History

Celebrating 125 years of advocacy on behalf of New York and New Yorkers.

1893

The Municipal Art Society Is Founded

The Municipal Art Society (MAS) is established on March 22, 1893, by Richard Morris Hunt and other civic activists, with a founding mission to beautify New York with public art. Throughout its first century, the organization expanded its mission to include the city’s buildings, streetscapes, and public spaces, with the aim of bringing the voice of the public into the debates that impact the lives of New Yorkers.

Municipal Arts Society Medal
1902

“Block Beautiful” Is Born

Inspired by the broader City Beautiful movement, MAS launches New York’s first major tree-planting campaign, dubbed the “Block Beautiful” movement.

Cover of Block Beautiful booklet
1903

MAS Library Founded

Established more than a century ago, MAS’s library is devoted to the complex ecology of cities, urban culture, and the natural and built environment. Now named the Greenacre Reference Library, our collections contain thousands of books, reports, publications, and historical ephemera.

1908

MAS Advocates for Public Housing

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

Zoning Resolution of 1916

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

1920

Defeating Proposals to Extend the Subway into Central Park

MAS helps defeat proposals by Mayor John Hylan to build the IND subway through Central Park.

1930

MAS Urges Construction of Rockefeller Center

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

Rockefeller Center under construction
1938

New York City Establishes a Permanent City Planning Commission

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

New York City establishes a permanent City Planning Commission
1956

MAS Holds New York City’s First Walking Tour

MAS begins to curate architectural walking tours of New York City, a key tool for our preservation and advocacy efforts. Visit our events page to join us for a tour this month.

First MAS Walking Tour, 1953
1961

Saving the Jefferson Market Courthouse from Demolition

MAS organizes a successful public campaign to save the Jefferson Market Courthouse, described by the AIA Guide to New York City as “a mock Neuschwansteinian assemblage … of leaded glass, steeply sloping roofs, gables, pinnacles, Venetian Gothic embellishments, and an intricate tower and clock; one of the City’s most remarkable buildings.” The campaign led to the Courthouse’s reuse as a branch of the New York Public Library.

Jefferson Market Courthouse
1965

New York City’s Landmarks Law Passes

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

Signing of the Landmarks Law
1974

Saving the Tweed Courthouse from Demolition

MAS successfully campaigns to prevent the demolition of the Tweed Courthouse. Today, the Italianate masterpiece houses the New York City Department of Education.

MAS saves Tweed Courthouse
1975

Advocating for the Second Avenue Subway

MAS partners with the City Planning Commission on a joint study of the planning implications for the proposed Second Avenue Subway and issues a set of permanent policy recommendations to achieve the new line.

Saving Grand Central Terminal from Demolition

With MAS Board Member Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in the lead, the MAS formed the Committee to Save Grand Central Terminal in response to the Penn Central Railroad’s proposal to demolish the station. On April 16, 1978, more than 400 advocates traveled by train, dubbed the “Landmark Express,” to Washington D.C., in order to call attention to the Supreme Court hearing on the designation of the train station as a city historic landmark.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis with two men in front of Grand Central
1979

Saving Radio City Music Hall

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

Radio City Music Hall Marquee
1980

Lever House Becomes New York’s First Modern Landmark

As Lever House is threatened with demolition, MAS successfully advocates for its designation as a landmark, the first from the mid-century era.

Lever House facade
1984

Saving the Theaters of Times Square

MAS campaigns successfully to achieve landmark status for the historic theaters of Times Square using district-wide air rights transfers, and protects the iconic lights of Times Square ensuring that all new development includes illuminated signage.

Times Square, 1984
1987

Protecting Public Art through Adopt-A-Monument

In response to the deterioration of many of New York City’s outdoor statues and public murals in hospitals, schools and libraries, and the limited resources to preserve them, MAS (in partnership with NYC Parks and the Public Design Commission) launches the Adopt-A-Monument program to raise private funds for the conservation and maintenance of public art.

Adopt-A-Monument Restoration

Establishing the Brendan Gill Prize

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Helen Tucker, and Margot Wellington establish the prize in honor of their friend and fellow MAS Board Member Brendan Gill, the renowned New Yorker theater and architecture critic. The Gill Prize is given each year to the creator of a specific work—a book, essay, musical composition, play, painting, sculpture, architectural design, film or choreographic piece—that best captures the spirit and energy of New York City.

Stand Against the Shadows

More than 800 New Yorkers join MAS in Central Park and raise black umbrellas aloft to demonstrate the shadow that would be cast onto the park by a proposed tower on Columbus Circle. That project was modified to mitigate shadows effects in response to the public outcry. Thirty years later, our advocacy for light, air, and sound city planning continues through the Accidental Skyline project.

Shadow Demonstraction, 1987
1991

Protecting Public Art through Adopt-A-Mural

Following the success of Adopt-A-Monument, MAS launches its sister program Adopt-A-Mural. Together, the programs have raised more than $5 million to conserve and maintain 51 works of public art across all five boroughs.

Mural Restorers
1994

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Medal Established

The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Medal is established to honor Mrs. Onassis and her passionate efforts to preserve great architecture in New York City. The medal is awarded annually to individuals and organizations that have made an extraordinary impact on the quality of New York’s built environment.

1999

Designing the Future of the Fresh Kills Landfill

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

Fresh Kills Landfill
2002

The Tribute in Light

In the fall of 2001, MAS brings together a team of artists and designers in partnership with Creative Time to create a memorial to the victims of September 11. The Tribute in Light debuted on the six month anniversary of the attacks and MAS continued to produce Tribute in Light each September for the next decade. In 2011, MAS transferred the project to the newly-opened National September 11 Memorial & Museum, which has continued to present it annually on the anniversary of the attacks.

Tribute in Light
2006

MAS Launches the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance

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.

NYC Downtown Waterfront with Brooklyn Bridge
2007

Livable Neighborhoods Program Launched

Founded on the principle that community involvement is essential to successful city planning, the MAS Livable Neighborhoods Program (LNP) helps local leaders in under-resourced communities develop the knowledge and tools that they need to participate effectively in public land use review processes and engage in creative, community-based design and planning. In its first decade, LNP trained neighborhood advocates in Port Richmond, Red Hook, Brownsville, Flatbush, Flushing, Corona/Elmhurst, Mott Haven, Jerome Avenue, Bedford Park, and more.

2009

MAS Launches ImagineConey

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

Coney Island with Wonder Wheel and Cyclone
2010

Fashioning the Future: NYC’s Garment District

MAS launches a campaign to protect the Garment District, one of Manhattan’s last industrial hubs, from a Bloomberg administration proposal to rezone the neighborhood. This advocacy led to the release of a report highlighting the continued importance of the district and presenting case studies, new data, historical records, and policy recommendations to create a vision forward for the neighborhood.

Garments on a NYC street
2011

Jane’s Walk NYC

On May 7 and 8, MAS organizes the first annual Jane’s Walk NYC, a weekend of free citizen-led “walking conversations” honoring activist Jane Jacobs. Today, the New York festival is the largest Jane’s Walk in the world, bringing thousands of New Yorkers onto the streets for more than 200+ walks around the five boroughs.

Janes Walk participants on street
2012

Greening New York City’s Historic Buildings

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.

Brownstones

Advocates for Privately Owned Public Space (APOPS)

Drawing on over a decade of research, MAS partners with Jerold Kayden to launch APOPS, an advocacy campaign to better activate the city’s 500+ privately owned public spaces. The book builds on Mr. Kayden’s 2000 book, Privately Owned Public Space: The New York Experience, published by MAS.

2013

City Council Votes to Limit Madison Square Garden’s Permit at Penn Station

In the summer of 2013, at the urging of MAS, our partners at Regional Plan Association, and many others, the New York City Council votes to limit Madison Square Garden’s permit to operate on top of Penn Station to just ten more years. The decision represents a historic opportunity to shape the future of Manhattan’s west side and ensure the economic health of the city and the region. Over the next several years, the Penn 2023 coalition would release three reports analyzing the future of Penn, the Garden, and West Midtown.

The Accidental Skyline Project Pulls Back the Veil on Supertalls

MAS releases a first-of-its-kind analysis of the impact of supertall towers, raising the alarm about the need for new rules and regulations to protect public assets like light, air, open space, and the character of the city’s neighborhoods from out-of-scale development. In October 2017, the organization released a follow-up report outlining a detailed agenda for achieving these reforms.

2016

Mapping the Sixth Borough of New York

MAS releases ground-breaking mapping tool that empowers decision makers, planners, and the public to identify opportunities for improving, protecting, and utilizing the 14,000 properties owned or leased by the City of New York–a public asset roughly the size of the Borough of Brooklyn. The accompanying report reveals that an area more than double the size of Central Park is classified by the city as having no current use.

2017

Sweeping Reforms to the Board of Standards and Appeals

In May 2017, the New York City Council passed a series of reforms to the Board of Standards and Appeals zoning variance process that enact reforms long called for by MAS. In 1976 and 2004, MAS released landmark studies identifying abuse and misuse of the variance process, which effectively resulted in the rezoning of certain communities, without taking into account the cumulative impacts on light and air, traffic, parking, school capacity, and other city services.

2018

Celebrating 125 Years of Advocacy on Behalf of New York and New Yorkers

For 125 years, the Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) has worked to educate and inspire New Yorkers to engage in the betterment of our city. We hope you will join us in honoring the generations of MAS board, staff, and members whose dedication made these victories possible.

Help us advocate for the betterment of New York City as we have for 125 years.

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