Carnegie Hall's Rose Museum and Archives Director Gino Francesconi recently attended the 100th birthday celebrations for an influential figure from the Hall's past. Here, Gino shares that experience.
Today marks the 100th birthday of Robert E. Simon Jr., the owner of Carnegie Hall from 1935 until he sold the building to the City of New York in June 1960. His father, Robert Simon Sr., purchased Carnegie Hall from Mrs. Andrew Carnegie in February 1925. Combined, father and son owned the Hall longer than Andrew Carnegie. The Simons made many improvements to the building, including the addition of air conditioning, income-generating storefronts, and the first-ever restrooms on the Dress Circle and Balcony levels!
Bob cut $250,000 from the sale price of the Hall to New York City as his own personal contribution to its continuation. With the $5 million paid to him, he purchased nearly 7,000 acres 28 miles from Washington, DC, and began to build what became one of the most successful planned communities ever created: Reston, Virginia. You might notice that he incorporated his initials into the town name—RESton.
Much like some people thought Andrew Carnegie was crazy for building such an elaborate structure nearly three miles north of (then) Midtown, Robert Simon Jr. received his share of criticism for building a community so far outside of Washington, DC. He wanted affordable housing at all economic levels and racial equality at a time when segregation was still legal in Virginia. Nearly all of the residences were built around lakes, streams, or woodlands, and the development included 55 miles of forest trails. The original center of the city, Lake Anne Plaza, was designed after the piazzas of small hill towns in Italy. To Bob, "a center piazza filled with people is the glue of a community."
Today, 65,000 people live and work in Reston. The Metro arrives in a few years, and in the spirit of Bob's original concept, the station will contain a large plaza with shops, offices, and residences. He then wants to break ground for a complex that will include a space for the performing arts. This past Saturday included celebrations of Reston's 50th anniversary and Bob's 100th with events that lasted well into the night, including declarations from local officials, the governor, and President Obama. And Bob enjoyed every minute of it!
From all of us at Carnegie Hall, we wish Bob a very happy birthday!
Bob Simon Jr.'s 100th Birthday Celebration | Gino Francesconi and Bob Simon Jr.
President Obama's letter to Bob Simon Jr.