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Tagged with: Behind The Scenes, History Of The Whitney

Mapping the Whitney in New York City

The subway ride between the Whitney’s Upper East Side home and the site of our building project at Washington and Gansevoort Streets, in the Meatpacking District, isn’t so long—it only takes about 40 minutes door-to-door. While the uptown-to-downtown trek will become a part of the daily lives of Whitney staff who are involved with the building process, the Museum has occupied more sites throughout the city than even longtime city dwellers may realize.  

As a member of one of the city’s most prominent families, the Museum’s founder, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, was raised at 1 West 57th Street, in a sprawling French Renaissance-style home that spanned an entire city block and whose entrance faced the most fashionable corner of Fifth Avenue—Bergdorf Goodman department store currently occupies the site, in fact. At that time, people of her social status rarely ventured far beyond their immediate surroundings. For example, after marrying Harry Payne Whitney in 1896, Gertrude moved only as far as the house next door, which was given as a gift to the young couple by Harry’s father.

Charles Sheeler, Office Interior, Whitney Studio Club, c. 1928. Gelatin silver print, 7 1/2 × 9 3/8 in. (19.1 × 23.8 cm). Gift of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney 93.24.1
Charles Sheeler, Office Interior, Whitney Studio Club, c. 1928. Gelatin silver print, 7 1/2 × 9 3/8 in. (19.1 × 23.8 cm). Gift of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney 93.24.1
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney with her assistant, Salvatore F. Bilotti, in her sculpture studio on MacDougal Alley, c. 1939. At center is the maquette for her sculpture Spirit of Flight, exhibited at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York.
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney with her assistant, Salvatore F. Bilotti, in her sculpture studio on MacDougal Alley, c. 1939. At center is the maquette for her sculpture Spirit of Flight, exhibited at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York.
“First Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting,” 1932.
“First Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting,” 1932.
Left to right: Museum director Lloyd Goodrich with Flora Miller Irving, architect Marcel Breuer, and Flora Whitney Miller at the announcement of the plans for the new building, December 11, 1963.
Left to right: Museum director Lloyd Goodrich with Flora Miller Irving, architect Marcel Breuer, and Flora Whitney Miller at the announcement of the plans for the new building, December 11, 1963.
Flora Whitney Miller (center) at the dedication ceremony for the new Whitney Museum at 945 Madison Avenue, September 27, 1966. Left to right: Jacqueline Kennedy, president of the National Committee, with National Committee members William A. Marsteller and Nathan Cummings, Robert W. Sarnoff, Trustee, Marylou Whitney, and Lloyd Goodrich, Museum director.
Flora Whitney Miller (center) at the dedication ceremony for the new Whitney Museum at 945 Madison Avenue, September 27, 1966. Left to right: Jacqueline Kennedy, president of the National Committee, with National Committee members William A. Marsteller and Nathan Cummings, Robert W. Sarnoff, Trustee, Marylou Whitney, and Lloyd Goodrich, Museum director.
Flora Whitney Miller with Edward Hopper in front of his 1930 painting Early Sunday Morning, 1961.
Flora Whitney Miller with Edward Hopper in front of his 1930 painting Early Sunday Morning, 1961.
Entrance ramp and sculpture court of the Whitney Museum, looking south from 75th Street, 1966.
Entrance ramp and sculpture court of the Whitney Museum, looking south from 75th Street, 1966.

Ironically, Gertrude’s eventual foray into the West Village, where she established the Whitney Studio Club in 1918 on a site that became the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1931, was the first in a string of impressive moves in the following decades. Notable among them was the Whitney’s jump to 22 West 54th Street, which it occupied between 1954 and 1966, and a series of branch locations scattered throughout the city, the last of which, the Whitney Museum of American Art at Altria, closed in January 2008. Some of these locations may come as a surprise to those accustomed to visiting us at 945 Madison Avenue, in the Marcel Breuer-designed building we’ve called home since 1966.

Whether by foot or by subway—or even just by a couple of clicks on the map above!—you can follow the Whitney’s geographic journey from the West Village to the Financial District, to Midtown, the Upper East Side, and back down to the Meatpacking District. Each point on the map features a note or two about the Museum’s history in that particular neighborhood. The doors of our new building will open to the pubic in 2015. Until then, we’ll see you uptown!

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