The archives of the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) in Manhattan in flames on the night of January 24 (courtesy the MOCA)

After it was gutted by a five-alarm fire in January, the Chinatown building that housed the archives of the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) will be torn down and rebuilt, the city announced this week. The announcement ended concerns by members of the community that the city may have neglected its pledge to help recover the museum’s damaged archives.

In an announcement Thursday, February 27, the NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) said that deconstruction of the city-owned building on 70 Mulberry Street began on Thursday after it was deemed necessary due to “extensive, irreparable damage to the building.”

According to the department, the deconstruction will allow the recovery of the remaining archives left in the building beginning next week.

“During deconstruction, the city will be able to access parts of the building that have remained inaccessible to date due to unsafe conditions in the building,” DCAS explained. “The phased approach will allow the city to recover the remaining archives of the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) next week.”

About 80% of the MOCA’s archives, which consists of 85,000 cultural items, remains stranded in the building, with only 200 boxes recovered so far. In a phone conversation with Hyperallergic, MOCA’s president Nancy Yao Maasbach said that weeks of inaction since the city’s pledge in January to assist with the recovery of the items made her grow “a little anxious.”

In a statement on Thursday, MOCA revealed that earlier this week it held a meeting with concerned supporters to “stress the urgent prioritization needed to salvage the MOCA Collections which have been stuck in 70 Mulberry since January 23, 2020.”

MOCA added that it had originally planned to stage a march — starting from its main museum space at 215 Centre Street and ending with a rally at 70 Mulberry Street — on Thursday to put pressure on the city to keep the MOCA collections “at the highest priority.” But those plans were scrapped with DCAS’s announcement. Instead, the museum held a community gathering Thursday morning in which local residents shared their memories and stories from 70 Mulberry Street. Signs and posters that were originally created for the march and rally were instead exhibited on the meeting room walls.

“This is not just a victory for MOCA. This is a victory for the entire community, for Chinatown, for every family whose life stories enrich the American narrative,” the museum said in an email to its supporters following the city’s announcement.

MOCA also announced that it was able to secure a space at 3 Howard Street to serve as the museum’s Collections and Research Center, offering programs for digitization and recovery.

Meanwhile, the museum raised more than $440,000 in a fundraising campaign for the recovery of its archives. But according to Maasbach, the conservation of the archive is expected to total around $1 million.

“The numbers of donations look really large, but the estimated expenses are well beyond what we raised,” she said.

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...