New York City Center
130 West 55th Street
(between Avenue of Americas and 7th Avenue)
New York City
Constructed in the 1920s as a Shriners’ auditorium, City Center was founded in 1943 when Mayor La Guardia saved the building from demolition and designated it the People’s Theater, a cultural center that would make the performing arts accessible to all New Yorkers. In its first decades, City Center’s programming embraced a tremendous range of artists and styles. The New York City Ballet and New York City Opera were both born at City Center, and Leonard Bernstein led the short-lived New York Symphony here.
In the 1970s it was again threatened with demolition as many of its attractions were siphoned off by the new Lincoln Center. Instead of being closed it was designated a historical landmark because of its unique neo-Moorish façade and reconstituted as New York’s premiere home for dance and, eventually, for a leading theater company. The dozens of dance companies who have performed at City Center include most major U.S. and international troupes. It is the home venue for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Paul Taylor Dance Company and Merce Cunningham Dance Company.
Today City Center is recommitted to Mayor La Guardia’s original vision and is expanding its programming to include a wide range of entertainment, focusing on indigenous American art forms. These include modern dance companies, family-oriented entertainments and important American works not generally staged, such Encores! Great American Musicals in Concert—an acclaimed series of musicals in their original orchestrations.
City Center uses the grand 2,684-seat mainstage theater. Manhattan Theatre Club, renowned for its productions of new plays, uses the smaller stages below. Designed by Harry P. Knowles and the firm of Clinton & Russell, City Center has a mosque-like exterior dome and neo-Moorish designs both inside and out. Equilateral arches on its façade are clad in glazed tiles. In the 1980s the building was thoroughly restored and sightlines were improved.