The Audubon Terrace Museum Group was the concept of scholar, art patron and philanthropist Archer M. Huntington. He was the son of Collis P. Huntington, owner of the Central Pacific Railroad and Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Companies. The younger Huntington wanted to leave a cultural legacy for Hamilton Heights and Washington Heights with a variety of museums in one place.
Huntington began purchasing Audubon Park, which was named for the estate of John James Audubon. The construction of the complex was planned to coincide with the building of the new subway line that was projected to go up Broadway.
The complex is bordered by 155th Street, 156th Street, Broadway and Riverside Drive. The site was laid out in 1908 by Charles Pratt Huntington, who had created the master plan for Audubon Terrace. Most of the major statues on the grounds were executed by Anna Vaughn Huntington.
Audubon Terrace originally included The American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, The American Numismatic Society, The American Geographical Society, The Church of Our Lady of Esperanza and the Museum of the American Indian-Heye Foundation.
The American Geographical Society, founded in 1852, was the first building to be occupied on the complex in 1911. The original headquarters and library were located on 81st Street. Besides doing scholarly work, the society helped to negotiate boundary disputes and sponsored expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic.
Such notables as Richard Byrd, Sir Edmund Hilary, Charles Lindbergh and Woodrow Wilson have graced the society’s halls. In the 1960s, cartographers from the society engaged in work for the space programs of the United States. In the early 1970s, the society moved to the midwest, and the building was purchased for the use of Boricua College.
The Museum of the American Indian was founded by Georg Gustav Heye in 1916 and was officially opened to the public in 1922. The Museum is devoted to the collection, preservation, study and exhibition of all things connected with the anthropology of the aboriginal peoples of North, Central and South America. As such, the museum’s collections unrivaled by any museum in the world.
On display at the museum were garments, costumes, religious artifacts, tools, weapons, vessels, household craftwork, and a diorama of an Indian village of northern Manhattan. Most of the collection is in a warehouse in the Bronx.
The Smithsonian Institution took over the collection and the building and was renamed the National Museum of the American Indian. The collection was moved to the U.S. Custom House at Bowling Green in the 1980s. A new museum in Washington, DC, is being constructed to house the exhibits.
The American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters are a merger of two distinguished organizations that foster and sustain an interest in literature, music and the fine arts. The National Institute of Arts and Letters was founded in 1898, and the American Academy was established in 1904. Both of these organizations moved into the complex in 1923. The Institute and the Academy merged in 1976 after 72 years of separate though related existence.
Their main endeavors have been in conferring honors and awards for works of distinction. Each year approximately $130,000 in grants, awards and scholarships are bestowed. Examples of these are The Marc Blitzstein Award for “The Musical Theater,” The Charles E. Ives Award, The E.M. Forster Award, The Marjorie Peabody Waite Award, and the Childe Hassom Award.
Some of its past members have been Sherwood Anderson, e.e. cummings, William Faulkner, Igor Stravinsky, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Thomas Wolfe. Throughout the year there are various exhibits of art, books, manuscripts and music scores.
The American Numismatic Society was organized in 1858 and was incorporated in 1865 and operates in New York State under Section 501(c)(3). The original objectives were “the collection and preservation of coins and medals, the investigations therewith, and the popularization of the science of numismatics.” Many of its exhibits deal mostly with coins and medals that have a history dating to ancient times. Exhibits are always changing due to the large collection it has.
The Hispanic Society of America was founded in 1904 by Archer M. Huntington with the intent of compiling, both written and visual, the history and culture of the Iberian Peninsula. The original collection was assembled by Huntington, and the statues on the terrace were executed by his wife Anna.
The museum was opened in January 1908, and an additional building was added in 1930. Such masters as El Greco, Velasquez, Goya, and Morales adorn the walls with their art. There is also a Roman glass from the 1st Century, an illuminated bible from the 15th century and a fine collection of polychrome wood carvings.
Panoramic views of the Spanish provinces were painted by Sorolla in the early 20th century dramatizing some of the festivals and costumes that have been lost forever. The library consists of over a thousand manuscripts and more than 100,000 books, making it the largest research center on Spanish and Portuguese art and culture.
The Church of Our Lady of Esperanza stands upon a knoll which was once part of Audubon Park. This eventually became known as Spanish Hill. The church was founded in part by Señora Doña Manuela de Laverrerie de Barril, wife of the Spanish Consul-General in New York. Sra. de Barril invited Archer Huntington and his wife to dinner to discuss the possibility of having another church for the Spanish-speaking peoples in New York City. A few months later Sra. de Barril died never getting to see her dreams fulfilled.
On April 20, 1912, the church was consecrated. To honor the opening of the church, King Alfonso XIII of Spain donated a lamp. The first pastor was Father Adrian Buisson, who was pastor at the Church of Our Lady of Guadeloupe and remained at Esperanza for 40 years.
The 1920s saw an increasing amount of parishioners at the church, which forced the church to make the decision to enlarge the building, and an extension was added to the recessed front of the church. A rectory was provided over the entrance.
In 1952 Father Adrian retired at the age of 90. Father Francis Soutberg was appointed pastor until 1955, when Father Bernard Guillet became the pastor of the church. The Reverend Monsignor Peter C. O’Donnell is the present pastor of Esperanza.
For further information on the Internet regarding Archer Huntington and his wife Anna, visit the History of Redding and Mariners’ Museum Web sites. The National Museum of the American Indian is now downtown at Bowling Green. The American Geographical Society is now at the Golda Meir Library at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. The Hispanic Society of America, the American Numismatic Society and Boricua College are still at Audubon Terrace.