Leonora Shier, 1880-1970, rental agent and secretary of Carnegie Hall Incorporated for 31 years, joined the staff of Carnegie Hall Incorporated in 1925. She had many years of arts administration experience prior to joining Carnegie Hall, having previously worked for The Metropolitan Opera Company, the Chicago Opera Company's New York office, and the American Operatic and Allied Arts Foundation under business manager John Brown. When Brown joined the staff of Carnegie Hall as business manager in 1925, Shier followed him as his secretary, and remained after Brown left Carnegie Hall in 1929.
Carnegie Hall Incorporated was a very small operation in 1929, and Shier became the administrative assistant for the entire company, working closely with presidents Robert Simon Senior and Junior, vice president Eugene Molyneux, manager and president M. Murray Weisman, president Milton Bergerman, and house manager John Totten.
As Carnegie Hall Inc. grew, Shier's duties focused primarily on the approximately 150 studios in the two towers surrounding the Carnegie Hall building, for which she acted as rental agent and superintendent.
Over the years, many studios were gradually altered for economic reasons or to accommodate the tenants. Prior to the Great Depression, most of the studios were exclusively working studios, without kitchens or bathrooms. Following the stock market crash in 1929, few artists could afford separate working and living spaces. Carnegie Hall divided the larger studios and added bathroom and kitchen facilities, which allowed artists to live and work in one space. When the economy improved, studios were expanded and rented at higher rates, changes reflected in Shier's rental records.
Shier also took a personal interest in the tenants, collecting their photographs and displaying them in the corridors of the towers, similar to house manager John Totten's artist gallery backstage. She also kept artists' catalogues, programs, and biographical information. Shier was very popular with the tenants, who referred to her as the "house mother" of Carnegie Hall.
Because of Leonora Shier's unique involvement with Carnegie Hall and the studios, several articles were written about her during the 1950s, and she was featured in two radio shows. When Shier retired October 12, 1956 a luncheon was held in her honor at the Harvard Club. She kept in touch with staff and tenants at Carnegie Hall after her retirement. Leonora Shier died in Port Jervis, New Jersey on December 30, 1970.
Cron, Theodore and Burt Goldblatt, Portrait of Carnegie Hall. New York: The MacMillan Co., 1966.
Schickel, Richard. The World of Carnegie Hall. New York: Julian Messner, Inc., 1960.
Peyser, Ethel. The House That Music Built. New York: Robert M. McBride & Co., 1936.
The Leonora Shier Collection is divided into six series: Secretary, Committee to Save Carnegie Hall, Real Estate, Personal, Autographed Letters and Photographs. Series I: Secretary reflects Shier's duties as assistant to Carnegie Hall Inc. It includes correspondence with Robert Simon Jr. and other members of the Simon family as well as outside correspondence with Walter Toscanini, son of conductor Arturo Toscanini, and Burnet C. Tuthill, son of Carnegie Hall architect William Burnet Tuthill. The correspondence is arranged chronologically. There are also financial reports and press releases from Carnegie Hall Inc. in this series.
The remainder of Series I consists of inventories of the Photograph Collection of Carnegie Hall. These note the location of each photograph, its provenance, and also some biographical information on the subject. The Photograph Collection is divided into photographs in the Main Hall and photographs in the studio towers. Unfortunately, the photographs have been lost. When Carnegie Hall was threatened with destruction, Shier offered the photographs to the New York Public Library, and they were absorbed into the collection of the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.
Series II: Committee to Save Carnegie Hall consists of one folder of material from 1955 concerning the possible destruction of Carnegie Hall. When the Hall was threatened with demolition following the announcement of the Lincoln Square project, house manager John Totten and baritone Lawrence Tibbett established the Committee to Save Carnegie Hall, with Leonora Shier as secretary. They contacted hundreds of musicians and music patrons to raise awareness and solicit funds to help purchase the building. Shier collected money from concerned employees and tenants. Although by 1960 Totten and Shier's Committee to Save Carnegie Hall had raised less than $25,000 of the $5 million needed to purchase the building, the money from their efforts was incorporated in the successful campaign of violinist Isaac Stern, by which the Hall was purchased by the City of New York in May 1960.
Series III: Real Estate reflects Miss Shier's duties as the rental agent for the Carnegie Hall studios. The rental records contain a wealth of information on the studios including dimension, price, location, and attributes. They also contain valuable information on the numerous tenants who lived and worked in Carnegie Hall, such as Charles Dana Gibson, Jerome Myers, Childe Hassam, Dame Myra Hess, Baroness Hilla von Rebay, Isadora Duncan and many others. The records begin in 1897 and continue until Shier's retirement in 1956, with some gaps, significantly 1916 to 1923, prior to Shier’s employment at Carnegie Hall.
Series III: Real Estate also contains correspondence between Shier and studio tenants, arranged chronologically, as well as several magazines interviews and transcripts of radio interviews of Shier from the 1950s.
Series IV: Personal consists of biographical information on Leonora Shier from an unfinished memoir. Also in this series are many letters and greeting cards from friends and acquaintances from Carnegie Hall, as well as from tenants with whom she kept in contact following her retirement including Walter and Lao Russell and Hilla von Rebay. The correspondence is arranged chronologically; greeting cards are arranged alphabetically.
Series V: Autographed Letters is a correspondence file from Music Hall Company of New York, LTD., and Carnegie Hall Incorporated, containing signed letters dealing with the rental of the Carnegie Hall auditoriums and artist’s studios. Correspondents of note include explorer Robert Peary, theater producer Daniel Frohman, suffrage leaders Carrie Chapman Catt and Harriet Stanton Blatch, and artist Charles Dana Gibson. Shier saved these letters when she retired in 1956, presuming that they would soon be destroyed along with Carnegie Hall. The letters were purchased at auction in 1980, and there are probably others that have yet to surface. They are arranged alphabetically by correspondent.
Series VI: Photographs has been separated from the paper documents and incorporated into the Photograph Collection of Carnegie Hall. Subjects include the tenants, employees and personalities Leonora Shier met over the years, as well as the physical studio spaces. Importantly, these photographs document the Carnegie Hall from the early 1900s through the late 1950s. The photographs have been subdivided into Carnegie Hall and Personal. See Photograph Inventory for further description.
Open for research.
For permission to publish material please contact the Carnegie Hall Archives:
Phone: (212) 903-9629
The Leonora Shier Collection was created by Leonora Shier and willed to her neighbor Dorothy Kadel Sherman in 1970, from whom the bulk of the collection was purchased on September 16, 1987. The Autographed Letters series was purchased on August 9, 1988 from Bob Tollett, who had bought them at auction in 1980. An additional purchase of ephemeral materials was made from Dorothy Sherman on August 28, 1989. The materials in the Carnegie Hall Archives represent a fraction of the entire Leonora Shier Collection. Carnegie Hall will continue to add to the collection as fragments resurface.
[The following section contains a detailed listing of the materials in the collection.]
Series I: Secretary
Series II: Committee to Save Carnegie Hall
Series III: Real Estate
Series IV: Personal
Series V: Autographed Letters
Series VI: Photographs
Photograph Collection: Leonora Shier
To Leonora Shier Photographs
Leonora Shier Collection of Carnegie Hall Photographs