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US Priceless collection owned by NYC's Chinatown museum likely destroyed in fire

08:30  25 january  2020
08:30  25 january  2020 Source:   nbcnews.com

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Much of the collection of the Museum of Chinese in America may have been ruined after a fire broke out at a building in Chinatown where its acquisitions were stored. A spokesman for the New York City Fire Department said the Buildings Department determines if a building is sound enough to enter.

Nine firefighters and a 59-year-old man were injured Thursday after a large fire broke out at a beloved community center in Manhattan’ s Chinatown that holds offices of the Museum of Chinese in America. It also houses collections and research materials from the Museum of Chinese in America.

Officials at New York City's Museum of Chinese in America said Friday they fear a fire at a building that housed as many as 85,000 pieces likely destroyed almost the entire collection.

a store inside of a building: Image; Chinese Museum Fire© FDNY Image; Chinese Museum Fire

Thursday's fire at 70 Mulberry Street, a former public school in Chinatown, did not appear to send flames into the museum's second-floor storage area, but damage from water sprayed on upper floors could be irreparable, said Nancy Yao Maasbach, the museum's president.

"It's devastating for us," she said.

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Brazil’ s National Museum caught fire on Sunday, quickly burning almost to rubble in the span of a few hours. Millions of irreplaceable artifacts and It was one of the oldest museums in the Americas, and contained a collection of around 20 million objects from the fields of natural history and archaeology.

NYC ' s Chinatown holds one of the biggest new year celebrations in the country and it is expected to draw thousands of people to the area on Saturday. The cause of the fire is being investigated by fire marshals. Chen Dance Center owner HT Chen says he has been in the building for over 40 years.

Among the injured were a 59-year-old man who suffered smoke inhalation and eight firefighters who suffered minor injuries. The building also housed a senior center and other nonprofits.

The museum, known by the acronym MOCA, used its portion of the building to store donated collections of Chinatown postcards, Chinese American newspapers, family albums, documents about the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and letters home from lonely bachelor immigrants, Maasbach said.

"It's priceless," she said. "I think the most painful part is that these are families who trusted us with their collections."

The 40-year-old museum located a few blocks away from the burned building often used copies of documents and artifacts in its exhibits to keep the originals safe at 70 Mulberry, Maasbach said.

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The extent of the damage isn't clear, Maasbach said, because firefighters and city officials aren't letting museum workers on the property. She said this will worsen damage to items that might be salvaged if conservators could get to them quickly.

"We're absolutely concerned about water damage," she said. "We cannot get there for two or three weeks."

The possible loss was realized on the eve of Lunar New Year, a date of celebration for the United States' Chinese diaspora.

But there was some good news: Museum officials say 35,000 pieces, mostly documents, had already been digitized and were thus preserved for future generations despite the possible loss of the originals.

"Anything that has historical significance that was in paper form could be digitized," Maasbach said, "and we were adamant about doing that over the last five years."

City leaders, conservators from other museums and strangers have offered help. Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted Thursday, "We're going to help the community get through this."

New York Rallies Around Chinese Museum After Fire Ravages Archive .
New Yorkers have raised more than $65,000 for the Museum of Chinese in America after a five-alarm fire tore through its archive last week.In just two days, New Yorkers have raised more than raised more than $65,000 for MOCA, the museum that kept its 85,000-piece archive in 70 Mulberry St., which was ravaged by fire on Jan. 23.

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