Officials at New York City’s Museum of Chinese in America told NBC News Friday that the fire that tore through a building in Chinatown may have destroyed as many as 85,000 irreplaceable pieces housed there.
New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio was in Chinatown Friday afternoon to examine the extent of the fire damage at 70 Mulberry Street alongisde NYC Councilmember Margaret Chin and NY State Assemblymember Yuh-Line-Niou.
“This is literally a pillar to the community. A painful moment on the eve of a joyous celebration,” De Blasio said, referring to the Lunar New Year. “This is a horrible blow to the community, there is still fire operations going on. Once those are concluded the buildings department will go in again to establish whether the building is safe enough for people to enter and get their possessions out.”
He called 70 Mulberry Street, which is owned by the city, a “beautiful historic building.”
“We will restore it. The city is committed in bringing this building back to life,” the mayor said.
According to Nancy Yao Maasbach, the president of the Museum of Chinese in America, all of the museum’s collection other besides what is on view, was stored in the building. The collection was one of a kind and she was “just distraught” after receiving the news, she said.
Archives housed by the museum exhibited the Chinese immigration experience and the history of Chinatown and took many decades to collect.
The city will work quickly within the next two days with the organizations that were located in the community center, to find them other city-owned sites so they may continue their work.
The organizations that called the community center their home include the Chinese American Planning Council, Chinatown Manpower Project, Chen and Dancers, Museum of Chinese in America and the United East Athletics Association.
Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said the fire started on the fourth floor on the Bayard Street side of the building and is still under investigation. When asked about the 59-year old hospitalized man who is still in the hospital, Nigro said it’s still unknown why he was in the building and what his relation to being there is.
Councilmember Chin said seniors relied on the Chinatown Planning Center’s senior center for possibly the only meal of the day and now they will need to find a meal another way.
One of the concessions for the new jail that is slated to built just a block away was to build an elevator in the community center, which De Blasio said he will still do.
Lunar New Year celebrations took place despite Mulberry and Bayard Streets being closed by the fire.
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