LINCOLN CENTER of the Performing Arts




Home of the Metropolitan Opera,
the New York Philharmonic Orchestra

and the Jazz Center
LINCOLN CENTER OF THE PERFORMING ARTS, built in the 1960's, is the largest performing arts center in the world and houses some of the City’s major cultural institutions including the Metropolitan Opera House, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the New York City Ballet, and the most recent addition, the Jazz Center (located in the Time Warner Center building).  

The Metropolitan Opera House is the centerpiece of three large buildings and a fountain within the Plaza.  The Metropolitan Opera was designed by architect Wallace K. Harrison.  Its external has five arches built of travertine (a natural stone from Tivoli, Italy – near Rome -- the same stone used for the building of Rome’s Colosseum), and its stage contains seven full-stage elevators and two cycloramas.  The Opera’s main lobby has two large, modern murals by Russian painter, Marc Chagall.  Avery Fisher Hall, the building (barely seen here) on the right of the Plaza, is the home to the New York Philharmonic Orchestra -- the oldest symphony orchestra in America and one of the oldest in the world (founded in 1842). 

Lincoln Center is located in a neighborhood once known as San Juan Hill and at one time the  largest African-American community in Manhattan.  It was named San Juan Hill in honor of the Buffalo Soldiers, NYC black veterans of the 71st Regiment Infantry during the Spanish-American War.  The regiment fought a battle at San Juan Hill in Cuba with Teddy Roosevelt.  The New York Times has reported that even today there is a mystery surrounding how Lincoln Center got its name.  Some believe its name comes from the neighborhood in which it was built: Lincoln Square: the area between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues and West 63rd and West 66th streets.

This neighborhood is just above the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood – now known as Clinton (which ends at 59th Street) -- where the fictional Italian and Puerto Rican youth gangs of the Sharks and the Jets lived and battled in one of American theatre’s greatest musicals, West Side Story.  Leonard Bernstein, who composed the musical score for West Side Story, was the director of the New York Philharmonic orchestra at Lincoln Center for many years.  Lincoln Center’s Young People’s Concerts, conducted primarily by Bernstein, were telecast live for over 20 years.  Juilliard School is also located in the Center’s complex.

The neighborhood is also one where jazz pianist, Thelonious Monk, grew up (on West 63rd Street).  It's appropriate that the Jazz Center is located near the West Fifties where West 52nd Street was once known as "Swing Street" due to the large number of jazz club located there.  These clubs included:  Down Beat Club, Famous Door, Kelly's Stable, Onyx Club (where Billie Holiday often performed), Spotlite (the only black-owned club on 52nd Street), Three Deuces and the Yacht Club. 

Jazz and jazz clubs were also very popular in Brooklyn where the following clubs might be found:  Baby Grand, Club Continental, Club 78, Kingston Lounge, Pleasant Lounge, Tony's Club Grandean (a black-owned club at Grand Avenue and Dean Street) and the Wagon Wheel. 

Lincoln Center celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2009 and recently underwent a $1.2 billion major renovation.  White lights now light the stairs to the promenade and LED messages stroll across the stairs welcoming visitors and announcing performances.  A tilting grass roof covers the Lincoln Ristorante and there's also a reflecting pool.  Even the water in the plaza's fountain has been choreographed to present both day and evening programs and 272 LED lights light the water's performances in the evening.  At its highest the water rises to 12 feet and there are actually 475 gallons of water in the air.  A large LED screen above the David H. Koch Theater, originally the New York State Theater, projects scenes from plays and other events at Lincoln Center for the public to view.  

Writer Justin Davidson noted that Lincoln Center's construction in 1959 and the scale of Lincoln Center "speaks as much of America's cultural insecurity as of its pride.  In the fifties, New York was still getting used to being a world capital of culture, and its leaders were anxious to show the world that the city could value the stuff as much as money or military might.  Lincoln Center was, among other things, a move in the Cold War prestige game." -- New York Magazine, May 18, 2009

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