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's 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 blighted area around Lincoln Center became a new cultural hub.
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, Avery Fisher Hall (formerly Philharmonic 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 during the American Civil War and a bitter rival of Lincoln.
The center's cultural institutions also make use of facilities located away from the main campus. In 2004, the center was 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. The film center is part of a new pavilion that also houses a destination restaurant, Lincoln, offices, and is topped with a sloping lawn roof. 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.
Vivian Beaumont Theater: a 1,080-seat Broadway-style 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
Claire Tow Theater: a 131-seat theater operated by Lincoln Center Theater to house its more experimental 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, Avery Fisher Hall, and David H. Koch Theater) face onto this plaza; used as an outdoor venue during Lincoln Center Out of Doors presentations
Juilliard School: a facility housing the school of the same name: building also incorporates Morse Recital Hall, Paul Recital Hall, the Juilliard Drama Theater and the Peter J. Sharp Theater
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, Inc.
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc. (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.
Main plaza at the Center
Architects who designed buildings at the center include:
September 23, 1962: Philharmonic Hall (now Avery Fisher Hall) opened. A two-hour live CBS special, Opening Night at Lincoln Center, preserved the event on videotape.
April 6, 1964: Lincoln Center Fountain opened. Renamed the Revson Fountain
April 23, 1964: New York State Theater opened.
October 14, 1965: Vivian Beaumont Theater and the Forum (now Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater) opened.
November 30, 1965: The Library & Museum of the Performing Arts opened.
September 16, 1966: The Metropolitan Opera House opened.
May 22, 1969: Damrosch Park and the Guggenheim Band Shell opened.
September 11, 1969: Alice Tully Hall opened.
October 26, 1969: Juilliard School opened.
October 19, 1976: Avery Fisher Hall re-opened after renovation to improve acoustics.
December 4, 1981: The Big Apple Circus performed at its winter home in Damrosch Park for the first time. The circus has performed every winter at Lincoln Center ever since.
September 7, 1982: New York State Theater re-opened 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 opened; houses 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, and Juilliard School student residences, as well as office space for a number of the member organizations.
December 3, 1991: The Walter Reade Theater opened within the previously completed Samuel B. and David Rose Building.
July 12, 1997: The Paul Milstein Plaza dedicated.
October 18, 2004: Jazz at Lincoln Center opened.
March 2006: Preliminary construction on the West 65th Street Project begins
June 8, 2006: Plans for Lincoln Center to transform the nearby Harmony Atrium into a public space for the arts open to the public, neighbors, students, and Lincoln Center patrons are announced.
June 12, 2006: The Lincoln Center Promenade initiative to revitalize Lincoln Center's Columbus Avenue frontage and the iconic Josie Robertson Plaza is unveiled.
August 20, 2006: Paul Milstein Plaza dismantled as part of 65th Street Redevelopment project.
February 22, 2009: Alice Tully Hall reopens after redevelopment.
May 21, 2010: Renovation of central and north plazas unveiled.
June 4, 2012: Claire Tow Theater opened
October 1, 2012: The President's Bridge opened over West 65th Street.