The Abandoned Dioramas of the Old Grand Rapids Public Museum – Grand Rapids, Michigan - Atlas Obscura
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Grand Rapids, Michigan

The Abandoned Dioramas of the Old Grand Rapids Public Museum

The museum moved on, but the diorama remain. 

Sorry, The Abandoned Dioramas of the Old Grand Rapids Public Museum is permanently closed.

Today the Public Museum of Grand Rapids can be found in a modern state of the art facility on the banks of the Grand River, but some of its former inhabitants weren’t invited to come along.

Its current home built in 1994, the first museum opened in 1854, making it one of America’s oldest history museums still operating, despite relocation. Between 1940 and 1994, the museum was located in a lovely art deco building on Jefferson Avenue. 

Designed by local architect Roger Allen, it was one of the last buildings to be built as part of the WPA program. An art deco masterpiece more similar in style to a movie theatre of the period than a traditional museum, it was designed to be “As Accessible as a Dime Store, as Friendly as a Next-Door Neighbor.”

The main attraction of the museum used to be its habitat dioramas—designed similar in style to Carl Akeley’s grand dioramas of the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. Visiting Michiganites could marvel at polar bears, deer and otters in their natural habitat, all under the auspices of a giant whale skeleton hanging from the ceiling.

So popular was the museum that with over 120 years of collecting,  it soon outgrew its art deco surroundings and the museum moved to it’s new location on the river, leaving the old building empty and abandoned.

Today the diorama lie in disrepair. The glass which once separated the animals from their human observers has gone and peeling paint litters the floor. The crowds may have long gone but the animals remain frozen in time.

The museum has recently been open to the public for brief periods of time when hosting art displays by the art cooperative Sitelab, as part of the Grand Rapids Art Prize competition. It was last used for an art exhibit in 2013. The diaramas are now gone, and the building is being renovated.

Update: The dioramas are no longer there, and the museum is currently under renovation. You can see in the large glass doors and see that what was the exhibit hall where the dioramas were has been completely gutted. 

Know Before You Go

Unfortunately, it is no longer accessible to the public. It is currently in the process of being renovated into a new high school. The museum may be open in the fall of 2017 to host the Sitelab exhibition for Art Prize.