Visiting the Newly Renovated Theodore Roosevelt Memorial

After a three-year overhaul, the American Museum of Natural History welcomes the public to its newly restored Theodore Roosevelt Memorial and Hall of North American Mammals.

Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Renovation

John Russell Pope won the competition to design the American Museum of Natural History’s Central Park West facade. Photo: AMNH

This past Saturday, the American Museum of Natural History unveiled its newly restored Theodore Roosevelt Memorial and Hall of North American Mammals. The $40 million project included the restoration of the museum’s main entrance and grand main hall, as well as of its world-famous dioramas of animals in their natural settings.

Unlike Presidents such as Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln, whose monuments dot the National Mall in Washington, D.C., it was decided in 1924 that New York State would honor its most famous native son with a memorial at the American Museum of Natural History. The museum, which Roosevelt’s father helped found in 1920, has long had an association with the 26th President, an avid naturalist who was born and raised in New York City.

“Most Americans are familiar with Theodore Roosevelt’s legacy as President of the United States, but few fully appreciate his lifelong passion for conservation and the American wilderness,” says David Hurst Thomas, curator in the museum’s Division of Anthropology.

Teddy Roosevelt Memorial Renovation

Roosevelt poses on a 1903 trip to Yosemite with naturalist John Muir.

Nicknamed the ‘Conservation President’, Teddy Roosevelt frequently turned to the museum’s scientists for guidance on environmental policies during his two terms in office. Thanks in part to their concerns and recommendations, Roosevelt placed some 230 million acres under federal protection during his tenure, including Muir Woods, Mesa Verde, the Grand Canyon and Florida’s Pelican Island, the nation’s first bird sanctuary.

Roosevelt also passed the Antiquities Act of 1906, progressive legislation that has safeguarded countless priceless artifacts. Following are a few of the improvements made to this venerable New York City landmark during the restoration:

Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Renovation - EXterior

Photo: AMNH/D. Finnin

Energy-efficient lighting was installed along the American Museum of Natural History’s Central Park West entrance (above), which includes a newly cleaned and restored pink granite triumphal arch and an expansive terrace, the center of which is a 1936 bronze equestrian statue of Roosevelt by Earle Fraser. The statues at the top of the façade depict great American naturalists and explorers Daniel Boone, John James Audubon, William Clark and Meriwether Lewis.

Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Renovation - Main Entrance Hall

Photo: AMNH/D Finnin

In the museum’s imposing main entrance hall, with its 100-foot-tall vaulted ceiling, conservation firm EverGreene Architectural Arts restored the three monumental murals painted in-situ by William Andrew MacKay in 1935. The paintings depict milestones in Roosevelt’s life, including the building of the Panama Canal and his African expeditions. Because the plaster under two of the murals was compromised, the canvases were removed, cleaned, and restored, then carefully reapplied to the newly fortified walls.

Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Renovation - Diarama

Photo: AMNH/D Finnin

In addition to updating interpretive text and installing energy-efficient lighting, the c. 1930 Hall of American Mammals dioramas were given a complete overhaul by artists, conservators, taxidermist and designers. Above, a museum artist applies a dye mixture to the fur of an Alaska brown bear. Besides re-coloring faded fur on the animals, the team dusted, and in some cases replaced, plants and foliage, restoring the hand-painted backdrops, many of which re-create scenes from national parks Theodore Roosevelt’s forward-thinking conservation policies helped to save for future generations.

To learn more about what went into refreshing the 80-plus-year-old dioramas, watch the video below:

To learn more about the museum’s programs, log onto amnh.org.

For more on historic preservation and restoration, consider:

A Farm Grows in Brooklyn
House Tour: Stone Farmhouse Addition
Restoring the Brooklyn Academy of Music (VIDEO)