As we discovered in our exploration on the Broadway Theater scene, New York City has had a performing arts scene since before the United States was even a country. While Broadway theaters began hubbing themselves around Times Square since the turn of the 20th Century, it actually wasn’t until 1962 that the Lincoln Center was created as the second hub of the city’s performing arts.
The Metropolitan Opera House was first opened in New York in 1883 on 40th and Broadway. The New York Philharmonic was first assembled in 1842 and called Carnegie Hall its home since the venue opened in 1891. Julliard was founded in 1905 and had its campus up on 122nd Street. So you see, when the Lincoln Center was first proposed in 1955, it seemingly didn’t invent any new cultural offering in particular. Unlike how the 40 theaters making up Broadway developed one by one and each on its own, the Lincoln Center was one massive project in urban renewal. On the surface, the plan was to relocate 16 acres worth of homes and families in a then-shady area of town just so that all these cultural institutions around the city could relocate into one coherent piece of property. Many were puzzled.
But what the Lincoln Center introduced to the world was this concept of a performing arts center. It was the first of its kind anywhere in the world, and now performing arts centers has become a whole genre of event spaces that exist all over the world. It’s a kind of real estate development that is to the performing arts what shopping malls are to retail stores. By putting venues for the opera, the orchestra, the ballet, and the conservatory all in one general area, and developing a campus that’s open to the public with welcoming amenities like restaurants, choreographed fountains, and lawn seating, Lincoln Center came to shape and define the culture of the Upper West Side in the same way Central Park shaped the Upper East about a hundred years prior.
See you at the next exploration!