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Beyond the Village and Back: The Juilliard School

Juilliard School and Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center
Juilliard School at Lincoln Center

In our series Beyond the Village and Back, we take a look at some great landmarks throughout New York City outside of Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo, celebrate their special histories, and reveal their (sometimes hidden) connections to our neighborhoods.

The Juilliard School is one of the world’s most respected schools for the performing arts. Ensconced in its Lincoln Center home for more than 50 years, the school can boast an impressive list of alumni among actors, musicians, playwrights, and dancers: William Hurt, Patti LuPone, Mandy Patinkin, Adam Driver, Tim Blake Nelson, and Christopher Reeve and Robin Williams (roommates in the 1970s), to name a few. And even though Juilliard is best known as an Upper West Side school, its origins in Greenwich Village in the early 20th century tie it in with an even older and more historic local institution.

Situated on the west side of Broadway between 65th and 66th Streets, the Juilliard School was completed in 1969, the last of the major buildings to be finished in Lincoln Center’s original 1960s plan. Over the course of a 12-year planning process, architect Pietro Belluschi produced 65 different designs for the school until arriving at the final, Brutalist design for a five-story building clad in travertine from the same Italian quarries of marble used to build ancient Roman buildings (the Italian government would donate half a million dollars for the purchase of the marble). The school was distinct from the center’s other buildings not only because of its departure from the primarily ‘neo-formalist‘ style of the rest of the complex, but also because it fronted on Broadway rather than Lincoln Center Plaza, connected only by a pedestrian bridge.

The Juilliard School - by Ezra Stoller, from the collection of Lincoln Center
The Juilliard School, by Ezra Stoller, from the collection of Lincoln Center

“This hard-lined and sparse design was more representative of its time,” Landmark West wrote about the building. “Belluschi did not fall into the trap of ironic classicism like the other architects, making his design, comparatively, more original and less contrived.”

By the start of the 21st century, the Juilliard School began to outgrow its existing space, requiring an expansion and renovation of 100,000 sq ft, which was led by the firm of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and completed in 2009. The project added a 45,000-sq-ft terrace cantilevered the building over Belluschi’s triangular plaza while Alice Tully Hall was expanded below, partially filling that space. “Today,” according to Landmark West, “a building stands that fits the needs of Juilliard and engages the city, sadly this came at the expense of this historic building.”

Another historic building, in Greenwich Village and now long gone, was the birthplace of the Juilliard School. In 1905, Frank Damrosch, then the head of music education for New York City public schools, founded the Institute of Musical Art and started classes at the former Lenox Mansion at 53 Fifth Avenue, on the northeast corner of East 12th Street. The school was a success, with enrollment starting at 281 students at its opening, but reaching 450 by the end of the academic year. In 1910, the school left the Village for more space near Columbia University, and in the ensuing decades merged with the Juilliard Music Foundation to form today’s Juilliard School.

Lenox Mansion, from the Museum of the City of New York
The Lenox Mansion, from the Museum of the City of New York

The mansion Juilliard left behind was once the home of James Lenox, among the wealthiest men in 19th-century New York City. Lenox’s greatest passion was collecting books, and the imposing Fifth Avenue mansion he built in 1846 housed his constantly growing collection. In 1877, Lenox relocated the library to the Upper East Side facing Central Park between East 70th and 71st Streets, and established it as a semi-private institution that stayed in operation past its founder’s death in 1880. Facing financial difficulties in the 1890s, however, the Lenox merged with the Astor and Tilden libraries to form the New York Public Library, today the nation’s largest public library system.

New York Times 1911 story about Lower Fifth Avenue

The Lenox Mansion was torn down in 1911 to be replaced by an 18-story neo-Renaissance office building, a move that the New York Times said at the time sounded the doom for the avenue below 14th Street because of the “dreaded invasion of business.” The new building eventually played a key role in the development of 20th-century American arts and culture — which is why we have argued that the #SouthOfUnionSquare building and its surroundings should be landmarked — forming a musical connection with the talented students and alumni of the Juilliard School.

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