"We have property in view and quite ready to go and build the Hall," wrote Andrew Carnegie in 1889. "If we build, it will be much farther uptown‹not below 56th Street." As Carnegie Hall celebrates its 113th anniversary this month, on May 5, it might be difficult to imagine that the Hall's neighborhood was once considered less than ideal. Yet, when the announcement was made that Andrew Carnegie's Music Hall would be built on 57th Street and Seventh Avenue, New Yorkers met the news with skepticism.
During the 1850s, the area from West 51st Street to Central Park, between Sixth and Seventh avenues, consisted of fields and steep outcroppings dotted with shanties where squatters raised 3,000 pigs. When the Sixth Avenue elevated train began moving uptown, "Hogtown" gave way to development. By the 1870s land prices were soaring, lots became smaller, and something new developed‹apartment buildings.
The 57th Street area became a mix of empty lots, breweries, stables, and residential buildings, but Carnegie recognized it as the last wide river-to-river street before Central Park cut the City in two. He speculated that it was only a matter of time before the development of the Upper West Side‹an area described in the New York Times as late as 1883 as being "too isolated to come into anything soon"‹came into its own. After the Hall opened, "midtown," which had been three miles south at 14th Street, began moving north rapidly. In 1885, there were 70 empty plots of land on West 57th Street. By 1898, just seven years after Carnegie Hall's opening, there were none.
Archivist and Museum Director, Carnegie Hall
Visit the Rose Museum to find out more about Carnegie Hall's rich and diverse history.