Lincoln Center – The Cultural Jewel In New York City’s Crown

Lincoln Center

Lincoln Center – Photo: Brian Kachejian 2017 ©2017

In the 1987 film “Moonstruck,” Loretta and Johnny meet up for an opera date at Lincoln Center. The flowing fountain and the pageantry of all the fancy dressed patrons attending the show depicted New York style romance at its finest. The opulent lighting and double grand staircase is the epitome of New York’s sophisticated architectural design. There was, however, a long road to the completion of Lincoln Center, and is still considered by some to be the “new” home of the Met.

The Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts spans 16.3 acres in Manhattan. The center is the apex of New York City fine arts culture, as it is home to the New York City Ballet, The New York Philharmonic, The Juilliard School of Music as well as the Metropolitan Opera.

The Metropolitan Opera already had a home in New York City since 1880 where a group of patrons got together and decided that the common people needed an alternative to the more exclusive Academy of Music. The Academy of Music looked down on what was then the nouveau riche of New York. The Metropolitan Opera gladly accommodated these new families like the Vanderbilt’s and Rockefeller’s and set aside many boxes for these exclusive patrons. It’s hard to believe but these prominent New York families were once considered interlopers abd barred from some social events. The prices for a ticket to the Met were low enough that even the working classes could save up enough for general admission and have a fairy tale experience watching those amazing performances. In 1883, the Metropolitan Opera Hose opened its doors on 39th and Broadway.

The twentieth century was transforming New York in many ways. The Lincoln Center neighborhood became a mecca for artists and musicians, although it would be considered “grunge” with beatniks and Bohemians occupying the area.  Planner and Philanthropist Robert Moses led the charge for urban renewal in the 1950s and 1960s while having a great partner in arms loaded with cash named John D. Rockefeller III. They brought in the best architects and planners to realize their dream of transforming this crime ridden area into a cultural utopia that would be the envy of all the modern world. What started out in the late 1950s as the “Lincoln Square Renewal Project” turned out to be a giant endeavor spanning more than a decade.

Lincoln Center

Lincoln Center – Photo: Brian Kachejian ©2017

President Eisenhower presided over the ground breaking ceremony in 1959. Avery Fisher Hall, home to the New York Philharmonic, opened in 1962. The New York City Ballet opened in 1964. The Metropolitan Opera at West 62nd and 65th Streets at Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues had its opening night on September 18, 1966. In attendance for opening night was first lady, Lady Bird Johnson. From the casting of the first shovelful of dirt to opening night at the Met, Lincoln Center was well supported by those in the White House.

Why is it called “Lincoln Center” anyway? There is an ongoing debate about this. Many claim that it was certainly not named after our Civil War president while some say it most certainly was. Nonetheless, the debate continues. You will notice there are no portraits of the late president nor any references to him in particular. According to a 2009  article in the New York Times celebrating Lincoln Center’s 50th anniversary. https://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/05/11/50-years-in-lincoln-centers-name-is-still-a-mystery/ the presidential dissociation might have been deliberate. McClellan was then mayor of New York in 1906. This is one of those topics New Yorkers love to debate over their morning bagels. One thing on which everyone can agree is that this ambitious project  The initial cost alone was staggering but the Rockefeller family was responsible for raising over $184.5 million dollars for the project. In turn,  John D. Rockefeller III became the Lincoln Center project’s President in 1956 and became its chairman in 1961.

Lincoln Center

Lincoln Center – Photo: Brian Kachejian ©2017

New buildings were going up and at last, the new Metropolitan Opera opened the doors to its new home in 1966. In 1969 The Julliard School founded back in 1905 made the move to this cultural epicenter in 1969. To learn more about the Juilliard School visit https://www.juilliard.edu/

Another attraction that is New York, The Big Apple Circus, has been performing right alongside the Met at Damrosch Park since 1981. Financial problems have plagued this non-profit group and a fundraising campaign fell short of the mark, so rumor had it that The Big Apple Circus was not going to survive the rough economy. A New York doctor  Neil Kahanovitz stepped in and decided to back it.  Dr. Kahanovitz was interviewed on the Catsimatidis radio show about the love of the circus and how he coordinated this rescue from bankruptcy, visit, http://www.catsimatidis.com/neil-kahanovitz-big-apple-circus-back/. This is great news and tickets are on sale for the 2017 October to January season.  To find out more about The Big Apple Circus, go to https://www.bigapplecircus.com/,

There’s something for everyone at Lincoln Center. Twice a year New York holds its Fashion Week at Lincoln Center. You can actually enjoy Sunday Brunch at the Met at the renown Grand Tier Restaurant. Whether you are a student at the Fordham University Lincoln Center campus, a musician studying at Juilliard, an opera lover or just want to enjoy browsing and dining in the most culturally sophisticated atmosphere New York has to offer, Lincoln Center is the place to be.

Lincoln Center

Lincoln Center – Photo: Brian Kachejian ©2017

There are, however, critics citing that New York used the Lincoln Square Renewal Project for Cold War bragging rights, and to “flush out” the local neighborhoods for the sake of a grand design for gentrification. To commemorate Lincoln Center’s 50th in 2009 New York writer, Justin Davidson wrote an article, “Living With Lincoln Center” http://nymag.com/arts/architecture/features/56599/.

From the beginning and now with constant costly renovations forever in the works, Lincoln Center remains a vital tourist attraction and treasured local venue as well as a lightning rod for controversy. It’s not the 80s anymore, and New York has been knocked down but is no way defeated. Lincoln Center is just one amazing proof of that. We can hope that many of today’s New Yorkers (perhaps a world weary couple like Johnny and Loretta in “Moonstruck”)  will still find magic and romance meeting up at that fountain.

Lincoln Center Fountain

Lincoln Center Fountain – Photo: Brian Kachejian ©2017

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