70 Lincoln Center Plaza
Since Lincoln Center opened its doors in 1962, it has been a major contributor to New York City's cultural and intellectual life. Built as the centerpiece of one of the most significant community renewal efforts undertaken in new York City in the past 50 years, Lincoln Center and its uncompromising dedication to artistic excellence are internationally recognized.
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc. runs a huge performing arts complex in the center of New York City. The organization is both the landlord and administrator for the 12 resident organizations housed within Lincoln Center, and also a concert organizer and producer. Lincoln Center sits on over 16 acres of land in midtown Manhattan. Lincoln Center's concert halls include the Metropolitan Opera House, Avery Fisher Hall, the New York State Theater, and the Vivian Beaumont Theater. Lincoln Center's resident organizations include the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Opera, the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the New York City Ballet, the School of American Ballet, the Juilliard School, the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, and the Lincoln Center Theater. While the resident organizations retain their own autonomous management, the groups do share the funds Lincoln Center raises, and are represented on Lincoln Center's board of directors. Lincoln Center's financial support comes from concert revenue, rental fees, and gifts from individuals, private foundations, and corporations. Lincoln Center's constituent groups present some 5,000 concerts and performances annually, and the Center serves as many as five million visitors and concertgoers. Lincoln Center serves an additional 200,000 students each year through its educational outreach programs. Lincoln Center is also the home of many free outdoor events such as Lincoln Center Out of Doors and Midsummer Night Swing. Lincoln Center also reaches an audience of an estimated 35 million television viewers through its ongoing Live from Lincoln Center series of broadcast performances.
From Vision to Reality in the 1950s
When Lincoln Center was conceived in the mid-1950s, it was the first such massive arts complex in the nation. Alan Rich, in The Lincoln Center Story, declared that one would have "to run the clock back to a Medici palace in Renaissance Florence" to find anything comparable in the world at the time Lincoln Center was being designed. Lincoln Center came about as the confluence of a trio of needs and circumstances. First, the Metropolitan Opera, New York's venerable opera company, had decided to leave its inadequate concert hall and was looking for space to build a new one. Second, the New York Philharmonic, the city's leading orchestra, was also looking for a new home as the hall it rented, Carnegie Hall, was slated to be torn down in 1959. The third crucial element that brought Lincoln Center to life was the planned razing of several blocks of midtown Manhattan tenements. The area, known as Lincoln Square, was a four-block stretch between 62nd and 66th Streets, bounded by Broadway, Columbus, and Amsterdam Avenues. Home to more than 1,600 families, the area was considered blighted, and had attracted the eye of New York's "master builder," urban renewal chief Robert Moses. Leaders of the Philharmonic and the Met, as the opera company is called, got together with philanthropist John D. Rockefeller III, who was interested in doing something for the arts, for exploratory talks in 1955. Rockefeller and others involved in the project toured Europe in 1956, visiting other cultural capitals, and when they returned, they decided that building a large combined performing arts complex that would house both the opera company, the Philharmonic, and possibly other arts groups, was a feasible plan.
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc. was incorporated in 1956 as a nonprofit corporation. At its incorporation, the group was essentially only a name as it had no cash, no staff, and no real estate. In 1958, the group bought a four-block, 14-acre plot from the City of New York, using donated funds. Over the next year, Lincoln Square's residents were relocated, and in May 1959 the group held a lavish groundbreaking ceremony, with President Dwight Eisenhower wielding the shovel. By that time, Lincoln Center's member organizations included the Philharmonic and the Met, which would each get their own auditorium, the Juilliard School, and the New York Public Library, which was to have a special performing arts library. Lincoln Center also hoped to have a resident theater company and a ballet company.
Lincoln Center went through many design options. The corporation bought more land, expanding its parcel to more than 16 acres. The overall design of the complex was in the hands of architect Wallace K. Harrison, and Harrison also designed the Metropolitan Opera House. Philharmonic Hall (now Avery Fisher Hall) was designed by Max Abramovitz; Philip Johnson designed the hall for the ballet company, which became known as the New York State Theater; Pietro Belluschi designed the building for the Juilliard School and the chamber music auditorium Alice Tully Hall; and another iconic mid-century architect, Eero Saarinen, designed the Vivian Beaumont Theater. The architects managed to work together to produce an array of striking buildings arranged around a central plaza. The buildings were completed at different times, with Philharmonic Hall the first to open in 1962.
Finding Its Feet in the 1960s and 1970s
Philharmonic Hall opened with a grand concert led by Leonard Bernstein on September 23, 1962. The orchestra had marked its first season in its new home by commissioning new works by leading composers including Aaron Copland, Paul Hindemith, Samuel Barber, and conductor Bernstein himself. Yet in spite of the orchestra's obvious pride in its new home, it was not long before the mood dampened. Audiences and orchestra players alike found the acoustics of Philharmonic Hall dry and inconsistent, a poor comparison to the beloved Carnegie Hall. Over the next few years, Philharmonic Hall underwent several extensive overhauls in order to fix the acoustics. The hall's original cost had been projected at $5 million. This had risen to more than $14 million before the hall opened, and the subsequent work added substantially to the building's price tag.
The other buildings were completed one by one. Lincoln Center's landmark fountain was completed in 1964, a few weeks before the New York State Theater opened. The Vivian Beaumont Theater was completed in 1965, as was the New York Public Library and Museum of the Performing Arts. That year also saw the installation of two massive outdoor sculptures in the plaza, a figure by Henry Moore and a piece by Alexander Calder. The Metropolitan Opera House opened in 1966. Like Philharmonic Hall, the Metropolitan Opera House had gone significantly over budget before it was done. First projected at $15 million, it took more than twice that amount of money, or $37.4 million, to complete, in part because the hall was built on a foundation with a tendency to flood. In 1969, Lincoln Center added Damrosch Park and the Guggenheim band shell. That year, the Juilliard School was finally completed.
The list of donors that made all this possible included many wealthy private citizens, major charitable foundations, and leading corporations. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., headed the list of individual donors, and many Rockefeller family members also contributed substantially to getting Lincoln Center built. Major foundation donors included the Ford Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the New York Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and dozens of others. Many of the nation's foremost corporations gave money to Lincoln Center in its early years, including General Motors Corporation, International Business Machines, Chase Manhattan Bank, Manufacturers Hanover Trust, Texaco, Shell Companies, Inc., and many more.
In 1970, Amyas Ames became Lincoln Center's new chairman of the board. Ames, who made his living at the investment firm Kidder, Peabody, had been involved in planning Lincoln Center from the very beginning, and he remained a strong advocate of the arts throughout his tenure as chairman, which ended in 1981. The Center continued to add new constituents in the 1970s and to expand its programming. In 1972, the Chamber Music Society became a Lincoln Center resident organization, adding to the variety of musical offerings already on hand with the Philharmonic and the Met. The Chamber Music Society's performance space was Alice Tully Hall, named for a generous patron. Two years later, the Film Society of Lincoln Center became a constituent. In 1976, Lincoln Center televised the first of its live broadcasts on the nation's Public Broadcasting System (PBS), the popular show Live from Lincoln Center. This television series continued into the 2000s, and drew millions of viewers into Lincoln Center's concert halls. Philharmonic Hall was renamed Avery Fisher Hall in 1973 in recognition of a major gift. Work continued on the hall's acoustics, and in 1976 the performance space closed for some time, to make way for a major reconstruction. This last re-do seemed to finally satisfy the hall's critics, at least for some time.
Travails of the Repertory Theater in the 1980s
Lincoln Center's constituent organizations seemed to flourish in the new performing arts complex despite some initial difficulties such as the ongoing acoustical tinkering in Avery Fisher Hall. The New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera had fulfilled longstanding dreams with permanent homes of their own. The New York City Ballet, an incubator for American dance, became a legendary corps under choreographer George Balanchine at Lincoln Center. Other groups, such as the Film Society, came to life in the new space, and were able to offer New York audiences more than might have been possible in a smaller or less central venue. The notable exception was Lincoln Center's theater company, which stumbled from the start, did not exist for several years, and did not really begin to flourish until the mid-1980s, long after the other Lincoln Center groups were established.
The Repertory Theater differed from the other Lincoln Center groups in that it was created to occupy the space, rather than being an existing organization that found a new home. It was conceived as a showcase for American playwrights, and it held its first season outdoors in Washington Square over 1963 and 1964 while its space, the Vivian Beaumont Theater, was under construction. This first season was led by a pair of directors, Robert Whitehead and Elia Kazan. Kazan, a noted movie director, and Whitehead, who worked on Broadway, had no experience running a repertory theater, and after disagreement with Lincoln Center's board, the pair departed. The next season, beginning in the fall of 1965, was led by another pair of directors, Jules Irving and Herbert Blau. Their efforts were not appreciated by New York's theater critics, and their season too ended in acrimonious departure, with Blau decamping back to California.
In 1973, Irving made way for Joseph Papp, who was renowned for his Public Theater and the New York Shakespeare Festival. Papp stayed until 1977, putting on new American plays in Lincoln Center's two theaters, the Vivian Beaumont and the smaller Mitzi Newhouse. However, Papp's vision was difficult to reconcile with Lincoln Center's more mainstream expectations. With no one very happy, Papp resigned. Having no other director in line to take Papp's place, the Repertory Theater "went dark" in theater parlance, or refrained from putting on plays. The theater reopened for one season in 1980, under director Richmond Crinkley. This season, like many before, was not a critical success. Crinkley remained on the job, though the Vivian Beaumont stayed dark for several more years. Crinkley wanted to renovate the playhouse, changing the configuration of the stage. This plan led to conflict with Lincoln Center's board, which wanted the theater company to formulate an artistic vision and a schedule of plays before worrying about the physical structure of the playhouse. All this came to a head in August 1983, when Lincoln Center's board moved to cut the theater company out of the general funds the Center disbursed, and to forbid the company from using the name Lincoln Center Theater Company. While Lincoln Center's board had allowed its constituent organizations autonomy regarding artistic decisions and day-to-day operations, it apparently felt compelled to step in at this point and take drastic action.
In 1985, Richmond Crinkley was replaced by Gregory Mosher, a veteran of Chicago's Goodman Theater. Mosher put aside what had been his predecessor's pressing issue, renovation, and produced a successful season of plays in 1986 under the auspices of Lincoln Center. By 1988, the theater was routinely selling out, and the theater company had made some $35 million in ticket sales. After a very slow start, the Lincoln Center Theater Company at last established itself with New York audiences.
New Developments in the 1990s
By the late 1980s, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc. had come into a new role, far beyond what its creators had first envisioned. The nonprofit corporation was much more than the landlord and administrator of a performing arts complex. The corporation had become something of an arts producer itself, as it extended New York's concert season to a year-round affair. In 1964, Lincoln Center first produced its Great Performers series, with a schedule of 12 concerts. By the late 1980s, the Great Performers series had grown to 75 to 80 concerts annually, a tremendous increase. Lincoln Center also produced many summer concert events, such as its Mostly Mozart festival and Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors. The Center itself managed and promoted these series, and others such as its contemporary music program Serious Fun! and a Classical Jazz series. By the late 1990s, Lincoln Center was open 52 weeks a year, and its summer music and dance events attracted crowds of 10,000 to the outdoor plaza.
Though it seemed good business sense to keep its halls filled year-round, Lincoln Center still did not break even on the events. In 1990, for example, the corporation projected it would need $7.5 million to put on the concerts it produced, figuring in fees for artists, ticket-takers, and other personnel, advertising, and all the related costs of running its halls. Ticket sales only covered $4.5 million of the total. Even sold-out performances with rave reviews might lose tens of thousands of dollars because ticket sales simply did not cover costs. Thus the corporation continued to depend heavily on donations. Lincoln Center raised money for what it called its Consolidated Corporate Fund. All the constituent organizations shared in this fund, in exchange for giving up their right to fund-raise on their own. Member groups could raise funds for particular projects, but general donations all went through the Consolidated Corporate Fund.
The corporation seemed to have little trouble raising great sums of money, however. In 1990, Lincoln Center spent some $180 million on its new Samuel B. and David Rose Building, which gave the Juilliard School space for dormitories as well as administrative offices. The Walter Reade Theater was completed the next year. This was a movie house, built to the specifications of the Film Society. In 1994, Lincoln Center chose a new chair of its board, the retired opera singer Beverly Sills. Sills had been one of the nation's most popular opera stars, well-known to television audiences. A key role of the chairperson was to raise money, and Sills's fame and outgoing personality made her ideal for the position.
Yet by the late 1990s, Lincoln Center and other arts organizations around the country were feeling somewhat pinched. Though this was a booming time for corporate America, waves of mergers and consolidations meant that overall, there were fewer companies giving out donations, and support for the arts tightened up. In early 1999, Lincoln Center announced that it was considering selling a painting by the American artist Jasper Johns that had hung in the New York State Theater lobby for the past 35 years. The painting was worth from $10 million to $15 million, so selling it was a very attractive option. Public outcry led Lincoln Center to take the Johns painting off the auction block. That the corporation would consider such a move dramatically underscored the Center's increasing need for fundraising.
Rebuilding in the 2000s
By the late 1990s, many of Lincoln Center's buildings were showing their age. Though there were many needed changes, one of the most pressing was the restoration of the white travertine marble that formed the buildings' facades. This material had eroded badly. The concert halls also needed interior updates to incorporate the latest sound and lighting technology. Lincoln Center commissioned studies on how best to accomplish a major fix-up. In 1999, the corporation spawned a group, the Lincoln Center Constituent Development Project, to coordinate plans for redevelopment of the entire arts complex. One of the early plans the group considered was submitted by one of the world's leading architects, Frank Gehry. Gehry envisioned a glass dome capping Lincoln Center's main plaza. Lincoln Center Chair Beverly Sills announced to the New York Times that she found the dome idea absurd, and that project was withdrawn.
The Constituent Development Project went through several changes of leadership before a new renovation plan was adopted, submitted by the architects Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio. The whole renovation was expected to take ten years, with a budget of $1.5 billion. The City of New York was to contribute $240 million. After September 11, 2001, and a major decline in the stock market, the project was scaled back by almost half, to a projected $675 million. The expensive project had both its fans and its detractors. Paul Goldberger, writing for the New Yorker (July 7, 2003) noted, however, that Lincoln Center had become, tragically, the last of its kind: "With the World Trade Center gone, Lincoln Center is the one true temple of nineteen-sixties architecture on a grand scale that New York has left."
Overseeing and paying for its renovation was not the only problem Lincoln Center encountered in the early 2000s. Its constituent the New York City Opera threatened to leave Lincoln Center, unhappy with the nixing of its plans to build a new opera house. The longstanding summer Mostly Mozart series ran into trouble in its 2002 season, when contract negotiations between the musicians and Lincoln Center broke down. But everyone seemed cheered next summer, with the orchestra under a new conductor, Louis Langree. Yet around that same time, Lincoln Center's founding constituent, the New York Philharmonic, abruptly announced that it was leaving Avery Fisher Hall and returning to its old home, Carnegie Hall. The orchestra was apparently worried about the cost of the reconstruction of Avery Fisher Hall, and it came up with a new plan to merge its corporate umbrella with the nonprofit that ran Carnegie Hall. The negotiations between Carnegie Hall and the Philharmonic had gone on without Lincoln Center's participation, and though Lincoln Center promptly announced it would have no problem filling Avery Fisher on the 120 nights that had been set aside for the Philharmonic, the orchestra's departure was obviously a heavy blow. Three months later, the Philharmonic and Carnegie realized they could not merge their organizations, and the orchestra agreed to stay in Avery Fisher.
During the same time, Lincoln Center went through several changes of personnel in top positions. Gordon Davis was named the new president of the organization in January 2001, but he only served through September of that year. He was succeeded by Reynold Levy. Beverly Sills stepped down as chairwoman of the board in 2002, and was succeeded by Bruce Crawford. Crawford had been president and general manager of the Met, and he was viewed as a calm negotiator who would be able to bring the sometimes fractious constituent member boards together so that the renovation could go forward. Crawford agreed to serve as chairman for three to five years. He announced his resignation in January 2005. Lincoln Center had raised roughly $60 million of the $320 million it was committed to raising for the first part of its renovation, which was expected to begin in 2006. Meanwhile, Jazz at Lincoln Center had built a new auditorium, Frederick P. Rose Hall, at a cost of $128 million. It opened in 2004. Crawford pointed to this as one of the achievements of his short tenure as chairman of Lincoln Center. Lincoln Center was still at the beginning of an enormous fundraising campaign and the many daunting challenges of renovating the arts complex in 2005, and the way seemed difficult. Yet Lincoln Center had accomplished the same time and again, planning, building, revising, raising money, expanding, and rebuilding through the 40-plus years since it first broke ground.
Principal Competitors: Carnegie Hall Society, Inc.; Brooklyn Academy of Music, Inc.