Museum of TV & Radio gets redone

Renovation aims to attract new visitors

The Museum of Television and Radio was housed in midtown Manhattan in a building that looked like an office or a bank. The institution has already been rebranded as the Paley Center for Media, but now it’s getting a physical transformation as well, one its executives hope will attract the attention they feel the center deserves when it is completed in September.

Paley president and CEO Pat Mitchell says the revolving doors and metal-cluttered facade are being replaced with a welcoming glass front.

“The Museum of Television and Radio suffered from the sense that it was a closed place just for the industry,” says Lee Skolnick, the architect overseeing the renovation. “It was pretty austere and had a fortress-like face.”

Skolnick, a born-and-bred New Yorker, says Mitchell’s marching orders were “not just to make people feel welcome but to feel attracted to this place.”

Indeed, Mitchell revels in the fact that the building will now grab people’s attention the moment they turn the corner onto 52nd Street, whether it’s because of the colorful scrims on the lower floor windows, the new banners or the images — be they of Fred Astaire or Mary Tyler Moore — projected onto the sidewalk and the large screens they’ll see through the large glass windows.

“We want people to say, ‘Oh, that’s a media center,” Mitchell says. (The Los Angeles branch of the Paley Center is also getting a makeover, but one of the important distinctions, Mitchell says, is that New York’s entrance “must be designed to get people walking in off the street.”)

But the heart of the renovation comes inside, where the lobby will now be a public space, featuring a cafe with wi-fi connections and kiosks linked to the center’s collection — “In case you want to start your day by having a cup of coffee while watching Lucy eat chocolate,” Mitchell says, referring to the classic “I Love Lucy” episode.

Beyond the cafe will be huge screens featuring live programming from around the world. “We want this to be a media-saturated experience,” she says.

Even when the work is completed, Mitchell won’t be done. She’s ready for a second capital campaign to raise money so she can build a staircase connecting the lobby to the second floor (now accessible only by two elevators, which often get overcrowded). And, no surprise, “We have a wonderful plan,” she says, to add more visual exhibits along the way upstairs.

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