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Tour of the Old Public Museum Building

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This year's field trip by the Grand Rapids Historical Society is to the old Public Museum building at 54 Jefferson. Except for that art thing last spring, this old Art Deco building has been closed to the public since the VanAndel Museum Center building was opened in 1994.

A group of museum associates will make presentations about the history of the Grand Rapids Museum along with the future plans for the museum and the old building. Following the presentations there will be a behind-the-scenes walking tour through the old museum building. The title of this show is "Re-examining the Grand Rapids Public Museum: Past, Present, Future."

It's this Thursday February 10 at 7:30 PM, and as usual it's free to anyone who shows up. Here's more from their events website:

GRHIST EVENTS

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This year's field trip by the Grand Rapids Historical Society is to the old Public Museum building at 54 Jefferson. Except for that art thing last spring, this old Art Deco building has been closed to the public since the VanAndel Museum Center building was opened in 1994.

A group of museum associates will make presentations about the history of the Grand Rapids Museum along with the future plans for the museum and the old building. Following the presentations there will be a behind-the-scenes walking tour through the old museum building. The title of this show is "Re-examining the Grand Rapids Public Museum: Past, Present, Future."

It's this Thursday February 10 at 7:30 PM, and as usual it's free to anyone who shows up. Here's more from their events website:

GRHIST EVENTS

Not sure of the time. I originally posted 7:30 because that's what it says in the Historical Society's newsletter. But since then Sharon Hanks, who is one of their board members, has written an article in the Rapidian where she says 7:00. Who ya gonna believe? I guess it wouldn't hurt to be early.

Here's her article, it tells better about the program:

rapidian link

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Long before the City had decided to reuse the old Grand Rapids Public Museum building as County Records storage, I always hoped it would be redeveloped as the "Pikes Street Market - Seattle"- or "Lexington Market - Baltimore"-type development that is now going in on Ionia SW. It still would make a fantastic mixed-use retail/entertainment, cinema, food-court, artist flats development for SE Downtown. <Sigh> Hope (and common sense) springs eternal.

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Not sure of the time. I originally posted 7:30 because that's what it says in the Historical Society's newsletter. But since then Sharon Hanks, who is one of their board members, has written an article in the Rapidian where she says 7:00. Who ya gonna believe? I guess it wouldn't hurt to be early.

Here's her article, it tells better about the program:

rapidian link

I talked on the phone this morning to Gina Bivins, the president of the historical society. She said it starts at 7:00 PM tonight. She did not know why the newsletter said 7:30. Sorry for the confusion.

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This sounds like a great event. I've always wished they would open up the old museum more often than they do. I've always thought it to be a much better museum facility than the Van Andel, which I've never like since the day it opened. I remember the first time I was in the Van Andel, and thought, "Where did they put all of the exhibits? There's nothing here!" Apparently, the "new" model of museums isn't to put dozens and dozens of similar items into display cases, but to display just a few items in more "natural" surroundings. No wonder I love the Field Museum in Chicago, which is so massive it hasn't had time to subscribe to the new model. You want totem poles? Go to the totem pole room. You want birds? Go the room full of birds.

I've always wondered what the huge difficulty would be in simply putting a collection on display. Supposedly more than 90% of the Museum's collection is not displayed because they do not have room to "properly" display it. Well, why not just stuff it into display cases in the old museum facility and call it a day? It beats what they have going now. It will be interesting to see if we can actually get a glimpse of any of the collection tonight.

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This sounds like a great event. I've always wished they would open up the old museum more often than they do. I've always thought it to be a much better museum facility than the Van Andel, which I've never like since the day it opened. I remember the first time I was in the Van Andel, and thought, "Where did they put all of the exhibits? There's nothing here!" Apparently, the "new" model of museums isn't to put dozens and dozens of similar items into display cases, but to display just a few items in more "natural" surroundings. No wonder I love the Field Museum in Chicago, which is so massive it hasn't had time to subscribe to the new model. You want totem poles? Go to the totem pole room. You want birds? Go the room full of birds.

I've always wondered what the huge difficulty would be in simply putting a collection on display. Supposedly more than 90% of the Museum's collection is not displayed because they do not have room to "properly" display it. Well, why not just stuff it into display cases in the old museum facility and call it a day? It beats what they have going now. It will be interesting to see if we can actually get a glimpse of any of the collection tonight.

I do have to agree that the Field Museum in Chicago is one of my favorites.... and it's in part because of their display-case acreage. But, you have to admit exhibits like their evolution walk-through on the upper floor are more powerful in terms of learning and presenting the "why" behind the "what."

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I do have to agree that the Field Museum in Chicago is one of my favorites.... and it's in part because of their display-case acreage. But, you have to admit exhibits like their evolution walk-through on the upper floor are more powerful in terms of learning and presenting the "why" behind the "what."

Well speaking of the Chicago Field Museum and behind-the-scene tours, on May 26 and 27 they are having their annual member's nights when you can go behind-the-scenes in their massive museum. Besides the three floors that are usually open to the public, there are two more floors above and two sub-basements below to explore. It is not just storage, the Field Museum is a research institution so you can meet and talk to the scientists about their weird projects and interests. Some of it is sort of like the lab in the TV show "Bones," including things like beetles eating the flesh off of bones, pretty cool.

The catch is you need to be a member but that's not too difficult. It costs just $60 dollars to become a National Affiliate (that just means it's cheaper because you live more than hundred miles away.) Besides being able to go to member's night there are a lot of other benefits like you can get in free all year and you don't need to stand in a long line to get in like the commoners.

My son and I usually go to the member's night every year. Here's more information at their website:

FIELD MUSEUM MEMBERSHIP

If you want to go to the member's night, I think you've got to have your membership set up first, you can't just show up at the door on May 26 with sixty bucks.

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They are nice exhibits, but the bread and butter of the Field museum is really the tons of display cases filled with stuff that literally takes days to look at and examine. After revisiting the old Grand Rapids Museum, it's just incredible the resource that they have which is just sitting there unused. It's almost like someone locked the door and turned out the lights one day. Half the great natural history exhibits are still sitting there in the display cases.

With some good volunteer help and what looks like VERY little money, they could really turn that place into just a fantastic community resource and put tons of their locked away collection back on display and accessible to the public. In some ways, it's a far better facility than the Van Andel for just showing off tons and tons of artifacts because that's what it was designed for in the first place. The old museum in many ways remind me of the Field Museum. Both have seemingly endless display cases and some upper floor "guided" exhibits. Of course, the lower floor stuff doesn't necessarily fit the modern "guided presentation" museum motif that you cite, but who cares? Having to think for yourself isn't necessarily a bad thing, either. I, for one, would love to see these display cases stocked back up with stuff and opened back up. If it worked 50 years ago (or even 20 years ago), there is no reason it could not work just as well today.

I do have to agree that the Field Museum in Chicago is one of my favorites.... and it's in part because of their display-case acreage. But, you have to admit exhibits like their evolution walk-through on the upper floor are more powerful in terms of learning and presenting the "why" behind the "what."

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... It will be interesting to see if we can actually get a glimpse of any of the collection tonight.

Yep.

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Some of these materials were said to be Old City Hall's flooring.

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Stay tuned, will post more after shrinking them.

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I REALLY enjoyed the tour of the their storage facility last night. It's just so fun to wander aisles of cool old things, discovering stuff, trying to figure out how something was used. There are a lot of cool things in there, like an actual x-ray machine where you could stick your foot in and see the x-ray image of it. It was used as a gimmick at one of the dept. stores. A few of the people on the tour remembered using it when they were little.

Lots of great architectural pieces as well. I also loved the juxtaposition of some items against others. Like an old Indian Motorcycles moped in front of an Abraham Lincoln statue, next to a penny farthing.

I took a bunch of photos on my phone, but the cable I need to get them off is at work. I'll try and post some later today.

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I would love it if gr had a natural history museum, now if they only had a vacant building...

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. . . I've always thought it to be a much better museum facility than the Van Andel, which I've never like since the day it opened. I remember the first time I was in the Van Andel, and thought, "Where did they put all of the exhibits? There's nothing here!" . . .

No wonder I love the Field Museum in Chicago, which is so massive it hasn't had time to subscribe to the new model. You want totem poles? Go to the totem pole room. You want birds? Go the room full of birds. . .

X99's opinion of the exhibits in the VanAndel Museum Center Building is not unique. I think a good part of the displeasure many people have is because the museum's mission has shifted from being a natural history museum to being something else. Shortly after the VanAndel Museum Center opened there was a movement by a local prominent doctor to establish a new independent natural history museum. Obviously nothing happened.

The Grand Rapids Museum began as a natural history museum and all the exhibits in the Jefferson Street building from the beginning fit that mode. When the museum expanded in the 1960's into the adjoining East Building, the focus started shifting to being more of an historical artifact museum with most of the artifacts being no older than the city of Grand Rapids. For example, the gaslight village hallway, the gowns, the musical instruments, and the furniture exhibits (at one time there had been a separate furniture museum that was merged into the GR Museum.) I've only visited the VanAndel Museum building a couple of times but as I recall the only permanent exhibit there that could be classified as natural history is on the top floor that is about the Grand River.

One of the scenarios I have for when I win the mega million jackpot is to endow a new natural history museum. It would have to be one of the bigger jackpots because I intend to keep some of the money for myself. The upper floors would have exhibits like the old museum and like the Field Museum where the exhibits describe evolution. But I'd have it built over one of the abandoned gypsum mines so that you could take in elevator down into the mine to study geology. Down there the tour guides could tell the story of the old gypsum miners and there would be a snack bar down there where they would sell wet burritos.

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museum11.jpgmuseum12.jpg

One thing I learned from the tour Thursday night was that the storage building is a brand new building. From the outside I had thought it was just the old East Building with a new facade. It was pretty impressive and technically comparable with the new storage areas in the Field Museum.

As long as you still have the room there is virtually no cost to storing stuff of dubious value. While there was a lot of wonderful stuff in that building, some of it was questionable. Of course what's important and what's not is pretty subjective. For example, Veloise's pictures show the museum's wedding dress collection. Unless you live in the wedding dress capital, just how many wedding dresses do you really need? My guess is that when grandma dies and the heirs go through her house, no one really wants her wedding dress but they can't bring themselves to throw it away so they donate it to the museum and maybe get a tax deduction for the donation besides. I didn't bother seeing the Princess Diana exhibit either so maybe it's just me that feels there are more dresses here than anyone needs.

EDIT: One more thing; during one of the presentations they described their new improved and improving website. They are in the process of scanning and describing all their items. So you can go into their site under collections and call up a picture or description of any item, or at least the items they've so far added. Might be something you'd want to bookmark -

GR MUSEUM LINK

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The Grand Rapids Museum began as a natural history museum and all the exhibits in the Jefferson Street building from the beginning fit that mode. When the museum expanded in the 1960's into the adjoining East Building, the focus started shifting to being more of an historical artifact museum with most of the artifacts being no older than the city of Grand Rapids. For example, the gaslight village hallway, the gowns, the musical instruments, and the furniture exhibits (at one time there had been a separate furniture museum that was merged into the GR Museum.) I've only visited the VanAndel Museum building a couple of times but as I recall the only permanent exhibit there that could be classified as natural history is on the top floor that is about the Grand River.

That's an interesting historical perspective on the museum. Visiting the old museum really bears this opinion out -- almost none of the old museum ever left. An enormous portion of it is still sitting there in the display cases.

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More pics.

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Daily paper, seven cents.

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Rendering of the newer building. museum40.jpg

The red volume is a set of historic Sanborn maps. I borrowed the white gloves to page through it...fascinating stuff.

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Photo studio. The museum is shooting its artifacts and uploading the pics to its website. museum44.jpg

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The museum will be mounting a "150th anniversary of the Civil War" exhibition in June, and they are compiling items in a special room.

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I finally uploaded my photos. I'm admittedly too lazy to paste all the links into UrbanPlanet, so you'll have to go to Flickr to see all 47. http://www.flickr.co...57625953345121/ I added descriptions explaining some of the photos. Like the one of the time clocks (http://www.flickr.com/photos/fotoman311/5454863475/in/set-72157625953345121/) donated by the guy who worked for IBM who went around and installed the "new" technologically advanced time clocks and the companies just gave him the old ones.

They were taken with my Blackberry, so the quality is a bit bleh. They were still fun to shoot.

http://www.flickr.co...57625953345121/

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http://www.flickr.co...57625953345121/

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http://www.flickr.co...57625953345121/

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Nice photos fotoman.

Last year in another thread I had mentioned that the architect Roger Allen had incorporated rather unique for the time exterior features in the design of the old museum building; no setback from the sidewalk, no massive steps, and display windows similar to a retail store. During one of the presentations the presenter basically repeated what I had said. It is always nice to have one's fuzzy memory verified by someone with the facts. However she said the ideas originated from the then museum director, Frank DuMond. In any case it was Allen that made the design.

It could have been different. From the museum's website, here is a proposal from the architects Williamson Crow and Proctor – nice but conventional and not particularly distinguished:

Williamson Crow Proctor

Here's Roger Allen’s proposal:

ROGER ALLEN

It's pretty much what we got except the actual building has glass bricks instead of what looks like on the drawing to be ornate metal work in the transom and window above the main door.

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