Model of Lincoln Center area
By Carter B. Horsley
This area, the gateway from midtown to the Upper West Side and the home of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, perhaps comes closer than any other to being the definitive New York neighborhood.
It serves the prosperous and
the poor, the refined and the raucous.
It has some fine architecture and a lot of disappointing buildings.
It has excellent public transportation, but is very congested.
It teems with life and controversy.
It is vibrant.
As the 20th Century came to a close, it was beginning to take its final form as the long controversy over the redevelopment of the New York Coliseum site on Columbus Circle was resolved with the creation of the massive Time Warner Center and as Donald Trump began the construction of the mammoth Riverside South project along the Hudson River. These were the two most important projects in the area since the completion of Lincoln Center in the 1960's.
Because of its location at the southwestern gateway to Central Park and the western terminus of Central Park South, the Time Warner Center site is more prominent although Riverside South is more important urbanistically because of its large number of new apartments, its impact on the skyline from the river, and its extension of Riverside Park to the south.
Both major projects definitely add to the area's congestion and continued gentrification, but they have not radically changed its character. That character matured greatly in the late 1990's with the completion of several new mixed-use towers, such as 150 Columbus Avenue, the Park Millennium and the Grand Millennium, by Millennium Partners at the north end of the intersection of Broadway and Columbus Avenue. While not architectural gems, these towers, which did have interesting forms, combined luxury apartments with very dramatic retail spaces that were quickly leased by major stores such as Barnes & Noble, Tower Records and Sony Theaters.
Combined with the performing arts center and the area's many restaurants and sidewalk cafés, these "destination" retail facilities greatly augmented the existing inventory and served as catalysts to the emergence of this area as perhaps the most "complete" in the city, given its proximity to the midtown business district, which itself was shifting to the west.
Despite its mish-mash nature, this area has great synergy that overcomes its various failings. Although the Upper West Side was originally seen as having the potential to become New York's "West End," this area is now more like the Left Bank in Paris. It can be casual and carefree, formal and fearless, artsy and commercial, proud and peculiar.
It does not have as many hordes
of tourists as Times Square, of course, but its many tourists
tend to be more "intellectual."
Its stores are not
as "chic" as the boutiques on Madison Avenue, but its
shoppers are more steeped in New York's traditions.
Its residents may not have as many assets as those on Fifth Avenue, but they are less homogeneous.
For a while, the area around Bloomingdale's between Lexington and Third Avenues seemed to "boom" with entertainment and retail facilities, but the Lincoln Center area benefits from the openness of the Broadway/Columbus intersection and the center's plaza. Despite the traffic, this space works well in large part because it does not have the narrow sidewalks of Lexington Avenue and its open space is now largely enclosed by an assortment of tall towers.
Communities often evolve differently than planned and differently than critics of the planners feared.
The Depression abruptly halted the impressive building boom on the Upper West Side that gave it a great skyline along Central Park West and the impressive phalanx of elegant apartment buildings along Riverside Drive and West End Avenue and parts of Broadway.
Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues were developed with many tenement-type buildings and the Columbus Avenue (Ninth Avenue) "El" was not torn down until 1940, a year after the city permitted single-room-occupancy for the first time, which led to a proliferation of conversions to rooming houses that would soon dramatically change the area's demographics. (The Independent subway line along Central Park West opened in 1932.)
By the end of World War II, much of this area and large parts of the West Side were in decline, so much so that in 1946 William Zeckendorf, the developer, proposed, unsuccessfully, a redevelopment of the area bounded by Broadway, Ninth Avenue and 34th and 79th Streets with an airport on a platform 200 feet over the street and an industrial center.
The decline stemmed in part from an influx of Hispanics and "white flight" to Co-Op City in the Bronx and the suburbs and overcrowded and deteriorating housing conditions. In the 1950's, the impoverished and troubled conditions of youths was depicted in the famous musical, "West Side Story," and parts of the subsequent movie were filmed on location in vacated tenement blocks that had become part of the urban renewal project that resulted in the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
In 1952, Robert Moses, then chairman of the Mayor's Committee on Slum Clearance and the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, got federal funding to redevelop two blocks west of Columbus Circle, which he planned to combine for a new convention and exhibition center to be replace the Grand Central Palace, then the city's primary such facility, that was being converted to an office building near Grand Central Terminal.
The New York Coliseum on Columbus Circle
The new convention facility, to be known as the New York Coliseum, was to rise adjacent to the traffic circle and housing was to be erected on the western portion of the site. At one point, Moses invited the Metropolitan Opera Company, which was located on West 40th Street and had considered moving to Rockefeller Center when it was first being planned, to move to his site on Columbus Circle along with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. The opera company did not rise to the bait, although in 1954 it optioned a Park Avenue site that eventually would be developed with the Seagram Building, but was considered too small for its uses.
Moses proceeded with the Coliseum, which was designed by Leon and Lionel Levy, John B. Peterkin, Eggers & Higgins and long-time Moses associate, Aymar Embury II. The red-brick housing section of the site was designed by Sylvan and Robert Bien and was completed in 1957, three years after the Coliseum was completed.
The design of the Coliseum and its office tower was widely criticized for its blocking of the 59th Street/Central Park South visual corridor and for not curving the blank wall of the convention facility to conform to the traffic circle.
The Gallery of Modern Art transformed
In 1957, architect John Barrington Bayley proposed ringing the circle with a large portico with enclosed galleries to honor World War II and Korean War soldiers with a new pedestrian plaza above automobile traffic and a grand staircase to a new opera house and concert hall on the southwest corner at Eighth Avenue and 58th Street. The Bayley proposal, however, was not pursued, although A & P heir Huntington Hartford developed the southeast corner at the intersection with the Gallery of Modern Art in 1964, a white marble structure designed by Edward Durrell Stone that was described by architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable as "die-cut Venetian palazzo on lollypops." Hartford's museum was devoted primarily to representational rather than abstract art, but was relatively short-lived and the attractive building, which once contained a handsome restaurant overlooking Central Park, subsequently was transferred to the Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey that turned in into the New York Cultural Center in 1970, which had several interesting exhibitions but closed in 1975 and eventually was taken over the city for its Cultural Affairs department. The city let the charming building fall into ruins and eventually let it be taken over by the Museum of Arts and Design, which commissioned Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture to redesign it. His design descecrated Stone's palazzo and was widely protested to no avail as the Landmarks Preservation Commission declined to consider it for landmark designation despite a very well coordinated campaign to save Stone's building.
In the late 1980s, the M.T.A. decided to sell the New York Coliseum since the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center was nearing completion along the Hudson River further south in midtown. A major controversy erupted when opponents of the huge project argued that the winning development team was chosen on the basis on how much money it was offered. Plans were changed, and a new "competition" was held, while the market gyrated widely and it was not until 2004 that a new, "twin-towered," Time Warner Center opened on the site with a Mandarin Hotel, many luxury condominium apartments, a large retail space and a new facility for the jazz component of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
Trump, of course, who achieved
his greatest fame on Fifth Avenue with Trump Tower, had become
a very major real estate "player" in the 1990's and
was one of the bidders for the redevelopment of the Coliseum site,
on which the Metropolitan Transportation Authority had invited
bids in the late 1980's. Many interesting plans were submitted
and finally Boston Properties, which was headed by Mortimer Zuckerman,
who also became the owner of the New York News, won with the highest
Safdie's tower and old Gulf & Western tower
Zuckerman's architect, Moshe Safdie, proposed a very mammoth building that several civic groups argued would cast too large a shadow on Central Park. Eventually, Zuckerman sought a less modern design and hired Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to revise the plan. The new plan called for a very large, and quite interesting, "Post Modern" design modeled in part on the twin-towered buildings of Central Park West. The stock market crash, meanwhile, led to the project's lead commercial tenant withdrawing from the project and civic groups continued to oppose the project on the grounds that its sale was predicated solely on raising the most money and not on urban planning and environment grounds.
By the late 1990's, Zuckerman withdrew and the M.T.A. issued a new "request for proposals and the revived real estate market led to numerous bids from major groups of developers even though the "request" this time had stiffer restrictions on height and bulk.
The new designs were generally lackluster and uninspired and the selection process again became complicated and a second round of submissions was requested. A final selection was expected by the end of 1998, but early that year the Municipal Art Society, a leading civic organization, indicated its concern that urban design was still not being paid enough attention and sponsored an interesting exhibition that included many intriguing designs for the traffic circle's redesign, apart from the redevelopment site.
Despite uncertainty about the eventual designs of the redevelopment site and Columbus Circle, the midtown area, meanwhile, was undergoing a major and quite visible shift. West Midtown and especially the "new" Times Square was becoming immensely popular and after decades of decline and neglect was becoming electrifyingly "hot." While Times Square's renaissance received the major press, the West 57th Street corridor had also rebounded mightily, not just with significant and dramatic new construction but also very successful retail and theme restaurants.
The twin-towered design by David Smith of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill for the Time Warner Center that was eventually developed by The Related Companies and Apollo Real Estate finally provided a dramatic new gateway to the Upper West Side. The huge Whole Foods store in its basement was widely considered by residents in the area as more important than the project's glossy architecture.
The area west of Amsterdam Avenue in the 60's was widely known as San Juan Hill and was the site of several early model tenement projects, but by the 1950's was considered rather dangerous with many "substandard" residential properties. The Lincoln Square area around the bowtie-shaped intersection of Broadway Columbus Avenue and 65th Street, however, had some flair as a 30-foot version of the Statue of Liberty was erected atop a warehouse at 43 West 64th Street in 1902.
That same year the Lincoln Square Arcade Building was erected on the west side of Broadway between 65th and 66th Streets and many artists, including Alexander Archipenko, George Bellows (whose roommate in the building was the playwright Eugene O'Neill), Thomas Hart Benton, Stuart Davis, Joseph Floch, Robert Henri, Edward Hopper, Rockwell Kent, Yasuo Kuniyoshi and Raphael Soyer" taught there, according to Robert A. M. Stern, Thomas Mellins and David Fishman, writing in their superb book, "New York 1960, Architecture and Urbanism Between World War II and the Bicentennial," (The Monacelli Press, 19950). The building burnt down in 1931 but was rebuilt. It was demolished and replaced by the Juilliard School in the 1960's.
In the 1920's, the same authors reported, the east side of Broadway between 62nd and 63rd Street was the proposed site for a very major project. The site chosen for "the monumentally scaled Palais de France, a sixty-five story complex containing consulate offices, commercial office space, a hotel and an exhibition hall; the complex would have provided the neighborhood with a significant measure of glamour, but the stock market crash abruptly tabled the scheme."
In 1947, the city built Amsterdam Houses, a 1,084-unit residential development of 13 buildings between Amsterdam and West End Avenues between 61st and 64th Streets, designed by Grosvenor Atterbury, Harvey Wiley Corbett and Arthur C. Holden.
Moses's hopes to lure the Metropolitan Opera Company to the area were realized when the Lincoln Square Urban Renewal Area project was announced in 1955, although he briefly considered a cultural center at Washington Square South.
In addition to the opera company and the orchestra, Moses got Fordham University a "midtown" campus on the site as well as a theater for the dance, a building for the Juilliard School and a library, and a large housing component. Also considered but not included in the final plan were a headquarters facility for engineering societies, a skyscraper hotel, a building for the fashion industry and a shopping center. Part of the urban renewal plan also called for a mixed-use development proposed by Roger L. Stevens on a site bounded by Broadway, Amsterdam Avenue and 65th and 70th Streets that called for circular buildings with office space and five theaters, but this plan was soon dropped for budgetary concerns.
To convince the opera company to move to the "slum" area, Moses enlisted the help of Wallace Harrison, the architect whose wife, Ellen Milton Harrison, was the sister-in-law of John D. Rockefeller's only daughter, Abby. Harrison, who had led a team of international architects, in the design of the United Nations on the East River, had also been involved in drawing up plans for a new home for the opera company that had originally been planned for Rockefeller Center.
Harrison was the architect of the opera house and his partner, Max Abramovitz, was designated by him to design the philharmonic hall. Harrison recommended several other architects for other components of the plan including Alvar Aalto, Sven Markelius, Marcel Breuer, Pietro Belluschi, Henry R. Shepley, I. M. Pei, Edward Durrell Stone and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. In 1958, a committee decided to use only American architects and George Balanchine, the choreography and director of the New York City Ballet selected Philip Johnson, a friend of Nelson A. Rockefeller and Lincoln Kirstein, Balanchine's sponsor, to design the dance facility that would become known as the New York State Theater.
Johnson laid out the plaza and the arrangement of the three major buildings that front on it at the center, but a design committee turned down his proposal for a curved front to the New York State Theater and an arcade around the plaza.
President Dwight Eisenhower attended the project's groundbreaking ceremony in 1959. The first building to open was Philharmonic Hall, known as Avery Fisher Hall, on the north side of the plaza. This facility is best known for its very attractive sculptures by Richard Lippold in the promenade on the second floor that overlooks the plaza with its own broad balcony.
Johnson's State Theater was the second facility to open and the most successful of the three structures on the plaza from a design viewpoint because of its rectilinearity and its great promenade hall with three-tiers of balconies with bronze railings and with gold-anodized beaded curtains overlooking the plaza with its own broad balcony. The interior includes art by Elie Nadelman, Reuben Nakian, Jacques Lipchitz, Jasper Johns, Lee Bontecou and Francesco Soumaini.
The third completed building at the center was Eero Saarinen & Associates' Vivian Beaumont Theater and the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library and Museum designed by Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. This very handsome, minimalist building stands behind a large pool with a fine Henry Moore sculpture in the middle. Vivian Beaumont's father, E. J. Beaumont, was the founder of the May Company department store chain.
The opera house was completed in 1966 and is the least attractive of the center's buildings although it is the centerpiece. The architect went through many studies that were derivative of work by Jorn Utzon's Sydney Opera House and Edward Durrell Stone before settling on the final entrance design of five adjoining barrel vaults, which authors Stern, Mellins and Fishbach wrote were "a refinement of the Hopkins Center (1955-62), a performing arts facilities he had been commissioned to design at Dartmouth College at the suggestion of Nelson Rockefeller, an alumnus. Harrison's scheme, one of more than 40 he did for the project, was slightly modified, however, just before construction to put a flat roof life over the vaulted arches.
Budgetary problems impacted Harrison's design, forcing him to make a smaller lobby and use concrete rather than marble for the balustrade of the double staircase at the center of the entrance inside the building. Harrison also was not pleased with the selection of Marc Chagall to paint two enormous paintings that face the place through large multi-paneled windows. One of the paintings has a portrait of opera impresario Rudolph Bing and the great Russian ballerina, Maya Plisetskaya.
Theater and dance critic Clive Barnes observed that he could not recall a more "vulgar" opera house and that the Chagall paintings where the artist's "most unattractive."
Redesign by Diller, Scofidio & Renfro of Philharmonic Hall
Despite many aesthetic shortcomings, the opera hall worked well technically and had better acoustics than Philharmonic Hall and extremely comfortable and attractive boxes on its first balcony level.
"Lincoln Center," authors Stern, Mellins and Fishbach maintained in their book, "was the shining ornament of a large, gritty slum clearance and redevelopment program that promised to revitalize the city's traditional urban fabric by destroying whole sections of it. But it was also a heroic and definitive attempt to refute the accusations of both outsiders and New Yorkers that the city and with it the United States as a whole, was too focused on the bottom line to be a significant player on the international cultural stage."
Met Opera at night
The glory of the center was the uniform coverage of all facades with travertine marble and the pleasant circular fountain, which has 577 jets, in the center of the plaza, designed by Johnson. The Opera House is a bad building but the brightly illuminated and colorful Chagall Paintings enliven the plaza and Johnson's and Abramovitz's buildings are uninspired but not at all bad and sipping drinks on their big balconies overlooking the plaza on a summer's night enhances whatever performances inside the halls and is a most pleasant experience itself.
After the opera house was completed, William F. R. Ballard, then chairman of the City Planning Commission proposed building a mall between the center's plaza and Central Park between 63rd and 64th Streets with a 1,000-car garage beneath it. While the Grande allée plan would have been landscaped and very attractive and impressive, it would have required the demolition of numerous buildings including the Ethical Culture School, designed by Robert D. Kohn and Carrère & Hastings in 1902 on the northwest corner of Central Park West and 63rd Street, Kohn's adjacent Ethical Cultural Society Hall on the southwest corner of Central Park West and 64th Street and the superb West Side Branch of the YMCA at 5 West 63rd Street designed in 1930 by Dwight James Baum. The New York Academy of Science, meanwhile, had acquired much of the western part of the block and had cleared it for a 21-story building. The mall did not get built, although Moses created Damrosch Park in 1969 to honor a family of musicians by that name southwest of the main plaza and dominated by the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Band Shell with landscaping by Dan Kiley and Webel & Westermann.
Original Brutalist building for Juilliard by Pietro Belluschi
In 1969, the Juilliard School
moved into its building at the center designed by Pietro Belluschi,
Eduardo Catalano and Westermann & Miller. The most modern
and best building at the center, it was connected by a skywalk
over 65th Street to the center's plaza spaces. It has several
performance spaces including the 1,026-seat Alice Tully Hall,
which has a movable ceiling and is used for concerts and for an
annual film festival.
Redesign by Diller Scofidio & Renfro replaced marble with glass
In 2007, however, the skywalk was removed as part of a scheme devised by Diller Scofidio + Renfro that called for a literal slashing of the great Belluschi building's corner at 65th Street and Broadway and a remake of the entrances to the center's main plaza along with two new "lawns" raised up at angles, a ludrious and abominable plan costing hundreds of millions of dollars.
While the center is rather antiseptic and evocative of early generation suburban malls, its lavish and expansive use of travertine ensured that it became a brightening influence. More importantly, the quality of the resident performing arts companies was and is so high that architectural and urbanistic concerns are largely irrelevant. Thousands come nightly for major cultural experiences and during the summer there are many outdoor concerts.
Furthermore, the performing arts center, which has always been popular with the public, has had a gigantic impact on the neighborhood, although one that took quite a while to blossom fully.
The attractive and modern main building of the new Fordham University campus at Lincoln Center was designed by Slingerland & Booss and completed in 1961.
The housing component of the urban renewal project is known as Lincoln Towers, which consisted of eight 28-story apartment buildings.
The Lincoln Towers enclave contains a total of 3,897 apartments.
The residential towers, all designed by S. J. Kessler & Sons, are located on 19 percent of a 36-acre site that is divided by West End Avenue and runs from 66th to 70th Streets and from Amsterdam Avenue to Freedom Place that was named to honor Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Cheney who were civil rights workers killed near Meriden, Mississippi in 1964.
One of many Lincoln Towers near Lincoln Center
Writing about Lincoln Towers in their book, authors Stern, Mellins and Fishman wrote that:
"The complex's banal, beige-brick towers, punctuated by aluminum-sash windows and cantilevered balconies, were distinguished only by their size; two pairs of buildings were linked together to create immense slabs, one running along the west side of West End Avenue and the other between West End and Amsterdam Avenues, roughly between Sixty-Seventh and Sixty-Ninth Streets....Space for 1,000 cars was provided on the site, some of it in two-level enclosed parking garages, accessible from Freedom Place and West End Avenue; other parking areas were included on the site as features of the enormous landscaped courts defined by the superslabs."
"Despite its size and the fact that it was even more impersonal than the increasingly ridiculed developments of the Housing Authority, Lincoln Towers managed to seem suburban in character, reflecting the sponsor's intention to attract middle class tenants, from other parts of the city as well as returning suburbanites, who would value being located so near midtown and Lincoln Center....The development proved an extraordinary success," the authors continued.
The towers, indeed, are very long slabs: in his book, "Upper West Story, A History And Guide," (Abbeville Press, 1989), Peter Salwen describes "the great gray mass of Lincoln Towers, apartment mega-blocks on a scale immense enough to satisfy a Mussolini." The Mussolini here, of course, was none other than the legendary Robert Moses, a visionary planner who attained incredible political power and was the most prodigious builder in the city's history albeit not the most aesthetically inspired. In his unauthorized biography of Robert Moses, "The Power Broker, Robert Moses and the Fall of New York," (Alfred A. Knopf, 1974), Robert A. Caro maintained that "Moses was not making even a pretense of creating new homes for the families displaced."
The largest slum clearance
project of its kind in the nation when it was built, Lincoln Square
(including the performing arts center) radically transformed the
Upper West Side, but that transformation has taken a long time.
It must be ruled a success economically even if, aesthetically,
it is a tremendous disappointment.
In the late 1960's, the triangular block at the north of Columbus Circle was developed with a 44-story office tower that was designed by Thomas E. Stanley and became the headquarters of Gulf & Western Industries. The tower would be converted in the late 1990's to Trump International Plaza, a hotel and apartment complex with a shimmering new bronze-glass facade and slightly remodeled form by Philip Johnson. The success of this building helped clear the way for the even greater success of the Time Warner Center and then, in 2007, the phenomenal marketing success of 15 Central West that became the city's most famous new "pre-war" luxury apartment building on the full block bounded by Central Park West and Broadway and 60th and 61st Streets.
The quality of new development around Lincoln Center, just a few blocks north of Columbus Circle, however, was initially was disappointing from a design viewpoint and in 1969 the city enacted a special zoning district for the area. The first major building to be erected under its regulations was One Lincoln Plaza, designed by Philip Birnbaum and developed by Seymour and Paul Milstein on the site that had been planned for a headquarters building by the New York Academy of Sciences directly across from the center. The Milsteins obtained a variance from the city's Board of Standards and Appeals to increase the size of their project and the City Planning Commission took the board to court to reverse its ruling but lost.
The Milsteins also planned to develop the Broadway block immediately to the south with a smaller but still massive building and the city attempted to reduce the permitted building bulk on the sites but lost to the Milsteins in court. The 43-story tower at One Lincoln Plaza has an 8-story base that contains offices for the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers as well as other tenants and an arcade along Broadway. In 1979, the Milstein's adjacent project on the block south, 30 Lincoln Plaza, was completed, also designed by Philip Birnbaum, with many bay windows, a midblock park, an arcade and a movie complex.
While these two major towers had fairly interesting forms, they had bland facades and were too bulky for such important locations across from the center. Nevertheless, they had great views and demonstrated that the market was ready for large buildings with many amenities such as health clubs. Some good buildings, most notably Lincoln Plaza Tower on the southeast corner of Columbus Avenue and West 62nd Street, designed with rounded balconies by Horace Ginsberg & Associates, were erected nearby.
In the 1970's, however, several major new apartment houses went up in the vicinity with little distinction but by the 1990s several new towers at the north end of the intersection of Broadway and Columbus Avenue developed by Millennium Partners greatly enlivened the area not so much with their architecture as with their mix of uses that attracted major retailers such as Barnes & Noble and a huge Cineplex.
One of the handsomest new buildings was 150 Columbus Avenue, a beige-brick building has a stunning modern lobby with a gently curved wall and a stainless steel marquee with doorman and concierge. The 30-story building was built as a condominium in 1994 and contains 143 apartments. The long and thin masonry and gray window reveals give it a summery appearance and an abstract sculptural rooftop element on the Broadway facade gives it a slightly perky character.
The base of the building is occupied by a large and attractive Barnes & Noble bookstore, which is across a building erected by the same developers, Millennium Partners. Finely detailed, this is one of the premier buildings of the Lincoln Center District. It has sensational views, few apartments per floor, nice proportions, large windows and a low-key, elegant style.
Just to the north is the much larger Park Millennium that houses a very major cineplex and other attractive stores beneath a very tall and well-modeled tower. These two buildings and a third, directly across Broadway housing a large Tower Records store in its base, are conservative, but very well thought out designs that work very well as mixed-use properties. At first glance, they continue the bland tradition of much post-war and post-center development in the area. They are not major and exciting architectural statements, but they work very well as an ensemble with one another and, more importantly, they tie together an entire enclave around the center rather deftly.
ABC tower near Lincoln Center
They cannot architecturally
compare with the very interesting and good buildings of the ABC
complex nearby in the area nor the great and legendary
"studio" apartment buildings just to the west of Central Park West on 67th Street that are among the most desirable in the city, but they are the icing on the Lincoln Center District's cake.
While the West Side has always had its ardent admirers, it now is being looked at much differently by the public at large. It is beginning to be seen as more exciting and interesting than the East Side by many and the most recent crop of major buildings, including the Grand Tier on the east side of Broadway between 64th and 65th Streets, was a significant factor in that perception. Architecturally, the ambience immediately around Lincoln Center is not distinguished but it is quite varied and dense and provides high-end shopping and dining.
The Time Warner Center and 15 Central Park West, however, elevated this neighborhood to a much higher plateau, replacing the eyesore of the New York Coliseum and a huge lot that had been vacant for decades.
As a result, the floodgates were figuratively opened to the development of many sites in and around the far western 59th Street corridor. Several new, sleek, reflective-glass residential towers such as the Element and 10 West End Avenue sprouted in anticipation of the continued development at Riverside South by Extell that will significantly increase the area's population and income.
Although Amsterdam Houses and
Lincoln Towers are huge and bland developments that separate the
more glamorous and newer projects near the Hudson River and Lincoln
Center, they no longer are major definers of the neighborhood.
Huge projects are not at all easy to achieve in New York City and they often turn out much differently than originally planned. Even harder to gauge is their immediate and long-term impacts. Sometimes smaller plans are more influential because of their timing in economic cycles.
Westway would have opened up the Hudson River waterfront largely at the expense of the federal government at a time when the city was in severe economic crisis. Instead it was defeated by a single woman activist and heralded the vengeful dawn of the NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) Syndrome that continues to haunt a city whose famous skyline could never have been built if the NIMBY activists had their way.
Community input, of course, is very important and the Upper West Side has long had an abundance of opinionated, intelligent and vocal residents and the good merits of their input can be seen at Trump and Extell's massive Riverside South developments, which are not too dissimilar from Battery Park City in their creation of very important new waterfront residential communities that are not architecturally inspired but very workable and popular - missed opportunities for greatness but solid and painful contributors nonetheless to the city's fabric.
On the other hand, individual projects at prime and very prominent locations such as Time Warner Center, Trump International, and 15 Central Park West have ratcheted up the desirability of the neighborhood to a greater extent than developments further west and more removed from public transportation. These spectacular and not inexpensive towers, however, owe much of their success to the two major, arcaded towers put up by the Milsteins and the three large towers erected by Millennium Partners, all of which created a very sizable and attractive pedestrian environment clustered about the large open spaces of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
Lovers of culture will go to great lengths to soak up their favorite arts as evidenced by the ongoing success of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) that for several decades has been an isolated oasis nightly attracting hordes from Manhattan.
When it opened, Lincoln Center was a similar, if not slightly more convenient, oasis in a neighborhood that was then not very attractive or ritzy.
Now the Lincoln Center area is the city's most vibrant. More tourists swamp Times Square, of course, but they also make for too much congestion at times and not everyone needs to be blinded by billboards, if not science.
The Lincoln Center area is much greater than its parts and for reasons that defy a lot of urban planning analysis and architectural criticism.
A century from now, it will be interesting to gauge the relative importance to the Upper West Side of the Dakota, the twin-towers of Central Park West, Robert Moses's creation of Riverside Park, the New York Coliseum, designation in the 1950s of the West Side Urban Renewal Project, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Time-Warner Center, 15 Central Park West, and Riverside South.
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