On his honeymoon in 1887, Andrew Carnegie got together with his new wife, Louise Whitfield, and the young conductor Walter Damrosch—who just happened to be on the same ocean liner with the newlyweds—and hatched a plan for a brand-new concert hall in the Big Apple.
New York City might have been the largest city in the United States at the turn of the century, but above 14th Street the place was pretty much a suburb—and as far north as Carnegie had planned his new music hall, Manhattan was practically the frontier.
To the right is the view from the land that Carnegie bought to build it. This is The Osborne, an apartment building that still stands across from Carnegie Hall.
Below is what the street looks like today; the Hall is to the left, with The Osborne in front of you and to the right.
The Osborne was really one of the first big luxury apartment buildings that developers built to tame that wilderness and make this part of town what it is today. It opened in 1885; a year before that, residents started moving in to The Dakota (famous for being the site where Mark Chapman shot John Lennon) on West 72nd Street at Central Park West.
If you do anything in New York City, there are always a hundred people willing to tell you how you should have done something else, and there were plenty of naysayers who questioned Carnegie’s decision to break ground on a new concert hall so far north. His plan, however, reflected the foresight that had made this Scottish immigrant into the richest man in the world. On one hand, residents of The Osborne and The Dakota were exactly the people who would be the audience members for a new music hall, and as lower Manhattan became more and more crowded, the area would only grow. On the other hand, the Hall became something of a spectacle, and a trip up to it became a special event for new-money millionaires and their bourgeois hangers-on, a grand night out to hear some of the best musicians in the world.