The Chinese-American Planning Council would like to thank the Mayor's Office, city agencies especially DCAS and DFTA, and elected officials for their support since the fire at 70 Mulberry Street. We appreciate their responsiveness in helping us to find temporary space for the senior members of our Chinatown Senior Center, who are primarily being served by our Open Door Senior Center at 168 Grand Street. Over 300 seniors per day will continue to have a safe space for a hot meal, social interaction, cultural programs, English classes, public benefits enrollment, and more. We look forward to identifying a more permanent space soon and encourage community members to reach out for more information," said Wayne Ho, President and CEO of the Chinese-American Planning Council.
"CMP is on target to resume our workforce development classes on Tuesday, February 4th at the Oversea Chinese Mission (OCM) church, and our Chinese School is on schedule to begin its new semester as planned on February 15th, also at OCM. We have been in place to provide walk-in job placement and small business assistance at the Chung Pak building, and are set to move these direct services to our store front space at 123 Walker Street. We continue to work with DCAS in identifying and securing longer term facility as bases of operation. We owe our deepest appreciation to our local elected representatives, City officials, and many community partners for their ongoing support, assistance, and guidance. The Mayor's leadership in mobilizing this swift inter-agency effort to respond, recover, and rebuild after the disastrous fire on January 23rd has been well noted. Community partners, especially Chung Pak LDC, Oversea Chinese Mission Church, and other colleagues in the non-profit community have been offering their space as well as other resources to help us through this difficult time. It not only provides a base to continue our programs that serve over 700 people weekly, but is opening up new collaborative opportunities moving forward," said Hong Shing Lee, Executive Director, Chinatown Manpower Project.
"United East Athletics Association (UEAA) truly appreciate the assistance provided by Councilwoman Chin and DCAS on continuing to help us find a suitable location. This is of utmost importance as we gear up for our Summer Fun Fun Saturday program which serves over 300 children In addition, we hope we can retrieve important documents and other materials at 70 Mulberry Street as soon as possible to allow us to continue to serve our community," said June Jee, Vice Chairperson, UEAA.
"Artistic Director H.T. Chen dedicated his career to creating productions that tell the stories of Chinese Americans. We are grateful for all who responded in our efforts for recovery," said Dian Dong, H.T. Chen & Dancers.