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Landmark: Carnegie Hall

June 23, 2011 New York Post Robin Wallace

New York Landmark: Carnegie Hall

A wealthy philanthropist and a visionary conductor teamed up to build a grand concert stage during New York golden age.

IN 1887, a young, newlywed couple sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from America to their honeymoon in Scotland. The husband, Andrew Carnegie, was a very wealthy industrialist. His wife, Louise Whitfield, had been a singer with the Oratorio Society of New York. When Louise ran into Walter Damrosch, the conductor of the Oratorio Society, as well as the conductor of the Symphony Society of New York, aboard the ship, she introduced him to her new husband. The three became friends during their transAtlantic journey and, when the ship arrived in Scotland, the Carnegies invited Damrosch to visit them at the Carnegie family estate.

Damrosch was the son of Leopold Damrosch, the founder of the Symphony Society and the Oratorio Society, and he had inherited his father dream of building a great concert space in New York. At the time, the New York Philharmonic Society was considered New York first-place orchestra, and therefore had first choice of available concert venues. There were few spaces available that could accommodate a large orchestra, so the Symphony Society had to wait in line behind the Philharmonic, often with no place to perform.

During his evenings with the Carnegies in Scotland, Damrosch shared his vision for a new concert hall, and Andrew Carnegie agreed to fund the project. Construction began in the spring of 1890, with Louise Carnegie cementing the cornerstone with a silver trowel from Tiffany onMay 13.

It was built on a parcel of land stretching along Seventh Avenue between two unpaved roads. Those roads would eventually become 56th and 57th Streets, but at the time, the area was considered rural.

When Carnegie Hall opened on May 5, 1891 with a five-day musical arts festival, all of New York society, led by the most prominent families in the city, flocked to see the Symphony and Oratorio societies perform.

Inside, the sold-out crowd was not disappointed. On hand to perform was also the legendary Russian composer, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The grand hall, designed by architect William Burnet Tuthill, certainly lived up to its name. A six-story rectangular structure built without steel support beams, the walls were made of brick and concrete several feet thick, which turned out to provide excellent acoustic conduction.

The building facade was an ornate, ItalianRenaissance style of terra cotta and iron-spotted brick. Inside, the hall contained three performance spaces. The Main Hall seats 2,800, a second recital hall seats 1,200, and there a 250-seat hall for chamber music performances.

The venue also offered many smaller rooms for lectures, meetings and to provide living quarters for visiting guests.

Construction of the hall cost $ 1.1 million, almost all of which was paid for personally by Andrew Carnegie, but it wasn until 1893 that Andrew could be persuaded to allow the hall to formally bear his name, and the Music Hall, as it had been known, officially became Carnegie Hall.

Carnegie Hall has undergone some renovations and changes over the past 120 years, and faced the possibility of being shut down during the city difficult days in the 1970’s and 80’s.

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