SAVIOR OF CARNEGIE HALL
By Richard and Theodora Schulze
Many have a general awareness of the fact that the famous violinist Isaac Stern was actively involved in the preservation of the Carnegie Hall Building in New York. There seems to be, however, little awareness of the true nature of that involvement and the achievement which it represents.
The circumstances at the time were truly remarkable, and deserve to be more widely known. The story reads like a mystery novel, and should be of great interest to all those who are concerned for the survival of our great American institutions.
More to the point, there should be more information available to future generations so that they may more fully appreciate what their forbears went through to preserve for them a world of artistic quality and achievement.
We had the honor of working together with Stern's valiant little band. We had no organizational structure in the usual sense, so few can claim any formal status. That was one of the more remarkable things about the strange war of attrition which developed. There were many of us who engaged in individual initiatives, sometimes, it seemed, in competition with one another, but somehow Stern and a few of his close associates managed to pull it all together and we made it work.
Today many are unaware that during 1956-1960 in New York there were continuing threats of impending demolition of the Carnegie Hall Building. The Isaac Stern Citizens Committee to Save Carnegie Hall was ultimately successful in vanquishing these threats forever, and today the building continues as a vital centerpiece of music making in New York.
These are the recollections of our residency in, activities headquartered at, and efforts to assist the Stern Committee in its efforts to avert demolition of the Carnegie Hall Building. While they are still living, there are others who were present, who like us played a role in preserving the building, and whose recollections should be recorded. We hope this essay may encourage them to come forward with their recollections before this remarkable series of events is lost to history. Based on the resulting body of knowledge, it would be very beneficial if someone would develop an authoritative history of the whole affair, so that our posterity might more fully appreciate what lies behind the Carnegie Hall which we so take for granted today. It would be indeed unfortunate if the achievements of Mr. Stern and his followers should become blurred by the passage of time and thus go unheralded in future history.
There is no question that Stern was the ideal leader for us during the final days leading to victory for our cause. Until he came onto the scene there was little real hope. Nor should we forget the efforts of Stern's wife Vera who probably supplied the most effective person to person strategic and promotional efforts in the actual working out of the final arrangements.
There seems to be little awareness today of the events which led up to this victory. The things we did, in many cases at personal sacrifice to ourselves and without remuneration or reward, seemed at the time somehow a natural response to what amounted to a threat to our very cultural survival. It was as if those of us who lived and worked there had personally been condemned. We think none of us really believed for a minute that Carnegie Hall would be permitted to perish. It had long since clearly earned the right to its dominant position on Fifty Seventh Street. Perhaps before it is too late the Carnegie Hall Corporation will publish a history of this exciting time. There can be little doubt that Stern himself would be the first to recognize the importance of preserving for posterity a description of the component tasks which laid the foundation for the ultimate success of his organization.
"Carnegie Hall to be Demolished!" Headlines of this sort began to appear in the (at that time) seven major newspapers in New York during1956. Soon after the projected construction of Lincoln Center was announced it had also been announced that the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, and the Philadelphia Orchestra all would transfer their activities to the new venue. Many other major series followed suit. Due to the projected loss in rental income for the Carnegie Hall Auditorium it seemed in the eyes of Carnegie's then management that the building would be no longer economically viable. As a result, a decision was taken to deliver the property up for demolition and subsequent commercial redevelopment. This announcement produced a shock wave throughout the civilized world.
It is not commonly realized that when Andrew Carnegie first built his concert hall there was no such thing as a corporate income tax. At that time, therefore, there was no distinction between a nonprofit corporation and a for-profit corporation. Somehow, when the concept of tax exempt corporations developed the corporation which managed the Carnegie Hall Building never abandoned its business form. Accordingly, at this time the building could look only to earned income to cover its costs. The impending loss of concert hall revenues created a significant crisis in the Carnegie board room. The President at that time was Robert E. Simon, a man whose family, as we recollect, had long been associated with the building. Simon was clearly heart broken at the prospect of demolition of his building, but under the circumstances was unable to devise any other way out.
The first formal response to the news of Carnegie's impending demise was a rally held by the popular operatic singer Lawrence Tibbett, held in the main auditorium during the summer of 1956. This effort to assemble an effective organization bore no permanent fruit. For many, the doom of Carnegie Hall seemed like a foregone conclusion. There were no further public utterances by the building owners for the next several years, and this absence of a sense of clear and present danger caused many of us to become somewhat complacent.
By April of 1959, however, the jungle drums were again beating and the situation appeared to be coming to a head.
It was at this time that the New York Philharmonic made its public announcement that it would transfer its entire operation to the new Lincoln Center, already under construction but not yet completed. Its further announcement was that the 1959-1960 season would be held at Hunter College, on the assumption that Carnegie Hall would be no longer available. Subsequent events made it possible for the concerts to remain at Carnegie for 1959-1960. However, this announcement was bracing indeed, and brought with it clear realization that the eleventh hour had arrived.
Clearly some real attention had to be devoted to this problem.
The situation had become a high stakes proposition for the Schulze family. We had arrived from Chicago in mid 1953 with little more than the clothes on our backs, but within a few months we had taken up quarters in the Carnegie Hall Building. The rental agent was Leonora Shier, who gave us a set of keys which it later developed included a pass key to the entire building. Many years later, Mr. Carl Rowenhagen, Chief Engineer of the building, spotted the key, recognized what it was, and recovered it. During the time we had it we were totally unaware that it was a pass key.
Here we had lived and worked, having set up a teaching studio and having launched The Telemann Society, our concert, recording, and broadcasting enterprise. Location in this famous musical landmark had given us the ambiance we had needed to make our efforts successful.
An even further cause for urgency was that our son Otto had been born in our Carnegie Hall Studio 903, on July 24, 1958. Since our arrival in New York in 1953 we had become vegetarian diet reformers and apostles of nature cure. Upon learning of an organization called the Maternity Center, which offered a home delivery program, it seemed only logical to take that route. Otto was the second child and the first male child to be born within the building. Upon this occasion Mr. Simon had prepared at Tiffany's an engraved silver cup, which was presented to the Schulze family. We could not let them tear that place down.
The Carnegie Hall Building as we found it in 1953 was as interesting a place as our small town midwestern eyes had ever beheld. The structure of the building was cleverly designed under Andrew Carnegie's watchful eye. Everybody knows about the concert hall on the first floor, seating something more than two-and-a-half thousand souls. Less well known is the 299 seat recital hall on the third floor, which at that time was called Carnegie Recital Hall and is now named Weil Hall. The fifth floor on the Fifty-Seventh Street side had at that time what was known as the Chapter Hall, where many meetings and get-togethers were held. Towering above all this there were several hundred studios and apartments where artists and artisans made their residences and carried out their daily work. This was a truly remarkable collection of individuals, creating a merry din of strange sounds from the day long into the night. In order to reach our studio we sort of picked our way through bevies of ballerinas doing stretch exercises on the floor, all this to the tune of pianos pounding out the strains of the Sleeping Beauty and vocal students warbling their pear shaped tones. It was wonderful.
And so it was that we felt a special urgency to preserve the birthplace of our son, thus adding more fuel to the fire of passion which burned within us to prevent demolition at all costs.
The Schulzes had to act. At this period we were still several months away from the time that we would produce our first commercial recording, on the VOX Label. We had yet to develop any significant financial or political backing for our own career efforts. The VOX people were immediately critical, feeling that we should be dedicating our entire efforts to our new recording program. The Chairman of our own Telemann Society, Leonard S. "Slats" Cottrell Jr., also voiced deep concern that we should be diluting our efforts in this way at a time when we ought to be putting every effort into building an artistically and financially strong organization.
And it was true we had virtually no possibility of success. We had no money, no plan, and as yet no Isaac Stern. We were also at that time really too young for business and financial people to take us seriously.
Nevertheless, we made our first move. On June 17, 1959 we called a meeting of the tenants of the building, which was broadcast by WNEW Radio and received some publicity in the New York dailies. This effort caused some resentment among the other tenants, many of whom were our seniors and many of whom had been in the building for far longer than we. As artistic people will, some of them exhibited jealousy that the Schulzes had "stolen the limelight", and there developed a competition to see which tenant or other potential savior could line up the most support through his or her own individual contacts or efforts and thus become the hero of the day. Thus, there suddenly emerged competing would be saviors, and it seemed that some of the tenants were all over town talking to anybody they thought might be helpful in an attempt to take over the building. In answer to the thought that greater unity might have been more helpful to the cause, we have to remember that artists often tend to be individualists. Certainly, as it later developed, these individual efforts certainly did no harm and in many ways became contributory to the eventual success of theStern organization.
Our next initiative was to form the Carnegie Hall Fund Inc. This was a New York State Membership Corporation set up in hopes that it might eventually take title to the building or at least bring about its salvation. Until Isaac Stern came to our rescue it was the sole publicly known rallying point.
As President of the then business corporation which owned the building, in personal meetings and in written correspondence, Mr. Simon scoffed at the puny efforts of the Fund. However, there was never any doubt that the building and its traditions were close to his heart. When it became necessary to find a headquarters facility for the Fund, it was he who suggested a small but strategically located studio on the second floor of the building at the 57th Street side, just outside the entrance to what was then known as the Rose Room. The rent which he set was quite nominal even for his organization with its history of generosity to tenants. In his heart we have no doubt he prayed that we might somehow succeed.
Among the friends we had made in the building were Emilia del Terzo and her aunt Dr. Morye B. Shonts, who were long established Carnegie Hall tenants whose love for the building appeared to match our own. They became our close allies and confidants, provided significant financial support, and dedicated a great deal of time and effort to the cause as well.
The Fund commencing at this period directed its full time to seeking publicity in the media, in hopes of recruiting allies to its cause. This effort produced only limited results until the arrival of Mr. Stern. Nevertheless, editorials and letters to the editors began to appear in the New York papers. A ground swell began to develop.
It should not be assumed that everybody thought it a good idea to save Carnegie Hall. Lincoln Center was a fledgling project, promoting a complex of structures which for that time were highly ambitious. It was a speculation at best as to whether sufficient funding would ultimately develop for this project. Many saw the continued existence of Carnegie Hall as a threat to Lincoln Center, providing competition which could possibly, even if by a narrow margin, defeat the financial viability of the new center.
Today, when both Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center are enjoying full schedules, and when it is often difficult to obtain a favorable date for a performance in any one of these halls, it is difficult to imagine a time when people could be seriously concerned as to whether New York could support two symphony halls and two opera houses. (Make that three. The old Metropolitan Opera House was still standing at that time.)
But it is a fact that the newspapers actually published several letters to the editor calling for what they called the soot-laden old monstrosity to be delivered up to the wrecker's ball in order to make way for the new Lincoln Center. In fairness, we have seen no evidence that anyone officially connected with Lincoln Center ever actually tried to expedite destruction of the Carnegie Hall Building. These were private citizens venting their own views.
During July of 1959 public statements by Van Cliburn lamenting the loss of Carnegie Hall were published in Cue Magazine and the New York Post, accompanied by photos. At this time Van was enjoying his first major success after winning the big contest in Moscow. After winning the contest he took up residence at an apartment hotel down Fifty-Seventh St. We had an acquaintance with him due to the fact that we would bump into each other at the Vim and Vigore Health Food Store across from Carnegie. Our son Otto was just a toddler, and Van enjoyed rollicking about with him. We accosted him about these press notices, and he promised to be available to help in any way he could. However, he had yet to develop any real power base, and was unable to take this on as a major project. But Carnegie had developed in him a strong friend.
Constantly on the lookout for new sources of help, we booked The Telemann Society into Town Hall for a lecture concert on January 3, 1960. Our topic, of course, was: "Carnegie Hall Doomed?" In this effort to broaden the support base for the building, we preceded the concert program with an oral appeal by Theodora Schulze on behalf of the building. The program was reviewed in the New York Times and the New York Herald Tribune on January 4, resulting in another morsel of favorable publicity.
One of the tenants in Carnegie Hall was Dr. Michael Zuekal. Dr. Zuekal
had an organization known as The World Brotherhood Foundation, with a
considerable following of people who attended sessions at his Carnegie Hall
Studio. Commencing in February of 1960 he and his followers actually took
to the streets, picketing in front of the box office during concerts. They
had prepared signs, petitions, and other paraphernalia and covered all of
the entrances to the Carnegie Hall Building over a period of several weeks,
commencing in February of 1960. This effort produced effective publicity
in the media and helped to focus public attention on the plight of the building.
Dr. Zuekal also organized a rally in Brooklyn in late February, and in connection
with that event he proclaimed that he had addressed Premier Khrushchev with
a plea that the Soviet Union might purchase and preserve Carnegie Hall as
a gesture of international understanding. All good grist for the mill.
Around this time the Fund received a letter from Pete Seeger containing a financial contribution. Seeger had a practice studio in the building and thus had a personal interest.
Paddy Chayefsky also had a private studio in the Carnegie Hall Building, and contacted us to offer his help. After a personal visit he became intrigued with the possibility of a self supporting program for the building. Chayefsky's Broadway plays at that time were produced by Arthur Cantor, and Chayefsky suggested that Cantor might be able to organize a financial package for purchase of the building. His idea was that Cantor's rolodex of "angels" might pour forth sufficient financial power to accomplish such a mission. There were a number of meetings at Cantor's office but no definitive program had materialized by the time Isaac Stern entered the picture.
Beginning in January 1960 our efforts had begun to bear fruit, as there commenced a considerable increase in the intensity of press coverage, including extensive editorials by the New York columnists of that day. As a consequence, the volume of letters to the editor increased substantially, and appeared more and more frequently. As previously noted, a few of these letters actually advocated demolition on various grounds which in the light of what we know today can best be described as "quaint". A level of concern was exhibited in the press that the new Lincoln Center might be adversely affected if it were to be thrown into "competition" with a surviving Carnegie Hall.
During a concert of the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall in early 1960, at which he appeared as guest conductor, Leopold Stokowski spoke to the audience opposing demolition of the hall and urging renewed efforts to prevent such a disaster. When Stern came onto the scene, Stokowski was one of the first to join in support of his organization.
In the Spring of 1960 we saw the demolition of the famous Roxy Theatre. For us this was a particularly sobering spectacle.
As we came into 1960 the most obvious problem had to be solved. Where will the money come from? Many who were close to the situation were aware that a major percentage of the studios in the building were still subject to rent controls. Mr. Simon appeared also to have a number of pet charity cases in the building who paid very nominal rents. It became apparent that the building needed to be studied as a commercial real estate parcel, entirely apart from any musical or cultural significance. Once we embarked on this it didn't take long to discover that the average rents being paid in the building were less than those currently being paid in garden variety office buildings in the immediate neighborhood. With the continuing support of Dr. Morye B. Shonts of the Del Terzo Studio, the Schulzes carried out a comprehensive study. Within a short time we completed a comprehensive Feasibility Study and Operating Plan. In this plan we were able to demonstrate conclusively that if studio rents were to be increased only sufficiently to match the local neighborhood market, the building would be self supporting even if there was no rental activity whatever in the auditorium section of the building. Before this time it had been universally assumed that the departure of the Philharmonic and the other major orchestras to the new Lincoln Center would render it impossible for Carnegie Hall to operate in the black. Thus the Feasibility Study and Operating Plan made it possible for the first time to set a realistic policy for rescue of the building.
But our job was still far from finished, as we still had no Isaac Stern.
The Feasibility Study thus had to be brought to the right people. So that we might dramatize our findings for presentations to possible sources of help, we went to the Gotham Recording Studio and made a recording which we titled "Carnegie Hall at the Crossroads." This was in the form of an LP recording, from which we had a number of duplicates cut for distribution to key people in hopes of gaining support for the Feasibility Study and Operating Plan.
Early in 1960 Isaac Stern made a Sunday afternoon appearance with the New York Philharmonic. In those days the Sunday afternoon concerts were broadcast live from Carnegie Hall over the CBS Radio Network. A feature of these broadcasts was an Intermission Interview featuring the soloist of the day. Good fortune had it that we were tuned in to the Philharmonic broadcast that day. During the Intermission Interview, our attention became riveted immediately as Stern spoke with intense fervor of the plight of Carnegie Hall, expressing pain and dismay that the demolition of the building appeared so imminent.
Thus encouraged, we lost no time in hand delivering a copy of the recording to the Sol Hurok Agency, Stern's booking manager.
Within days, we had a visit from Claire Feit, one of Stern's associates, who came to the Carnegie Hall Fund Office in Studio 20 at Carnegie to get some further details as to what had been accomplished. Claire had volunteered to do some legwork on behalf of a group of people whom Stern had already contacted, and during her visit we were able to carry out a thorough discussion of the financial findings of the Feasibility Study.
After the visit of Claire Feit the Schulzes and the Del Terzos received an invitation to attend several meetings with Stern and his associates. At the first of these Mr. Stern rose and said, "We have no money and we have no plan." This opened the way for a discussion of the Feasibility Study and Operating Plan, which up to that time had existed only in draft form.
Spurred by the response at these meetings, a final draft was prepared and typed in its final form at the Del Terzo Studio. The Schulzes did not receive a copy in its final form but have retained the work papers and the pencil draft from which the final copy was prepared. For historical purposes, a copy of the final version ought to be preserved in the Carnegie Hall Archive.
A key member of Stern's group was an attorrney, Col. Harold Riegelman. Riegelman at that time was principally known as the Republican Party's perennial candidate for the office of Mayor in a city in which there was then not a chance that a Republican could be elected. We never did get an explanation for the title "Col." But it did seem clear that he had a lot of good connections with which to approach the task of implementing a financial program for Carnegie. On Stern's recommendation a meeting was held at Mr. Riegelman's office and after some discussion the final draft of the Feasibility Study and Operating Plan was turned over.
In preparation for possible pursuit of public funding, State Sen. MacNeil Mitchell sponsored a bill in the New York State Legislature which gave power to municipalities to resort to condemnation proceedings as a means of rescuing and taking over historically significant properties. The bill included provisions for such properties to be turned over to tax exempt corporations organized for the purpose. This legislation was passed on March 15, 1960.
On March 16, 1960 an announcement appeared in the New York press in which Stern expressed his intention to move forward. His new organization was named the Isaac Stern Citizens Committee to Save Carnegie Hall, an impressive mouthful!
There was an obvious need for continuing publicity so as to maintain public support for the program. As a major element in preparations for implementation of a final plan for the building, Stern and his people worked up a statement of purpose and began to solicit signatures of virtually everybody who was anybody in the field of music and the arts. These included Leopold Stokowski, Leonard Bernstein, and many other internationally renowned artists. This enabled the Committee to gain practically daily coverage in the New York and now international press.
It began to feel as if we had a rolling juggernaut.
The legislative work was completed with a second bill, authorizing creation of a new Carnegie Hall Corporation. This legislation passed on March 31, 1960, and Governor Rockefeller signed both bills into law on April 16, l960.
At this time the Isaac Stern Citizens Committee to Save Carnegie Hall organized a new corporation. Press reports described the new organization and some of the people behind it, and elaborated on a specific plan to pursue takeover of the Carnegie Hall Building under the powers granted by Sen. Mitchell's bills.
It was announced in the press on March 25, 1960 that the Symphony of the Air (the former NBC Symphony Orchestra) had made a bid to become the resident orchestra at the revived Carnegie Hall. The Symphony of the Air did later present several seasons of concerts but the orchestra did not survive. Nevertheless, at this time the announcement had a favorable effect on the program.
On March 29, 1960, as a prelude to more formal action by the City of New York, a ceremonial meeting was organized at the office of Robert Wagner, the then Mayor. This meeting was attended by a large contingent of international celebrities and enjoyed extensive media coverage. Theodora Schulze attended with her infant son, Otto, who sat on Tony Randall's lap. In this manner the stage was set for the Stern committee to appear before the New York City Board of Estimate and formally present its plan. The plan itself consisted largely of a pro forma projection which was prepared by the former Ernst and Ernst "big eight" accounting firm. The figures in the Ernst and Ernst study were based on the Feasibility Study and Operating Plan of the Carnegie Hall Fund. The plan was approved and the machinery was set in motion under which the Isaac Stern Citizens Committee was essentially transformed into the Carnegie Hall Corporation and the building was delivered into the hands of that body.
Andrew Carnegie's original conception had included the many studios and apartments upstairs, in an effort to create within the building a fully developed artistic community. In the end it was the potential rent revenues from them which really made it possible to ensure operation in the black. In that sense, then, we might say that it was really Andrew Carnegie who saved Carnegie Hall, or at least who made it possible for Isaac Stern to save it. A few years later, when it came the turn of the old Metropolitan Opera House to face the wrecker's ball, it developed that its creators had not had Carnegie's foresight, and had not included studios and apartments in their original plans. This unfortunate omission ultimately sealed the doom of the old Met, and we were unable to save it.
But in the case of Carnegie Hall, Isaac Stern had the tools given him by Andrew Carnegie, and he wielded them with precision and power. Our building was saved.
Those of us who had fought in the trenches for more than a year of full time work were excited indeed to see that our efforts had been made victorious in a period of hardly more than two months once the Stern Committee had entered the lists. Now we knew that Carnegie Hall would never again be threatened with demolition.
Already in the Summer of 1960 Carnegie Hall received a face lift, in that soon after the building had been rescued and placed in friendly hands, a symbolic gesture was made by the new management in the form of a thorough steam cleaning of the facade of the building. Under the layers of soot it was revealed that the building displayed a handsome exterior indeed, theretofore unsuspected. Since then the Carnegie Hall Building has continued to be a sparkling diamond in the crown of the City of New York, the nation at large, and the entire world of great music.
For those of us who lived through this period, and who marched with Stern's valiant band, it is hardly conceivable that this exciting tale should be lost to history. The story we have told here represents only our own personal recollections, already dimming from memory. Many others were involved whose recollections should be shared before it is too late. There must have been innumerable facets of the saga of which we were totally unaware at that time or since. We'd like to know more about them, and surely others would too. Carnegie Hall is one of the unique buildings of the entire world. Its entire history needs to be entered onto the books.
Isaac Stern preserved the Carnegie Hall Building for posterity. Now we must call upon him to lay modesty aside and to ensure that the story of how it was done also be preserved for posterity!
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Prior to the emergence of the crisis at Carnegie Hall, Theodora and Richard Schulze, Music Directors of The Telemann Society, were active in New York primarily in the field of Baroque and Renaissance music. Theodora Schulze's Telemann Society School operated in the Carnegie Hall Building from 1954 to 1965, where her pedagogical program for the teaching of music note reading and the basic skills of music was published by a subsidiary of G. Schirmer. Many concert programs were produced during this era in the then Carnegie Recital Hall, Town Hall, and Carnegie Hall. The Telemann Society issued more than forty recordings, which originally appeared on Vox, Turnabout, Nonesuch, and other classical labels. Rereleases of these recordings have commenced to be reissued on CD. "The Age of Telemann" a weekly syndicated broadcast series, has been heard over the National Public Radio Network and has been syndicated to many other good music stations in U.S. cities. More recently, the Schulzes have been directors of the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago.