The Great Hall has been the majestic main entry of The Metropolitan Museum of Art for more than a century. When it opened to the public in December 1902, the Evening Post newspaper reported that at last New York had a neoclassical palace of art, "one of the finest in the world, and the only public building in recent years which approaches in dignity and grandeur the museums of the old world." Architect Richard Morris Hunt, who was one of the founding trustees of the Metropolitan and the most fashionable architect of his day, designed both the Museum's classical Beaux-Arts Fifth Avenue façade and the Great Hall, which now greets more than five million visitors each year. Hunt did not live to see the project completed—after his death in 1895, his son Richard Howland Hunt carried out the final stages of work.
The monumental limestone façade's principal motif—an arch with flanking pairs of freestanding columns—is repeated three times across the central front. Inside, directly behind and echoing the arches of the façade, is the Great Hall, also in limestone, with its three immense saucer-shaped domes and eight dramatic arches springing from enormous masonry piers. The "mosaic" floor is an aggregate of bits of marble framed by strips of yellow marble. On the first level of the Great Hall, colonnades at the north, west, and south ends provide access to the galleries throughout the rest of the two-million-square-foot building. On the second level is a continuous balcony with vaulted ceiling.
Four large niches carved from the central piers, as well as the centrally located Information Desk, hold large starburst arrangements of fresh flowers, which are refreshed each week, thanks to an endowment provided by the late Lila Acheson Wallace, who was one of the Museum's largest single benefactors.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art was founded in 1870 by a group of American citizens—businessmen and financiers as well as leading artists and thinkers of the day—who wanted to create a museum to bring art and art education to the American people. It has been on its current site in Central Park along Fifth Avenue (from 80th to 84th Street) since 1880.