Plans for the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts took shape in 1954 at a time when the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic and the Julliard School were all in need of new facilities.
The site was chosen by civic planner Robert Moses, a titanic figure who was primarily responsible for most of the civic projects in New York and on Long Island in the first half of this century. Despite his influence on practically every major urban development in the metropolitan area during his period of activity, he never held any significant political office and never faced an election.
The aim was the "revitalization" of the area by removing a vibrant residential neighborhood inhabited largely by minorities overcrowded into old tenement buildings. Moses vision came at a time when cities were in decline and encompassed the notion of an arts center where suburban dwellers could drop into and leave without ever experiencing the city surrounding the center. The site in its former state was preserved on celluloid as the set for the film West Side Story.
The result were four major performance halls: The State Theatre (ballet and opera), The Metropolitan Opera House, Avery Fisher Hall (orchestra) and The Vivien Beaumont Theatre (live theatre). The complex also contains the Julliard School, the New York Public Library of Performing Arts and the (rarely used) Damerosch Band Shell.
Philharmonic Hall (now Avery Fisher Hall) was the first building in the complex to open with a performance of the New York Philharmonic on September 23, 1962.
The New York Public Library moved its performing arts collections to the Library and Museum of Performing Arts in 1965. For the actor, musician, singer or dancer this is an invaluable resource with its extensive collection (in a research and circulating division) of recordings, films, books and scores.
None of the buildings has ever been considered acoustically satisfactory despite numerous tweaks and renovations. Also, the entire complex was covered in travertine marble which is a completely inappropriate building material for New York weather conditions and is slowly crumbling into chalk. Lincoln Center was a grand vision for it's time but has become a hideous vestige of postwar American modernism and an albatross on the artistic life of a city that has regained a vibrance that the planners of Lincoln Center could never have envisioned.
Like many aging ladies, Lincoln Center is probably most attractive in the dark.
Lurking underneath the majestic concert halls and sunny plazas of Lincoln Center are dark parking garages and passageways flaunting their 1960's origins.
Lincoln Center was conceived in a time when cities were viewed as "dead." Robert Moses' vision was for suburban patrons to drive in from the suburbs on the West Side Highway, park in the underground parking lot, see an event and flee for the suburbs without ever experiencing the area around Lincoln Center. As such, Lincoln Center is largely inward facing with unadorned walls as unwelcoming barriers to the surrounding neighborhood. Accordingly, West 65th street between Broadway and Amsterdam became basically a barren, dark alley that served as the entrance to the parking garage and a transverse under Lincoln Center.
In the 1990s, the area surrounding Lincoln Center experienced a significant amount of residential and commercial development that coincided with a rebirth in American urban life. This left West 65th street as a dark blight on the community waiting for reconception. In the Spring of 2006, the area began undergoing a "transformation" designed by architects Diller Scofidio and Renfro in collaboration with FX Fowle Architects. The photos below document the removal of Millstein Plaza and the significant modifications to the entrances of Alice Tulley Hall and the Julliard school.
Next: Merkin Concert Hall / Kaufman Center