The building — and the history — destroyed at 70 Mulberry

The Museum of Chinese in America has lost tens of thousands of artifacts in the fire that ripped through 70 Mulberry on Thursday night — in fact, everything. It was their main depository for their collections — all save the displays at the museum two streets over at 215 Centre. The Times has the full story, and TribecaMom sent over these pictures of the building as firefighters continued to work on the building after the initial blaze.

The city has said there is significant interior structural damage to the building, estimating that no one will be allowed back in for three weeks. And after the building was doused by firefighters, there’s little hope that anything can be saved — museum officials are assuming everything was soaked with water. Nine firefighters were injured, but none seriously, along with the one man in the building at the time of the fire.

The museum began in 1980 as the New York Chinatown History Project, founded by historian John Kuo Wei Tchen and community resident/activist Charles Lai. It was created to develop a better understanding of the Chinese American history and community and to respond to the concern that the memories and experiences of aging older generations would disappear without a collection, especially since not many other historical institutions made that part of American history a priority. The collection at 70 Mulberry had 85,000 pieces, including many from local families documenting their immigration stories. Of those, about half were digitized, but many, such as traditional wedding dresses from the early 1900s known as cheongsam, live only in the analog world.



  1. That’s a tragic loss not just to the Chinese American community, but as part of the whole history of immigration in America as well.

  2. Very sad. This should be a lesson for all large and small/starting museums and NFPs to document it’s collections from the very inception.

  3. NY Times: “After the Fire, a Chinatown Museum Sifts Through What Survived”

    “Families are celebrating hundreds of boxes of heirlooms that were unloaded from the scorched interior of 70 Mulberry Street. […] The vast majority of the archives were retrieved from the wreckage, but it is too soon to tell how much can be preserved during the monthslong process. Here are some artifacts that did survive.”