History

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

1893

MAS is Founded

The Municipal Art Society (MAS) is founded to beautify New York City parks and public buildings with murals and sculptures financed by membership dues.

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 renamed 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 landmark 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 within Central Park and the Music and Art Center on its south edge.

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
1955

Saving Tweed Courthouse from Demolition

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

MAS saves Tweed Courthouse
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
1978

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, 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 Lights of Times Square

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

Times Square, 1984
1987

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

Stand Against the Shadows

On October 18, 1987, more than 800 New Yorkers joined MAS in Central Park and raised 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

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
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 brought 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
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 our city’s last industrial and entrepreneurial 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

New York’s Next Great Waterfront Park

MAS released the report to help guide the transformation of the former Con Ed pier along the East Midtown Waterfront. The recommendations grew out of a charrette, or design workshop, convened by MAS in July 2011 to bring attention to the East Side’s pressing need for publicly accessible open space and articulate a community-driven vision for a new waterfront park.

New York’s Next Great Waterfront Park

Jane’s Walk NYC

On May 7 and 8, MAS organized 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. The 2018 festival will be held May 4-6.

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 Spaces (APOPS)

Drawing on over a decade of research, MAS partners with Jerrold Kayden to launch 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.

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

Become a member Donate