At first glance, City Reliquary resembles a bodega, its red and yellow awning a staple in most Brooklyn neighborhoods. Behind the familiar exterior, though, is a time capsule of oddities and artifacts the New-York Historical Society just can't hang with.
Ben Wigler, a dedicated volunteer at City Reliquary, took the Studio@Gawker team on a tour of the museum, now in its eighth year on Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg. As a thank you for inviting us in to discuss the museum's trajectory from pet project to non-profit, we donated a LyveHome on behalf of Lyve, the only cross-platform service that helps people collect, protect, and rediscover the millions of photos they take each year.
Lyve poses with Ben and Jess Ryan at City Reliquary's front desk. Jess is currently subletting City Reliquary's front room to sell her vintage housewares collection, Huntress Home. This is one of the ways the museum subsidizes its operation costs.
Not only does the museum have its own photos to organize (which document their block parties, backyard events, and even the odd wedding); they also manage a ton of other people's photos, in both paper and digital formats. An iPad disguised as a framed picture on the wall shuffles through vintage shots of NYC bridges, while an album featuring creeptastic pictures of kids after their first haircuts rests on a table in front of a recreated retro barbershop.
The family of Barber Hall of Famer Antonio Nobile donated plaques, photos, and chairs from his Bay Ridge shop; a second barber donated combs, powders, and more.
With Lyve, museum volunteers can sync their disparate photos — which live anywhere from the picture framed iPad to their own smartphones — and access them all just by connecting to the Lyve app. Not only does this allow them to keep their irreplaceable images organized and safe from physical harm, it helps them bring the story of the museum off-site, sharing their vast collection of oddities with people who might not otherwise get to see it. And now, Studio@Gawker is taking up that cause too.
The story of City Reliquary is as quirky as its objects. Founder Dave Herman, a local firefighter and history fetishist, lived around the corner from the museum's current location in a ground-floor apartment with two display windows: one held Dave's NYC ephemera, the other a rotating exhibition sourced from the community. A small button would play Dave's voice when touched, guiding viewers through the curated display.
Dave's old apartment. Photo by Clementine Gallow.
That was 2002. By 2006, attention snowballed due in part to artist Bill Scanga (now City Reliquary's president) showcasing his own collection in Dave's community space. The two forged a friendship and moved the museum to Metropolitan Avenue four years after its inception. "This space was a thrift shop originally, so it was always a space charged with odds and ends," Ben explains. It's home, for example, to a wood brick from the last wooden sidewalk in New York (yes, those were a thing; the last one was located in Greenpoint) and Petrella's Point — a celebrated East Village newspaper stand that was dismantled without notice in 2004.
Adam Petrella, who sold paintings from his famed newsstand, found an inspired fan in Dave, and his family donated what they could salvage. "This is the nucleus of our atom," Ben says of the newsstand.
As awareness of the museum grows, so does its collection. One donor challenged the Reliquary by gifting them with his unbeatable 1930s–1940s World's Fair memorabilia, prompting the museum to build an even larger 1960s collection to complement it. The signage from the beloved 2nd Avenue Deli came from a donor who then disappeared forever. And now the museum is the proud new owner of a very 21st-century artifact — a LyveHome.
Perhaps most impressive of all, the museum finally has its first paid employee. "It's a good sign of our expansion. We're looking to expand our collection, and potentially our premises, so you guys are coming at an auspicious time. Who knows how much longer we're going to be at this location?" Ben says.
The future looks bright for City Reliquary, and LyveHome is positioned to help them visualize it. Volunteers can now snap photos of museum events and sync them to Lyve in real-time, removing the tedium of archiving and leaving them with more time to devote to events that raise awareness of (and money for) the museum. And the service's timeline feature will help the museum revisit specific moments in New York history and their own rich past, from anywhere in the world. That's a lot of ground to cover, but LyveHome holds two terabytes of data — more than enough space, even for an organization exploding with stories.
Learn more about how LyveHome can organize and enhance your own photo collection here, and head to City Reliquary's website to donate or learn more about the museum.