At first mention, it seems odd that the Museum of the Moving Image (MMI) is located in Astoria, Queens, N.Y., removed from Manhattan’s wealth of cultural institutions. But it turns out that the museum is perfectly sited among the ghosts of early filmmaking. MMI occupies a building in the complex of masonry-and-industrial-sash buildings that once were the Astoria Studios. Built in 1920, the buildings served as the East Coast production facilities for Paramount Pictures for more than a decade. As the film industry evolved from silent pictures to “talkies,” production moved to Hollywood, and the complex passed through several hands, eventually falling into disrepair.
In 1977, the newly created Astoria Motion Picture and Television Center Foundation assumed responsibility for the site. Four years later, Rochelle Slovin, the foundation’s first director, proposed the creation of a museum in one of the Astoria Studios buildings. She crafted a mission, initiated an acquisitions strategy, and inaugurated public programs, and, in 1988, New York’s Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects completed a renovation of the 1920s building to house the new Museum of the Moving Image.
Over nearly two decades, the museum amassed a collection of 130,000 artifacts representing every aspect of film and television production, and by 1996 it had outgrown its facilities. Needing more space, Slovin spearheaded a master plan for renovation, upgrades, and, most importantly, an expansion, which would almost double the museum’s size from 50,000 to 97,700 square feet. Then she went in search of an architect.