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The Met Marks Its 150th Anniversary

May 08, 2020

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In the January 2020 issue of Town & Country I spotted a fascinating piece by Josh Duboff about New York’s famous Metropolitan Museum. He begins with this: “Harold Koda remembers the first time he stood in front of the Met, which would eventually become his workplace.”

A fabulous night at the Met – Photo courtesy of Town & Country magazine, January 2020

This was in the 1970s and Koda, the former curator-in-chief of the Costume Institute, remembers that, “I was amazed by the steps leading up to such a majestic building.” 

If those steps could talk they’d recount a layered social history of NYC – the socialites, movie stars and queen bees – even villains and heroes – who have made it to the summit. Now, one of the more ambitious returns: Upper East Siders’ Gossip Girl is back. This teen soap opera that delighted the blogging generation gets a reboot on HBO Max for the streaming era. Just in time for the Met’s 150th Anniversary.

Here’s a brief oral history as told by the boys and girls who spent time on the steps of the Met.

LET’S HEAR IT: THE NEARBY PREP SCHOOL

When architect Kevin Roche added the majestic staircase (154’ wide x 13.5’ tall) in 1975, he could not have imagined that the steps would be taken over by the pupils of the nearby prep schools.

Olivia Palermo, a graduate of the NIGHTINGALE BAMFORD SCHOOL says, “They were like Mt. Everest to me as a little girl – a challenge meant to be conquered.”

Nicky Hilton Rothschild, a graduate of SACRED HEART notes that, “all the SPENCE and HEWITT girls plus the ST. DAVID’S boys would be there after school on a Friday to talk about their weekend plans.”

Elizabeth Angell, a BREARLEY SCHOOL graduate remembers that, “her high school class took a senior picture on the steps – half on one side of the banister and half on the other."

To highlight the Met’s 150th anniversary, the museum’s British Decorative  Arts and Design galleries were renovated. Shown: the gallery’s entrance in 1971, photo courtesy of Town & Country, March 2020

BOLD-FACED NAMES ON THE PALACE STEPS

Lauren Santo Domingo, co-founder of MODA OPERANDI remembers the Met gala before the red carpet. “There was just a city sidewalk and stone steps for the procession.”

Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of VOGUE and style-setter for the Western Hemisphere notes, “I remember all the unforgettable arrivals. Beyoncé practically naked in Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy; Stella McCartney and Liv Tyler coming in ‘Rock Royalty’ T-shirts for 1999’s ‘Rock Style.’ Stella told me that she didn’t have any idea what she was coming to. She hadn’t really done her hair or makeup, which was perfect.”

Selby Drummond, head of fashion/beauty for SNAPCHAT and a SPENCE grad says that, “her husband was her Met gala date this year and he looked at the Met’s stairs and was like, ‘Wait, I don’t want to do this. Can I go around?’ I replied, “No honey, there’s no way around. You have to just go up the stairs.” (I find this very funny!)

THIS IS UPTOWN’S WASHINGTON SQUARE

Stephanie Savage, co-creator of the GOSSIP GIRL TV series reports that “the stairs are a controlled space with levels – a visual ladder that you could see people climbing -- the higher the step, the more powerful the girl.”

And finally, Paul Goldberger, architecture critic sums up the Met stairs with this comment, “People seem to hang out there whether or not they’re going into the museum. It’s certainly a lot more than just a way in and a way out.”

It’s all froth and fun but we take these steps seriously.

Shaun Nelson-Henrick


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