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Family's Influence on City Landmarks Arches Over New Exhibit

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A new exhibit now open at the Museum of the City of New York is recognizing the contributions of one family that made a big impact on many New York landmarks. NY1's Jon Weinstein filed the following report.

It's a name you might not know but Rafael Guastavino and his family are responsible for some of the most distinctive design features found in prominent places across the city, like the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Terminal. The tile and arch design serves a dual purpose.


"It's actually a structural system that's incredibly strong, can support very high loads and is also decorative," said Exhibit Curator and MIT Professor John Ochsendorf.

A new exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York in East Harlem is shining a light on the Guastavinos' contribution to architecture. The six month show highlights just how many city landmarks are influenced by the family. They immigrated to New York from Barcelona in the late 19th century and then for 80 years after, the father and son were responsible for at least 250 known designs around the city.

"We're really trying to take away the mystery behind this family and their great achievements and help the public understand how it's possible that one immigrant family can contribute so much to American architecture," Ochsendorf said.

The exhibit has a replica of the Guastavino tile system, and teaches how exactly they did what that they did.

"We also have original drawings by the hand of the father and the son designing their projects which are from Avery Library at Columbia University. So we have a range of original artifacts as well as interactive media and the full scale replica vault," Ochsendorf said.

The exhibit also tells visitors of locations around the city where they can go see the designs. St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights is one such spot.

"Probably most people coming here from New York will have walked in at least a few of these buildings but may not have appreciated the Guastavinos' structures that are part and parcel of their major spaces," said Guest Curator Martin Moeller.

The exhibit is open now and runs through September.

For more information, visit mcny.org.

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