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A consortium of civic leaders and others led by, and under the initiative of, John D. Rockefeller III built Lincoln Center as part of the "Lincoln Square Renewal Project" during Robert Moses' program of urban renewal in the 1950s and 1960s. Respected architects were contracted to design the major buildings on the site, and over the next thirty years the previously diverse working class area around Lincoln Center was replaced with a conglomeration of high culture to please the tastes of the consortium.
Rockefeller was Lincoln Center's inaugural president from 1956 and became its chairman in 1961. He is credited with raising more than half of the $184.5 million in private funds needed to build the complex, including drawing on his own funds; the Rockefeller Brothers Fund also contributed to the project. The center's three buildings, David Geffen Hall (formerly Avery Fisher Hall), David H. Koch Theater (formerly the New York State Theater) and the Metropolitan Opera House were opened in 1962, 1964 and 1966, respectively.
While the center may have been named because it was located in the Lincoln Square neighborhood, it is unclear whether the area was named as a tribute to U.S. PresidentAbraham Lincoln. The name was bestowed on the area in 1906 by the New York City Board of Aldermen, but records give no reason for choosing that name. There has long been speculation that the name came from a local landowner, because the square was previously named Lincoln Square. City records from the time show only the names Johannes van Bruch, Thomas Hall, Stephan de Lancey, James de Lancey, James de Lancey, Jr. and John Somerindyck as area property owners. One speculation is that references to President Lincoln were omitted from the records because the mayor in 1906 was George B. McClellan Jr., son of General George B. McClellan, who was general-in-chief of the Union Army early in the American Civil War and a bitter rival of Lincoln's.
Main plaza at the Center
Architects who designed buildings at the center include:
Diller Scofidio + Renfro: Public spaces, Hypar Pavilion and Lincoln Ristorante, The Juilliard School, Alice Tully Hall, School of American Ballet, Josie Robertson Plaza, Revson Fountain, President's Bridge (over 65th Street) and Infoscape
The center's cultural institutions also make use of facilities located away from the main campus. In 2004, the center expanded through the addition of Jazz at Lincoln Center's newly built facilities, the Frederick P. Rose Hall, at the new Time Warner Center, located a few blocks to the south. In March 2006, the center launched construction on a major redevelopment plan that modernized, renovated, and opened up its campus. Redevelopment was completed in 2012 with the completion of the President's Bridge over West 65th Street.
In March 2006, the center launched the 65th Street Project – part of a major redevelopment plan continuing through the fall of 2012 – to create a new pedestrian promenade designed to improve accessibility and the aesthetics of that area of the campus. Additionally, Alice Tully Hall was modernized and reopened to critical and popular acclaim in 2009 and the Film Society of Lincoln Center expanded with the new Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center. Topped by a sloping lawn roof, the film center is part of a new pavilion that also houses a destination restaurant named Lincoln, as well as offices. Subsequent projects were added which addressed improvements to the main plazas and Columbus Avenue Grand Stairs. Under the direction of the Lincoln Center Development Project, Diller Scofidio + Renfro in association with FXFOWLE Architects and Beyer Blinder Belle Architects provided the design services. Additionally, Turner Construction Company and RCDolner, LLC were the construction managers for the projects. Another component to redevelopment was the addition of the David Rubenstein Atrium designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, a visitors' center and a gateway to the center that offers free performances, day-of-discount tickets, food, and free Wi-Fi.
September 23, 1962: Philharmonic Hall (now David Geffen Hall) opened. A two-hour live CBS special, Opening Night at Lincoln Center, preserved the event on videotape.
April 6, 1964: Lincoln Center Fountain, named for Charles Revson, opens
April 23, 1964: New York State Theater opens
October 14, 1965: Vivian Beaumont Theater and the Forum (now Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater) open
November 30, 1965: The Library & Museum of the Performing Arts opens
September 16, 1966: The Metropolitan Opera House opens
May 22, 1969: Damrosch Park and the Guggenheim Band Shell opens
September 11, 1969: Alice Tully Hall opens
October 26, 1969: Juilliard School opens
October 19, 1976: Avery Fisher Hall re-opens after renovation to improve acoustics.
December 4, 1981: The Big Apple Circus marks its first performances at its winter home in Damrosch Park. The circus has performed every winter at Lincoln Center through the 2016 season when it was forced to liquidate its assets due to continued financial losses.
September 7, 1982: New York State Theater re-opens after renovation to improve acoustics.
September 2, 1986: Former Jewish Defense League National Chairman Victor Vancier throws a tear gas grenade during a performance of Soviet ballet in the Metropolitan Opera House as a protest against the Soviet practice of not letting its Jews emigrate to Israel.
November 19, 1990: The Samuel B. and David Rose Building opens housing the Walter Reade Theater, the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse, the Daniel and Joanna S. Rose Rehearsal Studio, the Clark Studio Theater, the School of American Ballet, Juilliard School student residences, and office space for a number of the member organizations.
December 3, 1991: The Walter Reade Theater opens within the previously completed Samuel B. and David Rose Building
July 12, 1997: The Paul Milstein Plaza is dedicated.
October 18, 2004: Jazz at Lincoln Center opens.
March 2006: Preliminary construction on the West 65th Street Project begins.
June 8, 2006: Lincoln Center announces plans to transform the nearby Harmony Atrium into a public space for the arts open to the public, neighbors, students, and center patrons.
June 12, 2006: The Lincoln Center unveils the promenade initiative to revitalize the center's Columbus Avenue frontage and the iconic Josie Robertson Plaza.
August 20, 2006: Paul Milstein Plaza is dismantled as part of 65th Street Redevelopment project.
February 22, 2009: Alice Tully Hall reopens after redevelopment.
A 2016 HDR shot of the Lincoln Center at night.
September 30, 2009: Opening of the redesigned Charles H. Revson Fountain
May 21, 2010: Renovation plans of central and north plazas unveiled
June 4, 2012: Claire Tow Theater opens
October 1, 2012: The President's Bridge opens over West 65th Street.
Vivian Beaumont Theater: a 1,080-seat Broadway theater; operated since 1985 as the main stage of Lincoln Center Theater; previously occupied by The Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center (1965-1973) and The New York Shakespeare Festival (1973-1977)
Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater (originally known as the Forum): a 299-seat theater; operated by Lincoln Center Theater for its Off-Broadway-style productions
Damrosch Park: an outdoor amphitheater with a bowl-style stage known as the Guggenheim Band Shell; used for free Lincoln Center Out of Doors presentations and with a special dance floor for Midsummer Night Swing.
Daniel and Joanna S. Rose Rehearsal Studio
Josie Robertson Plaza: the center's central plaza, featuring its iconic fountain; the three main buildings (Metropolitan Opera House, David Geffen Hall, and David H. Koch Theater) face onto this plaza; used as an outdoor venue during Lincoln Center Out of Doors presentations
Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse: a nightclub-style venue; used for intimate concerts, "Meet the Artist" and Great Performers events, lectures, and other events where a small, intimate space is preferred; was also used for jazz performances prior to the construction of the new Jazz at Lincoln Center facilities
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (LCPA) is one of the eleven resident organizations, and serves three primary roles: presenter of artistic programming, national leader in arts and education and community relations, and manager of the center's campus. As the world's largest presenter of performing arts offering some 5,000 programs, initiatives and events annually, its programs include American Songbook, Great Performers, Lincoln Center Festival, Lincoln Center Out of Doors, Midsummer Night Swing, the Mostly Mozart Festival, Target Free Thursdays, the White Light Festival and the Emmy Award-winning Live from Lincoln Center.
In July 2006, the LCPA announced it would join with publishing company John Wiley & Sons to publish at least 15 books on performing arts, and would draw on the Lincoln Center Institute's educational background and archives.
Cultural Innovation Fund
Lincoln Center Cultural Innovation Fund is the first of its kind as a grant program that seeks to bring art and develop art-going habits in some of New York City's poorest neighborhoods. Funding through a partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation the new pilot grant program encourages the use of art as an innovative strategy to access and participate in cultural opportunities in diverse neighborhoods in Central Brooklyn and the South Bronx. Each of the 12 grantees will receive support and financial backing for their project with the over all goal of the program is to support non- profit organizations in creating cultural innovative strategies that increase art participation and the range and availability of cultural activities to underserved communities.
In popular culture
Lincoln Center is featured in multiple works of art and media. Examples include:
The Producers (1968), in which the theatrical producers Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) and Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder) meet at the Revson Fountain to discuss their scheme to defraud their investors; the climax of the scene is provided by the eruption of the plaza's fountain while Bloom dances around
Ghostbusters (1984), Peter meets Dana by the fountain after her rehearsal with a guest conductor
Pitch Perfect (2012), in which the final competition takes place at Lincoln Center
John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017), in which a shootout takes place in the plaza before moving into the Subway