In This Issue

The Writing is on the Wall

Thursday, October 1, 2015

What’s in a name? In the case of nearly every major New York institution, a great deal. Billions of dollars, generations of prestige, and invaluable contributions to education, science, and the arts piece together to make the city’s landmark institutions best in the world. The institutions themselves are names everyone knows: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York University, the Langone Medical Center, and Carnegie Hall. But it’s the names emblazoned across the walls of these landmarks that make them so renowned. Here, we explore the names behind the institutions to find out exactly who built them—and how much it cost. 


Thanks to an unprecedented $200 million donation, the NYU Medical Center now proudly bears the name of Kenneth Langone and his wife Elaine. Best known for co-founding mega-retailer The Home Depot, Langone—estimated by Forbes to be worth a cool $2.5 billion—is no stranger to sweeping philanthropic gestures. His 2008 medical center donation came on the heels of a $6.5 million endowment to the NYU Stern School of Business, of which Langone is an alumnus. He currently serves as Chair of the hospital’s Board of Trustees.


Tisch School of the Arts

It’s now regarded as one of, if not the, finest performing arts schools in the world, and the brothers Tisch made it so. The NYU college was already established at the university in the mid-1960s, but it didn’t truly rise to prominence until Laurence A. and Preston Robert Tisch donated the $7.5 million donation that allowed the purchase and renovation of the school’s main building. Now a midtown stalwart, the 721 Broadway location houses most of the school’s programs. Thanks to state-of-the art facilities and a cutting-edge curriculum, the school boasts a lion’s share of illustrious attendees including Alec Baldwin, Andy Samberg, Lady Gaga, Elizabeth Olsen, James Franco, Martin Scorsese, and Bryce Dallas Howard.

Bronfman Center

It was Bronfman family patriarch Edgar, Sr. for which the university’s Jewish Student Center is named, due in large part to an undisclosed but undoubtedly handsome sum donated by the Seagram’s heir and eventual president. Though the Center’s Tenth Street brownstone was only acquired in the 1990s, its now-famous facade is the work of Lockwood De Forest, who founded Associated Artists along with Candace Wheeler and Louis Comfort

Tiffany in 1879. The idea for the Center’s ornate teak exterior was the result of De Forest’s wedding trip to India, where he was awestruck by the intricacies of the country’s buildings. The Bronfman Center is now a campus favorite, housing an extensive library and art collection. The Center’s signature event, Shabbat for 2000, is the largest Shabbat dinner in New York City.

Lilian Vernon Creative Writer’s House

She’s most notable for her retail brand, but Lillian Vernon was a business powerhouse long before her ubiquitous catalogues. Her corporation was the female-founded company to be traded by the American Stock Exchange, a major moment for businesswomen in America. She served on the NYU board for years before donating an undisclosed sum for the creation of the house that would hold the University’s creative writing program and literary salons. Both fledgling and established writers are abound at the House, which hosts slew of notable writers-in-residence every year. Jonathan Safran Foer, bestselling author of Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is in residence at the House along with his former professor, literary powerhouse Joyce Carol Oates. While in residence, the authors teach and mentor alongside the program’s host of prominent faculty members, which includes Booker Prize nominee Zadie Smith. 

Paulette Goddard Hall

Though she herself never sought higher education, silver screen star and Paramount Studios crown jewel Paulette Goddard made headlines when she bequeathed a jaw-dropping $20 million donation to New York University, which, in turn, built a residence hall in her honor. Regarded for both her philanthropic nature and larger-than-life escapades, the 40s-era star was one of the most famous actresses of her time, snagging an Academy Award nomination and, for a time, Charlie Chaplin. 


Carnegie Hall

Some of the world’s most renowned musicians have performed (and made history) within the walls of this midtown Manhattan concert venue. Originally called “Music Hall” upon its opening in 1891, the building—now a longstanding National Historic Landmark—was officially renamed during the 1894-1895 season in honor of its benefactor, Andrew Carnegie. A self-made billionaire, and one of the most influential philanthropists of his time, the Scottish-American industrialist earned a fortune from revolutionizing steel production in the U.S. and shared his wealth with a number of charities and institutions across the globe, dedicating more than $1 million to build Carnegie Hall. Take a close look at the front of the building today, and you’ll find the words, “Music Hall founded by Andrew Carnegie” still inscribed above the marquee.

Rose Museum

Home to Carnegie Hall’s historical archives, special exhibits, and most treasured memorabilia (including one of Benny Goodman’s clarinets and a sequined jacket owned by Judy Garland) is the Rose Museum—a small but vast collection located on the second floor of the institution and made possible by Elihu Rose and his wife, Susan, who are among one of the most prominent real estate families in New York. Through their foundation, the couple contributed a $1.5 million gift to create the museum in 1991, in time with the Hall’s 100th anniversary. 

Joan and Sanford I. Weill Recital Hall

The smallest and most intimate performance space in Carnegie Hall is a 268-seat theatre that bears the name of financier Sanford I. Weill and his wife, Joan. For more than 24 years, Sanford, also known to many as “Sandy”, was notably the Chairman of the institution, and currently serves as its President—a position that was previously held by his mentor, the late Isaac Stern. Over time, the Weills have donated millions to the Hall and launched the Weill Music Institute, offering a wide range of music and education programs to the public.

Ronald O. Perelman Stage

Inside the Isaac Stern Auditorium is a stage that holds the namesake of Ronald O. Perelman in recognition of his $20 million gift to Carnegie Hall in 2006. The American business investor is also an avid drummer that has played alongside the Beach Boys and Rod Stewart. With his support, a number of its educational and artistic initiatives have flourished, including music programs for elementary and secondary students in New York City.

Isaac Stern Auditorium

At one point in time, Carnegie Hall came close to being demolished and was set to turn into a 44-story fire-engine red office skyscraper, before violinist Isaac Stern came to the rescue. The building was put up for commercial sale due to financial shortage after their primary tenant, the New York Philharmonic, announced plans to move to the then soon-to-be-built Lincoln Center. Striving to save the Hall, Stern spearheaded a campaign that led to a special state legislation in 1960, and New York City bought the concert venue for $5 million—a sweet victory that had also earned him the title as the first President of Carnegie Hall. In 1997, the largest performance space in the complex (originally known as the “Main Hall”) was renamed to “Stern Auditorium” in honor of his efforts.


Ruth and Harold D. Uris Center for Education

Harold Uris was a prominent real estate developer and active philanthropist in the 20th Century. He joined forces with his father and brother to develop residential real estate, and then expanded into commercial after WWII. Around that time, Uris Brothers became the largest private developer in New York, and they worked frequently with renowned architect Emery Roth. Harold and wife Ruth’s involvement with the Metropolitan Museum began in 1956, when Harold and brother Percy set up the Uris Brothers Foundation. It was a 1983 donation, one year after Harold’s death, of $10 million that established the Ruth and Harold D. Uris Center for Education at the Met. Renovated again in 2007, the Center is a state-of-the-art resource hub for students, teachers, families, scholars and any curious visitors to learn, study and interact with the museum, its galleries and its holdings. In 1998, the Uris Brothers Foundation was liquidated and the Met was the beneficiary of another $10 million donation.

Leonard Lauder Collection

Fully unsurpassed in its sheer number of works, the Leonard Lauder Collection stands alone as the greatest collection of Cubism art in the world. The son of cosmetics empress Estée Lauder and a powerful businessman in his own right, Lauder spent decades acquiring what would soon be the largest library of Cubism works anywhere. Lauder is a longtime supporter of the arts, making headlines after endowing an impressive $22 million to the Met and another $131 million to the Whitney. In 2013, his decision to donate 81 pieces of Cubist art to the Met—including 34 works by Pablo Picasso—was lauded as one of the most important donations in history. The collection is valued at over a billion dollars.   

Thomas J. Watson Library

Thomas J. Watson was a brilliant businessman, best known for serving as the chairman of IBM from 1914 until his death in 1956. He led IBM through massive growth and guided it into the profitable organization that it remains today. He was also socially and politically regarded; often referred to as President Roosevelt’s unofficial ambassador in New York and called upon to entertain heads of state here. His motto was “Think”—which still remains a part of IBM’s culture; every employee carries a “Think” notebook to write down inspirations and there is a monthly internal magazine under that name. Appropriately named after a man who valued thinking, the Thomas J. Watson Library at the Met is the institution’s main research library. The library was established in 1870 and was later named after Watson after he funded the current building. Watson also was a trustee of the Met from 1936 to 1956 and endowed a book purchase fund. The Watson family also endowed the Arthur K. Watson Chief Librarian position and the funding of early automation projects by daughter Helen Watson Buckner.

Annie Laurie Aitken Galleries

Intricately carved staircases, exact replicas of Eighteenth Century English rooms, and centuries-old timepieces fill the small but prominent Annie Laurie Aitken galley within the Met. The gallery itself is notable for its European sculpture and decorative arts, while its namesake was a socialite-turned-artist in the 1930s and 40s. Aitken was first married to George Crawford, founder and chairman of Columbia Gas & Electric. He was significantly older than his wife, and when he died in 1935, he left Annie Laurie and their only daughter a $100 million fortune. Though Annie Laurie’s later life was punctured by scandal and heartbreak after her son-in-law was charged and later acquitted of her socialite daughter’s attempted murder, her second marriage to sculptor Russell B. Aitken that inspired her own love for sculpting. The Annie Laurie Aitken Charitable Trust donated several sizable gifts to the Met, which in turn gave Annie Laurie’s name a place of honor. 

Robert Lehman Collection

Almost as well known for his art collection and tenure as museum board chairman as he was for heading global finance service Lehman Brothers, Robert Lehman was an obvious choice for a dedicated wing after his eponymous foundation donated close to 3,000 works from his private collection to the Met after his death in 1969. Lehman’s collection was staggeringly expansive, the result of six decades of acquisition and curation after his father first started it in 1911. His first major art world recognition came in 1957 when he exhibited close to 300 pieces from the collection at a private show at the Louvre’s Musée de l’Orangerie. He was the first private collector from America to have the honor, a legacy that’s well preserved today thanks to the Met’s Robert Lehman Wing. Lehman’s collection was centered around Renaissance paintings, and featured an assortment of paintings by masters including Botticelli, Rembrandt, and Dürer. 


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by Debbie BancroftPhotographed by Griffin Lipson and Hunter Abrams/