A note about the MOCA fire in NYC from Michelle Novak

On Thursday night, a fire broke out on the roof of the historic, landmarked building which houses the archive for the Museum of the Chinese in America (MOCA). The building is owned by the City of New York, was recently renovated, and housed many cultural institutions and local non-profits. The fire raged for hours and when I visited the site about 24 hours later, the FDNY was still pouring water onto the collapsed top two floors of the building from two directions.

The horrific news this morning is that although the floors where the archives are stored was not touched by fire, the collection may be a complete loss. The building will not be accessible to MOCA staff for at least three weeks, and the museum president expects that water damage destroy the artifacts by then (source: NY Times article, below). (As a side note, I have experienced two flood situations in my businesses or residence and one fire in my building. Water damage is a slow-moving catastrophe and can receive far more damage than upper floors.)

I toured this collection less than a year ago and it is/was phenomenal. The collection contained one of a kind artifacts from life in NYC Chinatown, precious documents and papers bought by immigrants, ephemera from local businesses (including signs, some literally rescued from demolition sites or dumpsters as Chinatown changed), theater props and handmade costumes for religious and cultural events, family histories, photo collections, etc., etc. I had planned to write a “repository tour” article for a New Your genealogical magazine and took some photos. I wish I had taken more.

The situation is changing by the hour and, if anything from the archive can be salvaged, that museum has a long road ahead of them.

With the permission of MOCA, I started a google sheet for those who can offer advice, expertise, hands-on help, material donation, etc. They will have a long road ahead of them and will use this sheet to reach out to people, institutions, and resources as the recovery path becomes clearer. I have also included an options on the sheet for professional service referrals and other ways to share expertise. (Please let me know if I should add some other fields. This sheet is a work in progress.)
MOCA Archive Disaster Recovery Google Sheet

They also started a recovery fundraiser page. You can also make a donation to the museum directly.
MOCA Archives Fire Recovery Fundraiser

Direct contacts for recovery coordination are:
Lauren Nechamkin, Director of Education, 212.619.4785, lnechamkin@mocanyc.org
Nora Chen, nchen@mocanyc.org

85,000 Pieces in Beloved Chinatown Museum Likely Destroyed in Fire (New York Times, 25 January 2020)

I have posted some of my photos here:
Museum of Chinese in America Archives

Please help spread the word. Thank you.

Michelle Novak
Brand Designer, Trustee, + Masters of Information Student, Rutgers University