Fundraiser launches for the Museum of Chinese in America after fire destroyed 85K-item archive

January 27, 2020

70 Mulberry Street, Map data © 2020 Google

The Museum of Chinese in America has launched an online fundraiser after a fire likely destroyed most of its extensive archive. Last Thursday night, a fire broke out at 70 Mulberry Street in Chinatown, in a building that housed a number of nonprofits, including about 85,000 irreplaceable items from the museum’s collection. According to the New York Times, priceless artifacts like traditional wedding dresses from the early 1900s and documents from 1883 about the Chinese Exclusion Act are thought to be among items lost.

What started as a grassroots, community-driven nonprofit nearly 40 years ago, grew into a nationally-acclaimed museum dedicated to the Chinese-American experience. MOCA got its start at the community building on Mulberry Street, currently also home to the Chen Dance Center, the Chinatown Manpower Project, Chinatown Senior Center, and United East Athletics Association, and moved to 215 Centre Street in 2009.

The museum has maintained research offices on the second floor of 70 Mulberry to store thousands of its archival items, like letters, artifacts, and photographs. According to the museum, about 35,000 items in the collection had been already digitized.

“MOCA is deeply saddened and shocked by the devastating fire at Chinatown’s beloved 70 Mulberry,” the museum tweeted on Friday. “The MOCA team stayed on site until hoses stopped last night.”

The fire, which injured 10 people and caused the center’s roof to collapse, did not likely reach the second floor with the collection, but museum officials fear irreparable water damage. Museum staff will not be able to enter the building for at least three weeks. “There was just an endless list of priceless family albums, postcards from Chinatown from the early 1900s,” MOCA President Nancy Yao Maasbach told Gothamist.

“We have all the movie posters from the theaters that used to be in Chinatown that no longer exist, the ticket stubs from those things. And we have this signage from early restaurants and laundromats in Chinatown and these things are just priceless.”

On the eve of Lunar New Year in the city, one of the most celebrated events of the year, MOCA launched a GoFundMe to support their effort in recovering the artifacts. Since the weekend, more than 840 people have donated nearly $62,000. Donate to the museum here. The main museum on Centre Street remains open during this time.

[Via NY Times]

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