The birthday of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts is May 14, 1959, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower first broke ground for construction. For its first concert, an orchestra led by Leonard Bernstein played Fanfare for the Common Man, and mezzo-soprano Rise Stevens sang the 'Habanera' from Carmen. From this beginning, Lincoln Center would grow into a vibrant, 16-acre neighborhood dedicated to the performing arts.
The creation of Lincoln Center was spearheaded by philanthropist John D. Rockefeller III. This urban renewal project, which transformed the Lincoln Square neighborhood of Manhattan, was designed to integrate schools, performance space, rehearsal space, and public parks and plazas.
The Philharmonic Hall was the first structure to open, in 1962. The Metropolitan Opera House, also called the Met, opened in 1964. The Koch Theater, then called the New York State Theater, opened in 1966. The Juilliard School moved to Lincoln Center in 1969.
Over the next 30 years, the neighborhood grew to host 29 performance spaces of individual character. Eleven performing arts organizations are headquartered at Lincoln Center, including Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts Inc., which presents performances, takes a leadership role in arts education and manages the campus.
Some of the Lincoln Center stars
The Juilliard School trains about 800 musicians, composers, dancers, singers and playwrights, as well as younger students in its precollege division. The Juilliard also sponsors several ensembles, orchestras and groups that perform at the school, often in the Alice Tully Hall. Recently the school's facade was remodeled with a sparkling glass canopy.
The Met is the home of the Metropolitan Opera Company. It also hosts the New York Ballet for its spring season, as well as touring ballet and opera companies. The travertine building faces the famous Revson Fountain and features five tall arches. The lobby is ornamented with two especially commissioned Marc Chagall murals, which the Met once used as collateral for a substantial loan while leaving the artworks in place.
The New York City Ballet was founded in 1948 by George Balanchine. It moved to Lincoln Center in 1966. Its performances are staged at Koch Hall, a building designed by Philip Johnson to the specifications of Balanchine, with gorgeous modern lines and a stage designed to muffle the sound of the ballet corps' feet.
The New York Philharmonic appears at the Avery Fisher Hall. Many other performers appear here as well, and the hall is also used for private events like weddings. The acoustics of the hall have been controversial in the past and have been redesigned several times.
The Guggenheim Band Shell in Damrosch Park, on the southwest corner of Lincoln Center, is the venue for many outdoor events. The gunnite shell resembles a pointed onion section and is designed to direct sound down toward the audience.
The Illumination Lawn covers the roof of the Lincoln Ristorante. Complex curves make it an exciting vantage point, picnic spot and meeting place. It has views of practice rooms in the Juilliard School and of the Henry Moore artwork in the Milstein Pool.
Lincoln Center has undergone frequent renovations, many controversial in their day. The most recent renovations added more plant life and integrated technical innovations, such as electronic signage. Eminent modern architects have updated buildings in striking ways.
Lincoln Center was the first place in the New World where the cultural institutions of a great city were gathered together onto a centralized campus. Artists could train, rehearse and perform within walking distance. Their audiences knew where to find the quality entertainment and enrichment they craved. With its continuing success, Lincoln Center serves as a model for all the world's innovative cities.