By Carter B. Horsley
Lincoln Square Urban Renewal Area project, the centerpiece of which was Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, was announced in 1955. Though the undertaking as a whole was significant, the decision to create a cultural center was what established the project as the era's most ambitious and successful attempt at traditional large-scale urban placemaking, as grandly conceived and executed as the preceding era's greatest urban ensemble, Rockefeller Center .
Lincoln Center 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 heroice 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 .
From its inception, the Metropolitan Opera had attempted to subsidize its operations with commercial leasable real estate. The 1883 opera house had included commercial space and an apartment hotel;' various plans for a new home drawn up in the late 1920s that had included office buildings, a hotel and stores, led to the development of Rockefeller Center, which eventually contained two large theaters, neither one of which housed the operate company ..Robert Moses became interested in the opera's search for a new home when he realized that the company's plight could help him realize his long-delayed municipal conventional hall complex at Columbus Circle. Moses was also aware of the difficulties suffered by the New York Philharmonic orchestra at Carnegie Hall, where the renewal of its lease was jeopardized by increased efforts to develop the site for great profit .Moses invited the Metropolitan Opera Association and the New York Philharmonic Society to join together to build a music center on a portion of the site, "to assure the over-all development of a harmonious unit ."
.When the negotiations failed to produce an agreement, the site was used for housing ..Moses's invitation raised questions arbout the Metrpolitan Opera's willingness tomodify its traditional stance as a quasi-aristocratic group that was too 'white glove' to cooperate directly with numipal goenement. Bejamin Boretz, writing in the Natiion, observed the Columbus circle project 'was so unequivocally public that the conspiucouly privileged Metrpolitan could hardly be slipped in without raising serious questions about propertiety in the use of public funds. The Metropolitn opera contenintued to search for anew site. In 194, it pleaced an option on the blonck-slong site on ParkAvenue between fifty-second and Fifty-third streets that would eventually become home to the Seagram Building,but the Metropolitan soon rejected I as too small ..Moses continued to try to astermind the concept of a cultural district, for a while considering Washington square south before returning to the Upper West Side. There he focused his attention on Lincoln Square after receiveing a commitment to participqte in the project from Father Lawurence J. McGinley, presidentof fordam University, who had long sought a suitable location for a midtown campus to house the unversity's scholls of law, business education and general studies, then scattered througut Mahttabn I office and industrial loft buildings .Moses began his campaign by conveing Wallace K. Harison of the site's potential when he and Mrs. Moses were dinner guests atof the Harison at their Hungtingon, New York , home early in 1955. Harrison, who was socially and proeessional well connected - his wife, Ellen Milton harriso, was the sister-inlaw of John D. R%ocefeller Jr.,s only daughter, Abby - had been producing drawings of a new opera house for more than twenty-five years, since one had been planned as part of Rockefeller Center. Wti harisson as his ally, Moses had theperfect entrée to the opera's boarr dn and many of its well-heeled ptatrons Harrison outlined the situation to Charles M. spofford, a pomoment corporate lawyer who had just become chairman of the opera's board. Spofford quickly approved othe priooovsed site ..Also reumored to be part of the sceme were a ten-story building for the fashion industry, a headquarters building for the Engeinneering Socoeties, a twelve-storyoffice and professional building, a sckyscraper hotel, two public schools, a shopping cener, a least one parking garage and 4,080 middle-income housing units to be rented at $35 to $50 a month per roo9m .
On May 28, 1956, Moses repsented his plan for the entire renewal area to mayor Wanger and the board of Estimate. The area was to consistute a modified L-shaped site, founded on the south and north by Sixtieth and Seventieth Streets, on the west by the New Yrok central railroad yards abobe Sixty0sixth Streetnaa dAmersterdam Avenue below, and on the east by Broadway above Lincoln Square and Columbus Avenue below. As par t fo the plan, the Boradway proucer and entrpeenter Roger L. Stevens proprosed a mise-d development to be built on a triangular superblock site bounded by Boardway and Amsterdam Avenue, sixthf-fith and Seveneiteth streets (although Sixth=sixth was to ermeian open.) Designed by Pereira Luckman, who worked twith the theaer designer Jo Mielziner, Steven's project called for three connected circular structures containing five ytheaters and commercial space. Altnernate plans called for two circular buildings, one to contain five theaters and th oether to be a rfree-standing theaer-in-0the-round for experiment productions. The Broadway site between Sixty-fifth and Sixty-sixth streets was to contain a circular building housing restaurants and shops and linked to the rest of the development by a pedestrian tunnel beneath Sixty Sixth street. The virtually windowless buildings, set amid landscaped grounds andservice dthrough anunderground parking garaged, anticipated Charles Luckman's ungainly design for Madison SGArden Center, realizedin 1968. by May 1957, Steven's development had been dropped from the project due to mbudgetaray limitateions on federal land scubisites .In october 1956 the Boatd of Estimate unannmiusly garnated prooelminary approval toof the project. Opposition to the development arose almost immediately. Critizens groups bemoaned the displacement of families occupyin the temenets and subdvidied browntstones that dominated the area, claming that most resident could neight qualify for low-rent pulic housing nor afford the areasl new middle-income rental units ..Tje Copncil on Housing Relocation, chaired by the attorney Harris L. Present, clearly seeking to block the project by any legal means, filed a petrition with the Federal Housing and Home Finance Agency charging that the subsidized sale of land to Fordham, a Jesuit-run university, violated the constitionally guarantateed spearattion of church and state. On December 23. 1957, New York State Supreme Court Justice Owen McGivern dismissed the case, .stating " In hard reality. To exclude Fordkahm or any other sectarian instititon fromgreat overall community planning efforts, such as the Lincoln Square fprojt, would be to relegate such an institution to the other side of the tracks. " The case went all the way to the United States Surepeme Court, which dismissed it on June 9, 1958.
.Ultimately 16,732 people would be relocated .
Harrison was assumed to become architect of the center but he declined. "Afer recommending his partner, Max Abramovitz, as architect for the Philharmonic's building, he then drw up a list of names from which Rocefeller's committee could choose. Harisson's list consisted of his friend, the fFinnish architect Alvar Aalto, the Seedish architect and urban planer, Sven Markelius, with whom he had worked on the United Naitnsl deisng, the Hungarian-born Baushuase-affliated architect Marcel Breuer, now workin in the United States, the Itlian born architect Petiro Belluschi, now deanof the Massachuetts Institute of Techology School of Architect, and I former mentor at the Boston Architectural Club, Henry R. Shelply, the most traditionallyminded architect to be considered; Harriso alsio projecproposed Wewar d Durell Stone, .I. M. Pei, and the archyiteftural firm of skimdore, Owings & Merill. In October 1956, harrison's recommended group of architects, toegher with the amaeican archited Philip Johnson, the german theater archityect Walter Unruh, the argemrican stage director Herbert Graf, the architect-renderer Hugh Ferriss, the cacoustical engineers Hugh Bagenal, Richard Bolt and Richard newman, the theater deisgne constulat George Izenhour, and Stuart constable, rpesenteing Robert Moses's office, gather in the office of Harrison & Abamovwit for a two-weeklong parley to discuss the propsosed center.
.Some panel membes advocateing creating an introspective place apart from the turmoil of the city, citing the Piazza San Marco in Venice as a model. Other members of the panel - Breuer in particular - accepted the superblock parti but favored a plan that would more fully embrace the city and poposed rearranging the buildings around a plaza opening onto Columbus Avenue and Brioadway. Along these lines , Bllelluschi and Johnson suggested arranging the buildigns' around the city's permimeter, leaving a large plaza in front of the opera house and open to colubmus Avenue, a plan that disregarded the park Moses had proposed
Becaise they wanted to use only Ameican architects, the Lincoln Cetner board rejecte Aalto and arekelius; Breuer was elminated because he was generally considered too ridig, and fshelpy for being too conservative. Although Harrison had passed up the ovppoerutnity for overall control, he nonetheless played na important role, recommending Belluschi for the Juillard School, Eero Saarinen for the reproetary theater and Godron Bushaft, .tfor the library and museum. The opea house was to bedesigne dyb Harrison, and the commission for the symphony hall went to Abramovitz ..Rockefeller turned to Balachine and he chose Johnson, a friend of Rockefeller's and since Havard College days a close friend fo Lincoln Kirtsten's, Balanchine's principal sponsor. Johnnson had in 1946 renovated the lobby of Blanachine's Schoolfo American Baleeter, at 637 Madison Avenue .
.under the chairmanship, if not the leadship, of Harison, the architecgs surveyed the proposed site plan and, after heated debates, approved the basic prositionaing of the plaza and the constitutient buildings, rejected Bunshart's and Saarinen'ts effoets to resurretct Aalto's and RBreuer's call fro an all-ecncompassing singled megastructure., the principal concern for the architectural committee was that of design unity. In achieving this, Philip Johnson clearly took the leadership role, .Johnson ay have been responsible for the placement of the trhee principal buildings, but the design team rejected bmay o is detailed suggestions, including his proposed for a curved-front dance terater and his subjequent proposal for a continous plaza-aenclosing arcade ..In an effort toestlabish cohesiveness, belluschiproposed that lalthe buidlings'b e clad in Roman travertine. Which was ore extepsnive
Groundbreaking may 14, 59 with president Eisenhower.
Philharmonic hall was the first to be completed September 23, 1962. Abramoiv first design cantilevered balconie on all sides, then one with pointed archeds and finally tapered piers second level grand foyer 180feet long, 50feet high .three mont after opening Richard Lippold finished installing is monumental hanging work Propheus and Apollo in grand fall. Abandoning the idea of chandeliers, abramovietz onsidered a scuopturel solution. He approach Lippold, who had aready established a reputation for successful collaobattions with archtiectus, most notably with Philip Johnson at the four seaons reastouarant .. milled sheets of copper and sinc alloy called Muntz metal seemed to be mlike friendl7y gods 190 muntz sheets ..Hilton Kramer said that the piece was a prime illustration of the Lincoln Center direstors' "distressing weakness for sculptureal claptrap the hall's acoustical performance was a decided disappointment ..leading to several changes conductor george sczell tear it down and start over. In 1972 a 10 million gift from avery fisher, the pioneeeing hifi quipment manfuacter, made it possible to do that the audition gutted and rebuilt in 76
New york state theater second
only one within budget
Iitianl plans called for a semi-curcular building, with a sweeping glass façade framed by a colonnade fo girdlike-precast-concret double columns. Design rejected by design team Johnson then proposed decilicate arcade of tall slend columns opened april 23 64 handing vertical clusters of faceted ligtht fuixtures. The critic c. ray smith describe these as 'looking like inverted sparkler fireworks. The edtors of time led them cyclopean rhinestones. Ilse m. reese coeditor of progressive architecture charged the design came 'cangerously close to the pretentious titlain monumental of the Mussolini era."
Unabashedly theatridcal grand ppromenade, 200-foot long 50 foot gold leafed ceiling could accommodate 600 diners three tiers of balconies bronze railings faced lighted fisxtture and gold mesh panels in a pattern that Kirstein said was 'borrowed from Jackson pollock's spaches.' Sweeping convex curves rwall of glass hung with gold anodized ball link chain curtains evocate of those marie Nichols had designed for the fou searsons restaurant .nineteen-foot high carrara mable sculptures of paired female figures by elie nadelman . Winthrop sergeant though they looked as if they were modeled in yogut.
At once elegant andplayful, the grand promande was partiucarlydistinctive because it cut to the heart of the sel-insmposed austreryityof theprovailing architectural miminalims ..clive barnes said it had "a hint of the cold-steel, machine-gun-scrutinized terraces of alcatraza."
Audtorum 2,801 people..trapped
Third building in 165 vivian Beaumont theater, designed by eero Saarinen and associates and the theater designed jo mielznner and library design by bunshaft sincle fuilind. E. j. Beaumont, founded the may company department store chain.
Metropolitan opera house comple 66harrison bernin Vatican colonnade domed sedge
Direcot Rudolph bing rejected harrison's suggestion that operas might staged I the found, inssiting on a sproscenium stage .higb=rb ytzib;s 57 johnson destcribed it as flamboyoant 21-story office tower windowless to the east bin 61 rejected Harrison had more than 40 plans walls of west African kewazinga wood gold leafed ceiling hung from springs floor bed or coak and lead sculpture crowned the aprosceniim arch by mary callery described by canady as a piece of junk jewelrycurved double staircase marc Chagall each 30 by 36 feet theme of music simlar ceiling dfor paris opera one of the pair le triomphe de la musique incoproated a portrait of Rudolph bing as well as maya plisetskyaka. Hairrison not happy with choice of Chagall I would have picked woulrd class artists like leger but bing was the boss. Wionthrop sergeant I have always regardec chagal as the harpo marx of the fauve movement in mart . Clive barnes argued 'there ma be a more vulgarly designed opera house I the world, ' he could not recall any that suprassed this one. 1982 four steps in front removed by slope. Top of the met six floor raoul dufy murals opera café ground floor l barth huxtable.
1096-alic e tully hallaproved to a bwarm of slightly gloomy space ideally suited to chamber muic events. Uliiiard's interiors are n some way stb3etter those of tehother buildings, argued mildred Schertz. Its beautifully shaped wood paneled uditoriums, for exmale, proive tht it ispossible to create elegant halls in contemporary terms without resorting to skimbpy eooctainhs of the gilt, paser and crytaldecor of the great hals of the past. .it is appropriate the the best buoding at Lincoln center shoud be theres.' Hxutable the jullard is a good buoddng,, free of theuncertn retensons and pomosities of the met opera house,k te nys theater .it is not avanat-garde, but its refinements nd simpoicities are timeless. With the Beaumont theater, julllard offers arhitectur and estheticrelaitytothe coulturalconfsions of lc ending 14 yers o anupbea paul Goldberger saw j as 'probably the best bulding at lincolnd center but he qualifid isproasise; this would be a ho-hum brutalst bulding if it were done in concrete andlcoated somewhere else,; there the travertine brings a warmer teture, and the determnatuin of peitro belluschi not to lay the same two-bit classicizing game as the architecturs of te guledings on the main plaza ididis appearling.'