14. Lincoln Center is Not the Original Location of the Metropolitan Opera House

Old Metropolitan Opera House in 1966. Image from The Library of Congress.

The Metropolitan Opera’s first home opened in 1883 on 39th Street and Broadway, then in the midst of the bustling theater district. It was an opulent opera house, befitting of the Gilded Age set that would have been in attendance. In fact, the Metropolitan Opera was founded by a group that included the Vanderbilts, the Roosevelts, and J. P. Morgan, as an alternative to The Academy of Music, which was located on 14th Street. The Academy, mentioned in much detail in Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, was an elite, exclusive concert hall for New York City’s upper crust – the original 400 families. But downtown was becoming less desirable and the city’s new class of industrialists wanted an opera house closer to their new mansions that would be welcoming to them.

The original architect of the Met Opera on 39th Street was Josiah Cleveland Cady, who also designed the south face of the American Museum of Natural History, but a fire in 1892 led to a complete interior redesign by the famed duo Carrere and Hastings, who also designed the fare houses along the first subway line. Carrere and Hastings created an auditorium of gold with a proscenium, the largest in America at the time, that was inscribed with the names of six composers: Beethoven, Gluck, Gounod, Mozart, Verdi, and Wagner.