Free Walking Tours NYC Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts is a 15-acre complex of building home to New York’s Opera, Ballet, Philharmonic Orchestra and much more. In the 1950s and 1960s this area was a seventeen block neighborhood of brick tenement home to many Puerto Rican immigrants and known as San Juan Hill. Their tale became largely famous through the 1957 Broadway hit, West Side Story by Leonard Bernstein. Just four years later when filming began for the Hollywood interpretation of the musical, directors would have to find new locales to replicate San Juan Hill as it had been completely razed for redevelopment.
Efforts had already begun in the 1950s to replace the dreary tenements with a new center for culture. The first significant barrier, however, was in obtaining rights to the proposed site. This was accomplished via eminent domain when the city seized the properties as part its urban renewal plans. These plans called for the relocation of the existing 7,000 residents within the neighborhood, a large portion of which never saw these promises come to fruition.
Lincoln Center was officially approved for construction in 1956 and President Eisenhower broke ground for the facility in May 1959. To help fund the $184.5 million project, John D. Rockefeller III actually contributed one-half of the funds from his own pocket.
As to the derivation of the name Lincoln Center, no one is really certain as to where it came from. It is largely believed to be a tribute to Abraham Lincoln but no validation of this exists within city records. The name for the area can actually be traced back to 1906 via records from the New York City Board of Alderman (equivalent to the city council). It is believed by some that this apparent omission may be partly driven by the fact that then New York mayor, George B. McClellan Jr., refused acknowledgement of the former President. McClellan Jr’s father had been a major general in the Union Army during the Civil War who had had numerous disputes with Lincoln. McClellan’s disdain for Lincoln even went so far as to run versus him for the Presidency in 1864.
In regards to the current complex, the Avery Fisher Hall was completed in 1962 and followed by the David H. Koch Theatre in 1964 and then the Metropolitan Opera House. The centerpiece of the plaza consists of a fountain by Philip Johnson and a sculpture titled The Reclining Figure by Henry Moore