Robert Simon Sr. (1877-1935) owned a real estate conglomerate named 150 West 57th Street Realty Company Inc. In 1925 Simon purchased Carnegie Hall from Louise Carnegie, widow of Andrew Carnegie, with the understanding that he must maintain the building as a concert stage for five years, unless another hall capable of taking its place was built (see Columbia University: Carnegie Corporation Collection for more information on the sale of Carnegie Hall to Robert Simon). Simon formed Carnegie Hall Inc. and oversaw the entire operation of the Hall from 1925 until his untimely death from a heart attack in 1935; his son, Robert Simon Jr., inherited majority ownership. The presidency of Carnegie Hall Inc. passed from Robert Simon Sr. to M. Murray Weisman from 1936-1939, and to Robert Simon Jr. in 1940. Except for the years 1943 to 1946, when Simon served in World War II, he remained president of Carnegie Hall Inc. until 1960 when the Hall was sold.
Under the leadership of the Simon family Carnegie Hall expanded and grew. Significant improvements included the addition of street-level storefronts, the renovation of the studio towers and the replacement of the Hall's original organ. These improvements enabled Carnegie Hall to remain open during the Great Depression and to continue a tradition of musical excellence.
In 1955, plans were announced for the Lincoln Square (later Lincoln Center) project, a slum clearance initiative to provide Fordham University with a midtown location, a new Metropolitan Opera House, and a new concert hall for the New York Philharmonic, which had made its home at Carnegie Hall since 1892.* If the Philharmonic moved to a new Lincoln Center home, Carnegie Hall would lose more than 115 days of rent annually, crippling it financially. Faced with these developments, and with Carnegie Hall Inc. already experiencing financial strain, Robert Simon made the decision to sell Carnegie Hall. He received an offer from real estate developer Louis J. Glickman, who in turn offered the New York Philharmonic a four-month option to buy the building. The orchestra declined, and Glickman abandoned the deal, stating he didn't wish to leave the Philharmonic homeless in the period before their new Lincoln Center home would be ready. An agreement reached with the Philharmonic gave the orchestra permission to stay through May 1960. However, various committees that had been formed to save the Hall had been unable to raise sufficient funds to purchase the building, and it seemed inevitable that Carnegie Hall would be torn down.
In December 1959, violinist Isaac Stern lamented to philanthropist Jacob Kaplan that his recent performances with the New York Philharmonic could be his last at Carnegie Hall and that something more should be done to save it from demolition. Kaplan agreed to fund a new effort if Stern was willing to spearhead the campaign. A committee was mobilized, and Kaplan pledged $100,000 towards a new campaign to have the City of New York purchase Carnegie Hall. Stern had to convince Mayor Robert Wagner that Carnegie Hall would not compete with Lincoln Center, but should instead be saved to serve as a national center for teaching music and the development of young artists. The Bard Act of 1956 1960 amendment by Senator MacNeil Mitchell—championed by Stern—permitted the City to acquire buildings of "special character or special historical or aesthetic interest or value" by purchase or condemnation. These developments provided the legal means for Stern and his committee to spring into action. He appealed to politicians and civic leaders, and contacted dozens of famous musicians to sign a petition in favor of saving Carnegie Hall. Their signatures were added to thousands already gathered by earlier committees.
On June 10, 1960 the New York City Board of Estimate approved the purchase of Carnegie Hall for $5 million, with another $100,000 for improvements. Robert Simon lowered the purchase price by $250,000 as his contribution to the Hall. The building was leased to the nonprofit Carnegie Hall Corporation, newly formed to run the Hall with Isaac Stern as its president. Stern remained president until his death in 2001, when the title was retired in his honor, and the Carnegie Hall Corporation continues to operate Carnegie Hall today.
* The Philharmonic Society of New York gave its first concerts at Carnegie Hall on November 18 and 19, 1892. The Symphony Society of New York opened Carnegie Hall May 5-9, 1891. In 1928 the two orchestras joined to become the Philharmonic-Symphony Society of New York. When speaking of the New York Philharmonic prior to 1928, musicologists are generally referring to the Philharmonic Society of New York. The Symphony Society of New York is considered a separate entity until 1928.
Cron, Theodore and Burt Goldblatt. Portrait of Carnegie Hall. New York: The MacMillan Co., 1966.
Peyser, Ethel. The House That Music Built. New York: Robert M. McBride & Co., 1936.
Simon, Robert E. Jr. editor. Be Your Own Music Critic: The Carnegie Hall Anniversary Lectures. New York: Doubleday, 1941.
Schickel, Richard. The World of Carnegie Hall. New York: Julian Messner, Inc., 1960.
The Robert E. Simon Jr. Collection of Carnegie Hall Inc. consists of three series: Series I Correspondence, Series II, Scrapbooks, and Series III, Board Minutes. Series I, Correspondence contains the subseries, Music Hall Co., Ltd, Organ Dedication Ceremony 1929, Concert Sponsorship 1938-1939, and Sale of Carnegie Hall 1959-1960. Series II, Scrapbooks, consists of three books: the Organ Dedication Scrapbook 1929, the Fiftieth Anniversary Scrapbook 1940 and clippings 1926-1955, and the Saving of Carnegie Hall Scrapbook 1956-1960. The collection contains an accounting ledger, 1925, which is the transfer of title of Carnegie Hall from Louise Carnegie to Robert E. Simon Sr., and an oral history of Robert E. Simon Jr., interviewed 1993.
Series I: Correspondence, subseries Music Hall Company, Ltd., consists of one document from the Minutes of the Board of Directors, Music Hall Co., Ltd, December 1, 1893. The board members at this meeting resolved to call the Music Hall Building the "Carnegie Building." The subseries Organ Dedication contains autographed letters of members of the honorary committee for the dedication ceremony of the Kilgen Organ, December 1929. Members of the committee included Leopold Auer, Calvin Coolidge, Otto Kahn, and Leopold Stokowski. The letters were originally placed in the Organ Dedication Scrapbook; they have been removed for preservation purposes. The subseries Concert Sponsorship includes two letters in response to sponsorship of specific concerts by potential underwriters, and are signed by Carla Toscanini, wife of Arturo Toscanini, and Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. The subseries Sale of Carnegie Hall is correspondence between Robert E. Simon Jr. and Ingraham H. Gardner (1959-1960), attorney for Carnegie Hall Inc. These letters deal specifically with the financial status of Carnegie Hall and Simon's concerns regarding the sale of the building. The Organ Dedication Subseries is arranged alphabetically. The Save Carnegie Hall subseries is arranged chronologically.
Series II: Scrapbooks includes the Organ Dedication book regarding the celebrations surrounding the installation of the new Kilgen organ in 1929. The Organ Dedication ceremony included a program by Pietro Yon, organist of St. Patrick's Cathedral and resident of Carnegie Hall. During the Great Depression a series of free organ concerts was offered at Carnegie Hall. The Kilgen organ was removed in 1966 due to infrequent use and high maintenance costs. Plans to replace the Kilgen with a Flentrop organ were abandoned (see Carnegie Hall Corporation: Executive Director Papers of Julius Bloom).
The 50th anniversary concert season of Carnegie Hall in 1940-41 included a lecture series by famous music critics and musicians, as well as a book edited by Simon, Be Your Own Music Critic: The Carnegie Hall Anniversary Lectures. The lecture series and book were underwritten by the Carnegie Corporation (see Columbia University, Carnegie Corporation Collection for more information on funding of this series). The Fiftieth Anniversary scrapbook includes concert reviews and clippings about Carnegie Hall from 1926-1956, including those from the anniversary season, as well as photographs from the 1947 movie Carnegie Hall starring Leopold Stokowski, Lily Pons, Gregor Piatigorsky, Arthur Rubinstein, Jascha Heifetz and Bruno Walter.
The Saving of Carnegie Hall Scrapbook, 1956-1960 includes clippings, press releases, and articles concerning the possible destruction of Carnegie Hall and its rescue as well as articles on the building of Lincoln Center. There are also several articles concerning the tenants of Carnegie Hall, including a Life magazine article from April 25, 1960 with Alfred Eisenstaedt photographs of Carnegie Hall.
Series III: Board Minutes, 1935-1960, are the official minutes of Carnegie Hall Incorporated for the operation of Carnegie Hall. They contain significant information on the operation of Carnegie Hall, from building maintenance to the expansion and alteration of the building, the financial status of Carnegie Hall Inc., and concert programming.
The Accounting Ledger from Series III includes the will of Andrew Carnegie, the transfer of title of Carnegie Hall from Louise Carnegie to Robert Simon Sr., January 19, 1925, and the deed of title detailing the conditions of sale and the property. The Robert Simon Jr. Oral History is an interview that took place in the summer of 1993 in the Carnegie Hall Recording Studio. Simon explains his position on the sale of Carnegie Hall and his thanks to Isaac Stern for his efforts in the rescue; however, he also felt this position was misunderstood, especially by the press, who portrayed him as the villain in the saving of Carnegie Hall. Simon also remembers fondly moments at Carnegie Hall during his family's ownership.
Open for research.
There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information please contact the Carnegie Hall Archives:
Phone: (212) 903-9629
For further information on the New York Philharmonic see:
New York Philharmonic Archives
Huneker, James Gibbons. The Philharmonic Society of New York and its Seventy -Fifth Anniversary, New York: American Blank Book Publishing Co., 1917.
Erksine, John. The Philharmonic-Symphony Society of New York: Its First 100 Years. New York: The MacMillan Co., 1943.
Shanet, Howard Philharmonic: A History of New York's Orchestra. New York: Doubledav & Co. Inc., 1975.
For further information on the Symphony Society of New York see:
Damrosch, Walter. My Musical Life. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1923.
Martin, George. The Damrosch Dynasty. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1983.
Provenance: The Robert E. Simon, Jr. Collection began with the formation of Carnegie Hall Incorporated in 1925 when Robert E. Simon Sr. purchased Carnegie Hall from Louise Carnegie. The previous managing company of Carnegie Hall was The Music Hall Company of New York, Ltd. A few items in the Simon Collection came from The Music Hall Company records. The ownership of Carnegie Hall Incorporated passed to Robert E. Simon Jr. in 1935. Robert E. Simon, Jr. donated the collection to the Carnegie Hall Archives over several years from 1987 to 1993. Mr. Simon continues to donate materials to be added to the Simon Collection.
[The following section contains a detailed listing of the materials in the collection.]
Series I: Correspondence
Subseries A: Music Hall Co., Ltd.
Subseries B: Organ Dedication Ceremony, 1929.
Subseries C: Concert Sponsorship 1938-1939
Subseries D: Sale of Carnegie Hall
Series II: Scrapbooks
Series III: Board Minutes & Accounting Ledger