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Carnegie Hall is a world-renowned music hall and architectural gem that provides a much-needed respite from the endless rows office tower blocks in Midtown Manhattan.
The building opened in 1891 as the Music Hall, but after two years the city convinced Andrew Carnegie, who founded and funded the hall, to rename it after him. You can still see the original name on the facade above the marquee.
When Carnegie Hall’s primary tenant, the New York Philharmonic, announced it would move to the newly-constructed Lincoln Center in 1960, the building seemed doomed to the wrecking ball. Violinist Isaac Stern led the Citizens’ Committee to Save Carnegie Hall, which secured special legislation for the City of New York to buy the site for $5 million. Two years later, Carnegie Hall joined the National Registry of Historic Landmarks, preventing it from the same fate as New York’s original Pennsylvania Station.
Liza Minnelli performed a record-setting ten sold out performances in her 1979 Carnegie Hall debut. Eight years later, she shattered her own record with 17 sold out consecutive shows. To this day, no other artist has performed so many consecutive nights, let alone to a sold out theater. The actress and singer undoubtedly learned the ropes from her mother, Judy Garland, whose 1961 debut at Carnegie Hall became “one of the most storied concerts in the near 120-year history of the hall.”
Just five days after arriving at JFK Airport in 1964, the Beatles performed two concerts at Carnegie Hall after their famous appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. The first rock ’n’ roll group to perform at Carnegie Hall, they brought never-before-seen crowds to the theater. The hall was so packed that some lucky audience members had to sit on stage—much to John Lennon’s dismay, he later revealed.
In 1986—95 years after Carnegie Hall opened—it surfaced that the landmark had never maintained a consistent archive of its performance history. For the 1991 centennial, the hall finally established an official historical archive, cataloguing hundreds of letters, posters, albums and other recordings for the first time. You can access the archives by setting up an appointment.
Carnegie Hall has also hosted some of the most famous speakers, including Booker T. Washington, Mark Twain and Winston Churchill. In 2001, King of Pop Michael Jackson delivered a speech on worldwide children’s rights there.
When real estate entrepreneur Robert Simon sold Carnegie Hall to the city, he took the money and founded Reston, Virginia, the first example of a modern planned community in America. Unlike previous planned developments, this one integrated commercial, residential and park lands into a cohesive city.
Carnegie Hall housed more than 100 affordable studio apartments, whose tenants included creatives like Marlon Brando, Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe, Lucille Ball and Robert Redford. The last resident left in 2010 to make room for more rehearsal space.