Lincoln Center: The Building of an Institution
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc., shelters opera, instrumental music, dance, drama, film, the Juilliard School, and a research branch of the New York Public Library. It has operated since 1962, time enough to call for more than congratulations. Pebble-aggregate paving around the central fountain needs granite replacement. Carpeted walls on the State Theater’s promenade are filthy; its seats are sprung. An ominous fissure threatens the basement. Travertine veneer on Avery Fisher (né Philharmonic) Hall is eroded. Money donated for annual maintenance is no glamorous option; wear and tear slowly affect visible service. Much is always skimped in the final press of construction, with euphoric disdain of future patchwork. However, the reflecting pool facing the Beaumont Theater leaks no more and, despite blemish, the several “cultural” facilities are in uninterrupted use.
Lincoln Center, in its physical presence, is neither tragic nor unique. Edward Durrell Stone, architect of Washington’s John F. Kennedy Center, first proposed three free-standing theaters for music, dance, and drama. Forced to consolidate under one vast roof, they found inevitable leakage required emergency salvage from the Congress. Management of huge amorphous civic centers needs tact and compassion, to say nothing of intelligence, goods hard to buy from even the most expensive PR consultants. Lincoln Center, Inc., is a nonprofit real-estate holding company, a custodian offering light, heat, security, and fund raising, the returns of which, one way or another, its constituents share.
It is not a conglomerate masquerading as a Medici. Charming janitors are rare enough, but whoever loved a landlord? Adversary relationships were ingrained from the start. These persist. Personal energy is always wasted which neither prescience nor experience can staunch, but the act in performance more than compensates. All first steps in financing, land acquisition, bulldozing, opposition from the press and local community planning boards, however anguished or heroic, are forgotten. What Lincoln Center has become is useful, its results determined by the city’s infrastructure together with skills in singing, making music, dancing, and playing roles.
Edgar B. Young, executive vice president for its construction, has composed an official apology. Mr. Young, a close associate of John D. Rockefeller III, assigns to him a central influence. Realization might have been slower without so numinous a name, but it could not have been much different without it. Mr. Rockefeller had slight interest in performing art. Anyone sitting near him at a concert or the opera sympathized with his malaise. To him, such art was, at best, therapeutic, like population control. Control, per se, did interest him. Mr. Young’s narrative is an orderly if absurdly partial account of efforts in urban renewal, tenant relocation, financing. Striving to be judicious, he supplies post card captions.
Little is made of earlier proposals, the most evident of which was Rockefeller Center itself. Although the great art deco Radio City Music Hall still evades the wrecker, the large and beautiful Center Theater was lost to office space years ago. In the early Twenties, Josef Urban, the …
This article is available to subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.