The Buildings of the Academy

Audubon Terrace looking east, c. 1950.

The American Academy of Arts and Letters is headquartered in three beaux arts granite and limestone buildings that are part of the Audubon Terrace Historic District in upper Manhattan. The District, named after the artist and naturalist John James Audubon (1785-1851), whose family's farm occupied the site in the 19th century, was purchased and developed in the early 20th century by the philanthropist Archer M. Huntington for the benefit of several cultural institutions, including the Academy.

Development of Audubon Terrace as a cultural complex started in 1904 when construction began on the Hispanic Society of America, which opened its doors in 1908. It was followed by the American Numismatic Society (1908), the American Geographical Society (1911), the Church of Our Lady of Esperanza (1912), the American Indian Museum (1916), and, finally, the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1923). Of the original tenants, the Hispanic Society, the Church of Our Lady of Esperanza, and the Academy remain.

The first building occupied by the Academy on Audubon Terrace was the administration building at 633 West 155 Street. The building was designed by William Mitchell Kendall of McKim Mead & White and was completed in 1923. It currently houses the administrative offices, members’ room, portrait gallery, library, and several exhibition galleries.

The Academy's second building, located at 632 West 156 Street, was designed by Cass Gilbert and was completed in 1930. It adjoins the administration building and contains a large terrace-level exhibition space and a 730-seat auditorium. Upon completion of the second building, two sets of bronze doors, which were the work of Academy member Herbert Adams, and that represent Arts, Letters, Poetry, Music, Painting, Sculpture, Inspiration, and Drama, were installed at the Academy's two terrace-level entrances. An additional set of bronze doors were designed by Academy member Adolph A. Weinman and installed at the administration building's 155-Street entrance in 1938. These are dedicated to the novelist Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, one of the Academy's first female members (elected in 1926), and to the women writers of America.

In 2005 the Academy purchased the headquarters building of its former neighbor, the American Numismatic Society. The east wing of the building, completed in 1907, was one of the first structures built on Audubon Terrace. It was designed by Charles Pratt Huntington, whose other works include the master plan of Audubon Terrace and the buildings of the Hispanic Society, Geographical Society, and Museum of the American Indian. In 1930 the building's facade was reconfigured to accommodate the addition of a west wing, which significantly increased the Numismatic Society's space, and narrowed the terrace-level gap between the Academy's administration building and the Numismatic Society to a 12-foot corridor.

This corridor became the site of a Glass Link that the Academy completed in 2009 to connect newly renovated galleries in the former Numismatic Society to those in the administration building. The Glass Link was designed by James Vincent Czajka in consultation with Henry N. Cobb and Michael Flynn of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. Additional information about the Glass Link is in the press release announcing its completion.

Cass Gilbert, Nicholas Murray
Butler, and Herbert Adams
at the completion of
the North Gallery, 1930

Bronze doors by
Adolf A. Weinman, 1938

Numismatic Society, c. 1908

Exterior of Glass Link, 2009
Photo: Cody Upton

Interior of Glass Link, 2009
Photo: Cody Upton