City Center's Facade New York Architecture Images- Midtown

City Center 55th Street Theatre




135 W55, bet. Sixth and Seventh Aves.




Moorish Revival






City Center's Facade





City Center, with its unique neo-Moorish facade, was built in 1923 as a meeting hall for the members of the Ancient Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine. After it had reverted to City ownership, the building was saved from destruction by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and City Council President Newbold Morris, who created Manhattan's first performing arts center: a 2,750-seat New York home for the best of theater, music, and dance.

On December 11, 1943, City Center officially opened its doors with a special concert by the New York Philharmonic; LaGuardia himself took the baton to conduct the national anthem. New York City Opera and New York City Ballet were both created at City Center. Leopold Stokowski and Leonard Bernstein led the New York City Symphony. Legendary actors gave legendary performances – from Paul Robeson in Othello to Tallulah Bankhead in A Streetcar Named Desire. Jose Ferrer then Maurice Evans served as director of the City Center Drama Company. Jean Dalrymple brought to the City Center stage one after another revivals of the hit musicals of the 1940's and 1950's. City Center quickly became a cultural haven for New Yorkers: an affordable – and fun – complement to the Broadway theater, Carnegie Hall, and the Metropolitan Opera House.

Click for larger imageIn the mid-'70s, with the opera and ballet moving to Lincoln Center and the building underused, City Center was again slated for demolition. Under the leadership of chairman Howard M. Squadron, the theater was re-dedicated as New York's premiere home for dance and was given landmark status. The City Center 55th Street Theater Foundation was formed to manage the complex and ensure its survival as a performing arts center.

Click for larger imageToday, City Center provides special services (significant rental underwriting, ticketing, production/technical help, marketing assistance) to the many companies that perform here, annually including Alvin Ailey® American Dance Theater, Paul Taylor Dance Company, and American Ballet Theatre. City Center presents (events such as Rob Fisher and The Coffee Club Orchestra), co-presents, and commercially rents the Mainstage theater, and is the long-time home for the Manhattan Theatre Club, with its full season of plays and "Writers in Performance" series in City Center's Stage I and Stage II theaters.

The jewel in City Center's producing crown is City Center Encores!® Great American Musicals in Concert, introduced in 1994 to critical and audience acclaim. It has successfully brought a new audience into this theater – and kept them here, with an annual subscription renewal rate over 95% – who are encouraged to cross over and enjoy other programming at the same venue. Consistently attracting the best of reigning entertainment talent and discovering the stars of the future, City Center Encores! has garnered a fistful of awards, including the 2000 Tony® Honor for Excellence in Theatre, the Lucille Lortel, and the Outer Critics Circle. When the 1996 Encores! version of Chicago (Bebe Neuwirth, Ann Reinking, James Naughton) was remounted on Broadway it received six Tony awards, the most ever given to a musical revival.

Committed since its founding to be an educational resource for the diverse New York community, City Center has long offered opportunities for students and teachers. For over ten years, City Center's Young People's Dance Series has brought professional artists into public schools; brought their students into the Mainstage theater experience; and brought the creativity, discipline, and excitement of the music and movement into the schools' core curricula. This renowned effort, nationally recognized in 1999 by the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, has been expanded into workshops, musical theater components, and teacher education programs, and today reaches out to educate and enlighten both young and general audiences.

For 60 years, City Center has hosted some of America's and the world's most amazing performers and productions. Each season unveils exciting new developments. With each word, with each step, with each note from its glorious stage, City Center is proud to bring to life Mayor LaGuardia's dream of a home for the arts and its audience.