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Private Doors Swing Wide for Open House New York


The Payne Whitney Mansion, home of Cultural Services of the French Embassy in Manhattan.

John Bartelstone

New Yorkers may have a reputation for being unwelcoming, but on Saturday and Sunday more than 240 sites not normally available for public view will be accessible as part of the 15th annual Open House New York event.

Open House New York is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting public awareness of the city’s architecture as well as its design and conservation efforts.

The program includes private residences, art studios, government buildings and structures that exemplify historical and contemporary architectural styles. Many will be open this year for the first time, including the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the Payne Whitney Mansion, Liggett Hall Gymnasium on Governors Island and the Our Lady of Mount Carmel grotto on Staten Island, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000.

“The way we build the city, its design and construction and preservation, is the most fundamental thing we do as a community, as a society. What Open House New York does is create the opportunity to have the conversation about the choices we make and how we do all that,” Gregory Wessner, the executive director of Open House New York, said in an interview.

At least 140 sites do not require reservations and can be visited free of charge during the listed hours. Others require reservations, which sold out quickly. Mr. Wessner said 80,000 to 85,000 people are expected to attend.

Asked which sites he thinks merit special attention, Mr. Wessner offered two thoughts.

“For me one of the exemplary ones is City Hall. It’s a place that doesn’t feel open to a lot of people if you’re not going there for business. But it’s open for Open House weekend,” he said. “It’s a public building that doesn’t feel public to most people.”

And he said that this year, “We’re doing a bunch of sites that reveal and celebrate New York’s status as a world city, like Estonian House,” the headquarters of one of America’s oldest Estonian organizations, housed in an 1899 Beaux-Arts building on East 34th Street.

“Now more than ever, an open door is a symbol of what we value as a city — an openness to new people and ideas, to each other and to the places that we share as a community,” Mr. Wessner wrote in a statement.

Correction: October 13, 2017

An earlier version of this article misstated the location of Liggett Hall Gymnasium. It is on Governors Island, not Roosevelt Island.

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