156 WEST 57TH STREET (hall);
152 WEST 57TH STREET (tower)
Developer: The City of New
York (hall); Rockrose Associates (tower)
Architect: William B. Tuthill
with Richard Morris Hunt and Dankmar Adler as consultants (hall);
Henry J. Hardenbergh (tower additions 1894); James Stewart Polshek
& Partners (hall renovation); Cesar Pelli & Associates
Erected: 1891 (hall); 1986
(hall renovation); 1990 (tower)
By Carter B. Horsley
Many great cities are simplistically defined
by their unique international icons: Paris has its Eiffel Tower;
London has "Big Ben" and the Houses of Parliament; Rome
has the Vatican and the Coliseum; Madrid has its bullring; Washington
has the Washington Monument, the Capitol and the White House;
Venice has its great tower, St. Mark's and the Doge's Palace;
Rio de Janeiro has its mountain-top statue of Christ; Moscow has
the Kremlin and its bulbous domed churches; Athens has the Acropolis;
and New York has the Statue of Liberty, its skyline; the canyons
of Wall Street; the Great White Way of Times Square; Rockefeller
Center, and Carnegie Hall.
While Carnegie Hall is primarily a concert
hall, it has become the definitive embodiment of the ne plus
ultra, the attainment of extraordinary excellence. For over
a century, it has been the dream and crowning achievement of every
musician to perform at Carnegie Hall.
Before the erection of its adjoining office tower in
1990, Carnegie Hall, shown in the foreground in the photograph
at the right, was not very imposing on the outside, a caramel-colored
brick and terra-cotta building in an Italian Renaissance-revival
style that had been substantially altered in the first decade
of its existence and is marred by fire escapes on its Seventh
Avenue facade. While its arches and belt courses and cornices
were pleasant, the building's exterior was more cozy than cosmopolitan,
more mundane than monumental. Its 2,760-seat, multi-balconied,
main concert hall, however, was, and is, very handsome in its
dimensions and most notably in its acoustics. The concert hall's
design was attractively Palladium in its Classical touches, but
not lavish. The emphasis was, and is, on the music.
Apart from its acoustical heritage, the original
building and its small tower additions at its west and south ends
were very important precursors of the major mixed-use building
type for they contained offices and studios that over the years
have housed many famous musicians, architects, agencies and dancing
classes. Indeed, wandering through its office and studio floors
is one of the great experiences in the world. Although it was
not based on Carnegie Hall, Francois Truffault's greatest film,
"Tirez Sur Le Pianiste" (Shoot the Piano Player, see
The City Review article)," has a
scene that wonderfully epitomized such an experience. The film's
lead, Charles Aznavour, plays a pianist who goes to an impresario's
office for an audition. A woman violinist is shown walking down
a long corridor after having just left the impresario's office
that Aznavour has just entered. Half way down the corridor, she
hears heavenly piano music coming from the impresario's office
and the camera lingers on her mesmerized frustration as she continues
down the corridor trying to contain her awe and anger and the
remnants of her life. Such incidents must happen regularly in
these precincts. The office and studio floors have broad corridors
and wide staircases with ornate balustrades and because many of
offices and studios are double-height it is very confusing with
many levels that are not subject to simple numbering.
The Carnegie Hall building also contains a
smaller recital hall and, in its basement, a very elegant auditorium
that for many years until 1997 was the city's most attractive
movie theater, the Carnegie Hall Cinema, with an entrance on Seventh
Avenue. Carnegie Hall subsequently announced it would raise funds
to convert it to a concert hall. The new Zankel Hall was scheduled
to open in late 2003.
The new office tower is the city's greatest
contextual construction project and befitting the heritage of
its namesake the most fantastic encore to one of the city's craziest
The 60-story tower can only be likened to the
great tower in Venice and the Duomo's campanile in Florence.
Cesar Pelli has taken the architectural vocabulary
of Carnegie Hall and composed a brilliant and original essay on
high-rise design and urban sensitivity.
The tower's highly patterned facade echoes
the concert hall's orange and brown colors but also introduces
a dark green banding near the top of its east setback and the
crown of the tower, presumably a reference to a green mansard-style
roof that Barbaralee Diamonstein mentions in her book, "The
Landmarks of New York," published in 1988 by Harry N. Abrams
Inc. She wrote that the mansard roof was removed in 1894 "to
build the crowning studio floor."
The tower's remarkably thin slab extends through
the block from 57th Street to 56th Street and would be widely
considered New York's most dramatic "sliver" building
were it not for the fact that its west facade faces smack into
the black facade of the Metropolitan Tower (see The
City Review article), which is almost as tall and the separation
between the two is only about 20 feet, the width of the Russian
Tea Room building nestled between them.
Harry B. Macklowe, the developer of the Metropolitan
Tower, originally planned a much larger development that would
have included not only his own site, but also the restaurant's
and the lot on which Carnegie Hall Tower was erected. He had reached
tentative agreements with Carnegie Hall about its lot, but Faith
Stewart-Gordon, the owner of the restaurant, refused repeated
offers from Macklowe, and later from the Elghanayan brothers who
own Rockrose Development Corporation that built Carnegie Hall
As a result of her intransigence, two very tall towers,
both slightly under 800 feet in height, were built rather than
one that would have been more efficient and economic, with greater
benefit to Carnegie Hall, as well as having made better planning
The escapade was compounded by the concomitant
planning and controversy of CitySpire directly across 56th Street
from both the Metropolitan and Carnegie Hall towers. CitySpire
is the tallest of the three, but its mid-block location on a sidestreet
makes its presence somewhat less visible as the two other towers
obstruct most of its views to the north.
This "tuning fork" trio of resonating
verticality is without precedent in the city as far as their precipitous
proximity to one another. Not even Wall Street's famed canyons
have anything comparable. Across town, the Trump Tower (see The City Review article) and the IBM and
Sony Buildings, on the same cross streets as this trio, perform
an equal function of architectural interplay but on a lower and
Pelli properly took his design cue from Carnegie
Hall and not the tower's two arrogant and older neighbors. His
tower is not only the perfect backdrop and foil for the famed
concert hall, but also raises it to a very noble height by its
superb quality, awesome and fine proportions and exceeding handsome
facade and coloration. While it bears some spiritual kinship with
the Fred F. French Building (see The City
Review article) on Fifth Avenue and the Lincoln and Chanin
Buildings on East 42nd Street, Pelli's tower combines a simplicity
of form and richness of patterning that raise it above those building's
But Pelli, whose first major design was the
abstract and decidedly modern Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles,
whose first building is affectionately known as the "Blue
Whale," is not limited by rigid "isms" and this
Post-Modern tower has a brilliant modern crown. While not a Deconstructivist,
Pelli has experimented with structural expressionism and here
he has reinterpreted the cornice in a highly imaginative way.
Instead of a projecting decorative cap, Pelli has protruded spokes
on three of the tower's top facades that clutch at the proverbial
passing clouds and passionate dreams wafting up from the concert
hall. Not trellises, nor pergolas, nor gargoyles, they are merely
symbolic, aggressive but minimalistic, and decidedly modern. While
he clearly made the right decision, it would be interesting to
hear Pelli explain why he chose not to wrap them continuously
around the three facades and instead contained them on each facade.
It would also be interesting to know how he convinced the developers
to go along with such an interesting experiment, which is very
effective if not beautiful. Bravo for courage!
The building has a through-block lobby that is handsomely
designed with red and green marble and has vaulted, metal grill
ceilings and metal grill wall lamps, as shown at the right.
In her book, "The City That Never Was,"
published in 1988 by Penguin Books, Rebecca Read Shanor recounts
the origins of Carnegie Hall:
"In the spring of 1887, Walter Damrosch
set sail from New York City to his native Germany for a summer
of study with the renowned conductor Hans von Bulow. It was a
busman's holiday of sorts for the twenty-five-year-old musician,
who in the two years since the death of his father, Leopold Damrosch,
founder of the Oratorio Society and the New York Symphony, had
become known to music lovers in New York as the baton-wielding
figure at the Metropolitan Opera House. Little did the young conductor
guess that the summer was also to be the prelude to his father's
fondest dream: a great concert hall for New York City.
"As fortune would have it, Andrew Carnegie,
czar of America's steel industry, was also aboard the steam packer,
bound for Perth, Scotland, with his bride to enjoy an extended
honeymoon....Soon into the voyage, the two men were introduced.
Having served on the board of the Oratorio Society, Carnegie was
well acquainted with the elder Damrosch's lifelong efforts to
bring music to the masses, and he commended Walter for having
chosen to follow in his father's footsteps....More than once during
their discussions, Damrosch suggested to Carnegie that he build
the concert house New York lacked....In 1889, Andrew Carnegie
presented the city of New York with a $2-million gift, still on
paper, called Music Hall. The site purchased by the philanthropist
for the concert house (renamed Carnegie Hall in 1898) was located
on Seventh Avenue and Fifty-seventh Street, near a stretch of
vacant lots, coal yards, and scattered rowhouses. Only the Osborne,
a gracious apartment house built a few years earlier and situated
catty-corner from the concert hall to be, foretold the elegant
future that Carnegie's 'tone temple' would bring to Fifty-seventh
Street....The architect retained to design Music Hall was William
B. Tuthill, a thirty-four-year-old New Yorker who in all likelihood
won the important commission by virtue of his reputation as a
gifted musician and a fine singer - which, in 1889, far outstripped
his reputation as an architect."
The hall's great acoustics eventually became
the home of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and the favorite
hall of the world's greatest musicians such as Rachmaninoff and
Vladimir Horowitz. In the 1950's, however, the orchestra planned
to move to new quarters in a major urban renewal project known
as Lincoln Center on the Upper West Side and Robert Simon Jr.,
who had bought Carnegie Hall from Carnegie's estate, indicated
it might be demolished for redevelopment.
In 1956, developer Louis Glickman took an option
on the Carnegie Hall property and the next year, his architects,
Pomerance & Breines, published a rendering of the hall's replacement,
a 44-story office tower, clad in red porcelain enamel, without
setbacks set in a sunken plaza with a bridged entrance over the
plaza. The startling and rather daring design set off alarms in
the music world, but the city was a decade away from designating
and regulating landmarks. Glickman ultimately decided not to exercise
his option, but by early 1960 Simon announced he would demolish
the hall that summer.
Isaac Stern, the violinist, organized a committee
to try to save the hall and eventually was able to convince State
Senator MacNeil Mitchell to introduce two bills in the State Legislature
to authorize the city to issue bonds for a nonprofit organization
that would operate Carnegie Hall, which was designated an official
city landmark in 1967.
Stern remained a stalwart supporter of Carnegie
Hall and was deeply involved in its $50 million renovation in
1986. James Stewart Polshek & Partners oversaw an admirable
and sensitive reconfiguration of the hall and its public spaces
that was a substantial improvement with a good deal of taste.
Carnegie Hall's superb acoustics survived the
rehabilitation while the acoustics at Avery Fisher Hall at the
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts that had become the new
home of the renegade New York Philharmonic were not very good
to begin with and did not get much better after a couple of major
renovations. Maybe there is justice!
The renovation unfortunately left the fire
escapes on Seventh Avenue that were not part of the original design
and which have been the greatest blight on the city's architecture
even if they serve an important safety purpose.
In addition to the concert hall, the building
contains more than 100 studios in a 15-story tower on 57th Street,
a 12-story tower on 56th Street and directly above the concert
hall. The studios were created especially for music rehearsal,
dance and small performing groups and were the result of a plan
by The Art Students League and Andrew Carnegie. No two are alike
and many are duplexes and have large skylights. the first tenant
was the American Academy of Dramatic Art and among the residents
and students who have been in the studios are Marilyn Monroe,
Marlon Brando, Isadora Duncan, Jerome Robbins, Agnes de Mille
and Leonard Bernstein. Enrico Caruso was said to have found the
acoustics of Studio 826 so good that he made his first recording
there with RCA Victor. The only floor that connects the North
and South towers is the eighth.
The Carnegie Hall Corporation began to warehouse
some of the studios in 1991 and by May 2007 only 55 remained occupied
but were given notices of eviction.
An article by Daniel J. Wakin in the October
11, 2007 edition of The New York Times reported that the
architectural firm of Natan Bibliowicz had been hired to design
a $150 million expansion of Carnegie Hall into the studio towers.
Mr. Bibliowicz is the son-in-law of Sanford I. Weill, the chairman
of the Carnegie Hall Corporation and the former chairman of Citigroup.
The article said that the corporation was "impressed by a
previous design by his firm: the design of the well-regarded new
home of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, where the chairwoman
is Mr. Bibliowicz's mother-in-law, Joan H. Weill. Mr. Weill and
his wife have given more than $50 million to Carnegie Hall over
the years, according to the article.
Apart from the question of the possible
impropriety of the appointment of Mr. Weill's son-in-law for the
expansion, the expansion itself is highly questionable, especially
given the fact that there were in 2007 several very major new
building projects planned in the vicinity that could easily accommodate
whatever educational expansion plans Carnegie Hall has.
The warren of studios is quite extraordinary
and without question one of the city's most important cultural
landmarks and their destruction is equal in egregiousness to the
demolition of the great studio building at 51 West 10th Street
(see The City Review article). (12/24/07)
An article by Wendy Goodman in the December
30, 2007 edition of New York magazine reported that "there
are 33 occupied apartments remaining" and the the others
are being gutted and remodeled by the Carnegie Hall Corporation
to convert them to "educational facilities" for young
musicians. The article said that the corporation has "promised
to find comparable apartments for the seven rent-controlled tenants...and
to pay the difference in rent for the remainder of each tenant's
life, but the 26 non-rent-controlled commercial and residential
tenants...have no such guarantee, and received eviction notices
last year," adding that "In December, a New York City
civil court judge ruled in favor" of the corporation, but
that the group of tenants is appealing.
The article highlighted pianist Donald Shirley,
80, who has lived there since 1956 and has 34-foot-high ceilings,
Josef Astor, a photographer who has a triplex studio on the eighth
floor since 1985, Editta Sherman, a photographer who has been
in the building for 58 years, and Tod Williams and Billie Tsien,
architects, who have been in the building for 34 years. (1/2/08)
The Landmarks Preservation Commission held
a hearing June 16, 2009 on a major renovation and modernization
plan for the Carnegie Hall building, which is famous not only
for its concert halls but also for its artists' studios, many
of them skylit, that have been used in the past by such famous
cultural figures as Isadora Duncan, George Balanchine, Jerome
Robbins, Lee Strassberg, Childe Hassam, and Enrico Caruso and
whose present tenants include Editta Sherman, a 97-year-old photographer
who testified today against the plan, Tod Williams and Billie
Tsien, architects, and Bill Cunningham, the wonderful New York
Times photographer who arrives at all the best places on his bicycle.
There were more than 100 large, high-ceiling
artists' studios on the upper floors of the landmark building
on the southeast corner of 57th Street and Seventh Avenue and
Carnegie Hall has gotten rid of 101 tenants since it announced
its plans in 2007. The six remaining tenants are rent-controlled
and have refused buyout offers.
Carnegie Hall wants to convert the spaces to
classrooms and music education facilities and to replace the saw-tooth,
skylit roof with a large roof garden with a retractable awning
overlooked by a dining hall and a glass-enclosed elevator. The
roof garden would not be visible from the street, but is very
visible and very, very dramatic from higher floors in the nearby
The plan would also illuminate its 57th Street
Robert Tierney, the commission's chairman,
said that he favored the renovation plans, adding that the skylights
were "not historical" and had been added in the mid-1980s
and that the commission was not concerned "with the spaces
below them." In the 1980s, however, the skylights were rebuilt
and they had been there from the late 19th Century. The commission
did not take a vote today on the application.
One speaker pointed out that the interiors
of Carnegie Hall were not landmarks.
The original plan for the structure, which
was funded by Andrew Carnegie, envisioned a roof garden, a popular
building feature at the time, but it was never created and Mr.
Carnegie saw this gift to the city as an important mixed-use cultural
The building originally was seven stories and
a full floor was later added as well as a 15-story tower on the
eastern side on 57th Street and a 12-story tower on 56th Street.
The original architect was William B. Tuthill and Henry J. Hardenbergh
did subsequent work on it.
Some studio tenants indicated in the past that
they were disturbed by the fact that Natan Bibliowicz, the son-in-law
of Carnegie Hall's chairman and major benefactor, Sanford Weill,
a former head of Citigroup, had been hired for the renovation
project which is expected to cost at least $100 million and also
involves getting rid of an exposed rooftop watertank, replacing
the existing metal-and-glass entrance marquees with very thin
glass marquees, and improving the lighting of the building's exterior.
Mr. Bibliowicz, a partner of Iu & Bibliowicz Architects, previously
designed a facility for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
Christabel Gough, secretary of The Society
for the Architecture of The City, told the commission that "the
destruction of the roofscape would be destruction of a significant
architectural feature which should be sacrosanct under the landmarks
law." "The use of these spaces or their re-purposing,"
she continued, "should not be allowed to lead to the removal
of the visible reminders of studio history. Nor is it acceptable
to clutter the roofscape with contemporary mechanicals such as
the transparent elevator tower."
The Historic Districts Council gave the commission
a statement in which it maintained that "While we approve
of much of the restoration work and the general idea of other
alterations, HDC feels strongly that alterations should recall
the historic conditions of a landmark." "Although glass
canopies have been approved (so many that they are starting to
feel generic), HDC continues to find them inappropriate for most
landmarks. Even completely glass canopies are noticeable additions
to a building - they are never utterly invisible. In addition,
as anyone with windows in New York City knows, they will get dirty
fast and will be quite popular with birds. In this case we also
find that the proposed [marquees] feel too flimsy for such a significant
structure. The best alternative would be nothing, but barring
that, something that harkens back to the 1908 photo with more
framing, could be a welcomed addition. A middle ground between
trying to deny the existence of canopies and the bulky incursions
of recent decades can and should be found."
"At the top of the building," the
statement continued, "HDC finds the addition of the glass
elevator between the two towers to be too visibly jarring. If
any of it is mechanicals or an over-run, we suggest that different
types of elevator technology be investigated to reduce the visibility.
The roof garden is a pleasant, and historically appropriate, idea,
but the proposed design does not rise to the level of the examples
shown in this well-researched proposal. We ask that it be rethought
to be less corporate and blocky and more in tune with the style
of the building and historic predecessors. Finally, where they
are visible, we ask that the number of sky lights removed be reduced.
Their presence is an important reference to the studios that were
once here and are a significant part of the building’s history.
Much like sky lights are retained on industrial landmarks, they
should be retained here."
Commissioner Diane Chapin said she was concerned
about the skylights that have "been an important feature"
and that she felt uncomfortable with "losing a piece of social
Commissioner Chris Moore said that the applicants
made "a great presentation, but the opposition made a greater
The applicant argued that the proposed new
marquees will make it easier for people on the street beneath
them to see the building. This "transparency" argument,
however, is merely an excuse to add a bit of high-tech modernism
in the form of thin glass to the complex with which it is quite
at odds and not the least bit contextual. It also ignores the
fact that the existing marquees are not that old and work well
and that people can see the full building from across the street
and the avenue.
The marquees are not the big issue, of course,
nor is the replacement of some fire escapes along the west wall
of the 57th Street tower with a glass-front elevator to improve
disabled access and make it easier to move large instruments from
one tower to another. Similarly, the lighting scheme is not objectionable.
What is extremely objectionable, however, is
the "roof garden" scheme that would do away with the
spectacular mountainscape of skylights on the roof of the artists'
studios atop the main concert hall that would be replaced by classrooms.
The artists' studios were without question
the greatest ever created in the city, even better than the fabulous
Studio Building (see The City Review article)
at 51 West 10th Street that was demolished for a bland mid-rise,
mid-block apartment building in the 1950s. The Studio Building
houses most of the country's greatest painters. The Carnegie Hall
Studios, on the other hand, housed a much wider assortment of
artists, not all of whom were household names, and in so doing
nurtured a beehive of cultural activity that epitomized urbanity:
great, broad staircases connected unaligned floors and broad hallways
were full of surprises with some doorways opening onto to ballet
classes and others to architects' offices and still more to painters'
studios and musicians' lairs. Getting off the elevator at the
wrong floor was one of the great experiences in life, one best
captured in the wonderful scene in Truffault's masterpiece, "Shoot
the Piano Player" (see The City Review
article), when Charles Aznavour waits outside a rehearsal
room while a violinist finishes her audition and then enters and
closes the door and as the woman with the violin walks away down
the long hall she suddenly stops for a moment at Aznavour's first
piano chords and then continues, her face almost expressionless,
perhaps because she recognized she was hearing brilliance that
It is shocking that the commission would entertain
the ravaging of these studios and the great skylights on the grounds
that they were not original and argue that a roof garden was originally
contemplated. First of all, there are no plans showing the "original"
roof garden and certainly the one now proposed bears no possible
resemblance to such a plan. Secondly, the studios are definitely
historically very important not just to the building but to the
city. Thirdly, Carnegie Hall's intention to convert these very
special and very unusual and very memorable spaces to routine
classrooms and offices and the like is philistine and completely
unnecessary especially when the midtown office market has plenty
of available space to rent in the neighborhood in existing buildings
as well as new ones including one very major one across the street.
The commission cannot pretend that it has no
concerns or interests in interiors as it has designated numerous
interiors as "interior landmarks" and it should do so
now at Carnegie Hall and its studios. (6/16/09)
The last resident of the fabled Carnegie Hall
Towers studios are about
to move out, according to an article August 2, 2010 by Verena Dobnik at
The article said that Elizabeth Sargent, "a one-time
dancer noted for her bold sexual poetry, is now in her 80s and in remission
from cancer" and "has until August 31 to clear out" of the ninth
floor apartment she has lived in for 40 years.
"All of her neighbors are gone, forced out...[of] the
affordable studios that for more than a century housed some of America's most
brilliant creative artists," the article maintained.
"Musicians, painters, dancers and actors thrived in the
two towers built by 19th-century industrialist Andrew Carnegie just after the
hall went up in 1891. The towers - one 12 stories high, the other 16 - housed
more than 100 studios, some with special skylights installed to give painters
the northern light they prize. Over the years, Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly and
Robert Redford took acting lessons here and Lucille Ball had voice coaching.
James Dean studied scripts and Leonard Bernstein, music. Women once lined up on
the street to visit an alluring resident – the young Marlon Brando. His studio
space on the eighth floor was demolished in early July," according to the
Editta Sherman, a 98-year-old photographer, had a studio
that's still filled with portraits of Hollywood
and Broadway stars. She's not been allowed to sleep there since early July and
must also remove her belongings by Aug. 31.
She and Ms. Sargent recently signed agreements with Carnegie
in exchange for new midtown Manhattan
apartments where rents will be subsidized by Carnegie for the rest of their
lives, the article said.
The building is undergoing a $200 million renovation that
will create administrative offices for the Carnegie Hall Corporation and a
youth music program named after Sanford "Sandy" Weill, the former
chairman and CEO of Citigroup.
When Carnegie Hall announced the project in May 2007, 18
studios were occupied and dozens of other artists rented teaching space.
According to the Associated Press, the cast-iron staircases
and some original walls in the "towers" will survive, but
"What's left inside is just a shadow of the bustling labyrinth of
corridors, stairways and studios where modern American dance took its first
steps, created by choreographers like George Balanchine and Martha Graham.
Debris now spills down a stairway leading to a rooftop studio." (8/3/10)