Williamsburg’s weirdest museum reopens

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Few museums in Brooklyn covet old seltzer bottles, street signs, and miniature models of the Statue of Liberty, but Williamsburg’s City Reliquary, a storefront museum dedicated to preserving the neighborhood’s history, has proudly shown off its collections of ephemera and oddities for the past decade. On April 1, the museum will celebrate its decennial by keeping set hours seven days a week and unveiling its newly renovated gift shop.

Visitors often notice the dozens of framed portraits of Brooklyn Dodger icon Jackie Robinson gracing the walls, World’s Fair memorabilia, vintage postcards, and a familiar restaurant sign or two.

But the line between collector and hoarder is a thin one.

“Hoarding is collecting items without historic value or preservati­on,” said City Reliquary director Dave Herman. “Our collection has the power of retelling the history of the city and contributes to the preservation of Brooklyn.”

At the gift shop, customers can browse through postcards from the collection, handmade throw pillows with pigeons on them, and a quilt sewn with a pattern resembling New York’s street grid.

And guests can explore several of the museum’s new dioramas, including a well-timed display of the Greenpoint-made USS Monitor’s battle with the USS Virginia in one of the Civil War’s most memorable skirmishes.

There’s also a scale model of the Staten Island Ferry, which is significantly less impressive.

But Reliquary live-in tour guide Matt Levy says every item portrays its own story, though his favorites are the more unusual ones, such as a subway token with an MTA revenue collector’s initials imprinted on it. Someone discovered the ruse, and the city later fired him.

“It’s a wonderful example of New York hubris,” said Levy. “Some get away with it, and some do not.”

But being a New Yorker isn’t just about hubris, according to Levy. It’s also about drawing inspiration from the city around you, no matter who you are.

“This collection is for all New Yorkers, whether artists with a rent controlled-loft or brand new condo owners on Kent Avenue,” said Levy. “We welcome all of them, regardless of how much rent your pay or how long you lived there.”

Grand Reopening at City Reliquary. [370 Metropolitan Ave. between Havemeyer Street and Rodney Street, Williamsburg (718) 782-4842] April 1. Noon-6 pm. Free.

Updated 5:31 pm, July 9, 2018
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