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Original Home of Whitney Museum to Open to the Public for First Time in History

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Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney's studio is the birthplace of the Whitney Museum of American Art

Visitors have been flocking to the new Renzo-Piano designed Whitney Museum of American Art, which opened its doors in the Meatpacking District in downtown Manhattan last May. What many people don't know, however, is its origin story.

Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, socialite, sculptor, and art collector, established the Whitney Museum in 1931 from a "compound" created by connecting townhouses and carriage houses in Greenwich Village. Whitney first moved into the space in 1907 to work on her sculptures then went on to expand the studio into an art complex, eventually opening the Whitney Museum there. In 1918, she commissioned Robert Winthrop Chanler to design the interiors.

The New York Times states that "[t]his would be an artistic landmark of the first order if the public were admitted on a regular basis."

It would indeed and, now, it's a reality: For the first time ever, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney's "mystically hallucinogenic studio," as the New York Times waxed, located on the second floor hayloft level of an 1877 carriage house on Macdougal Alley, will be open to the public for free, 45-minute long tours, starting June 3.

Among the studio's surprising details are a 20-foot-tall fireplace decorated with plaster to look as if it's going up in flames, and sculpted ceilings featuring the sun and cephalopods, snakes, and other creatures.

The studio, located at 8 West Eighth Street, was the Whitney Museum's original headquarters until 1954, when it moved to a small building on 54th behind the Museum of Modern Art. The New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture has called it home since 1967.

Before the Whitney moved downtown, the museum occupied the Brutalist Marcel Breuer-designed structure on Madison Avenue starting in 1966.

The tours are made possible in part by a $30,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation that helped restore the studio, which the National Trust designated as a National Treasure in 2014.

Take a sneak peek at the studio below. Photos were snapped by Curbed during a press preview.