Drawing of the AMNH south façade
The American Museum of Natural History was housed in the Arsenal from 1869 until 1877, when the first building on the AMNH grounds opened.
Before construction of the present complex, the museum was housed in the Arsenal building in Central Park. Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., the father of Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th U.S. President, was one of the founders along with John David Wolfe, William T. Blodgett, Robert L. Stuart, Andrew H. Green, Robert Colgate, Morris K. Jesup, Benjamin H. Field, D. Jackson Steward, Richard M. Blatchford, J. P. Morgan, Adrian Iselin, Moses H. Grinnell, Benjamin B. Sherman, A. G. Phelps Dodge, William A. Haines, Charles A. Dana, Joseph H. Choate, Henry G. Stebbins, Henry Parish, and Howard Potter. The founding of the museum realized the dream of naturalist Dr. Albert S. Bickmore. Bickmore, a one-time student of zoologist Louis Agassiz, lobbied tirelessly for years for the establishment of a natural history museum in New York. His proposal, backed by his powerful sponsors, won the support of the Governor of New York, John Thompson Hoffman, who signed a bill officially creating the American Museum of Natural History on April 6, 1869.
In 1874, the cornerstone was laid for the museum's first building, which is now hidden from view by the many buildings in the complex that today occupy most of Manhattan Square. The original Victorian Gothic building, which was opened in 1877, was designed by Calvert Vaux and J. Wrey Mould, both already closely identified with the architecture of Central Park.:19–20
This building was completed by the end of the 19th century. The buildings beside this one would be complete in the early 20th century. Currently, this building houses (first floor to fourth floor) the Grand Gallery, Birds of the World
, Primates, and the Wallach Orientation Center
The original building was soon eclipsed by the south range of the museum, designed by J. Cleaveland Cady, an exercise in rusticated brownstone neo-Romanesque, influenced by H. H. Richardson. It extends 700 feet (210 m) along West 77th Street, with corner towers 150 feet (46 m) tall. Its pink brownstone and granite, similar to that found at Grindstone Island in the St. Lawrence River, came from quarries at Picton Island, New York.
The entrance on Central Park West, the New York State Memorial to Theodore Roosevelt, completed by John Russell Pope in 1936, is an overscaled Beaux-Arts monument. It leads to a vast Roman basilica, where visitors are greeted with a cast of a skeleton of a rearing Barosaurus defending her young from an Allosaurus. The museum is also accessible through its 77th Street foyer, renamed the "Grand Gallery" and featuring a fully suspended Haida canoe. The hall leads into the oldest extant exhibit in the museum, the hall of Northwest Coast Indians.
Locations of exploring and field parties in 1913, American Museum of Natural History map
The old 77th street "castle
" entrance of the museum
Later additions, restorations, and renovations
Since 1930, little has been added to the exterior of the original building. The architect Kevin Roche and his firm Roche-Dinkeloo have been responsible for the master planning of the museum since the 1990s. Various renovations to both the interior and exterior have been carried out. Renovations to the Dinosaur Hall were undertaken starting in 1991, and the museum also restored the mural in Roosevelt Memorial Hall in 2010. In 1992 the Roche-Dinkeloo firm designed the eight-story AMNH Library. However, the entirety of the master plan was ultimately not fully realized, and by 2015, the museum consisted of 25 separate buildings that were poorly connected.
The museum's south façade, spanning 77th Street from Central Park West to Columbus Avenue was cleaned, repaired and re-emerged in 2009. Steven Reichl, a spokesman for the museum, said that work would include restoring 650 black-cherry window frames and stone repairs. The museum's consultant on the latest renovation is Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc., an architectural and engineering firm with headquarters in Northbrook, Illinois.
In 2014, the museum published plans for a $325 million, 195,000-square-foot (18,100 m2) annex, the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation, on the Columbus Avenue side. Designed by Studio Gang, Higgins Quasebarth & Partners and landscape architects Reed Hilderbrand, the new building's pink Milford granite facade will have a textural, curvilinear design inspired by natural topographical elements showcased in the museum, including "geological strata, glacier-gouged caves, curving canyons, and blocks of glacial ice," as a striking contrast to the museum's predominance of High Victorian Gothic, Richardson Romanesque and Beaux Arts architectural styles. The interior itself would contain a new entrance from Columbus Avenue north of 79th Street; a multiple-story storage structure containing specimens and objects; rooms to display these objects; an insect hall; an "interpretive" "wayfinding wall", and a theater. This expansion was originally supposed to be located to the south of the existing museum, occupying parts of Theodore Roosevelt Park. The expansion was relocated to the west side of the existing museum, and its footprint was reduced in size, due to opposition to construction in the park. The annex would instead replace three existing buildings along Columbus Avenue's east side, with more than 30 connections to the existing museum, and it would be six stories high, the same height as the existing buildings. The plans for the expansion were scrutinized by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. On October 11, 2016, the Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously approved the expansion. Construction of the Gilder Center, which was expected to break ground the next year following design development and Environmental Impact Statement stages, would entail demolition of three museum buildings built between 1874 and 1935. The museum formally filed plans to construct the expansion in August 2017, but due to community opposition, construction did not start until June 2019. The project is expected to be complete by 2022.
The museum's first two presidents were John David Wolfe (1870–1872) and Robert L. Stuart (1872–1881), both among the museum's founders. The museum was not put on a sound footing until the appointment of the third president, Morris K. Jesup (also one of the original founders), in 1881. Jesup was president for over 25 years, overseeing its expansion and much of its golden age of exploration and collection. The fourth president, Henry Fairfield Osborn, was appointed in 1906 on the death of Jesup. Osborn consolidated the museum's expansion, developing it into one of the world's foremost natural history museums. F. Trubee Davison was president from 1933 to 1951, with A. Perry Osborn as Acting President from 1941 to 1946. Alexander M. White was president from 1951 to 1968. Gardner D. Stout was president from 1968 to 1975. Robert G. Goelet from 1975 to 1988. George D. Langdon, Jr. from 1988 to 1993. Ellen V. Futter has been president of the museum since 1993.
Famous names associated with the museum include the paleontologist and geologist Henry Fairfield Osborn; the dinosaur-hunter of the Gobi Desert, Roy Chapman Andrews (one of the inspirations for Indiana Jones);:97–8 photographer Yvette Borup Andrews; George Gaylord Simpson; biologist Ernst Mayr; pioneer cultural anthropologists Franz Boas and Margaret Mead; explorer and geographer Alexander H. Rice, Jr.; and ornithologist Robert Cushman Murphy. J. P. Morgan was also among the famous benefactors of the museum.