The New York State Theater (renamed the David H. Koch Theater in the fall of 2008) was built to serve as New York State's cultural participation in the 1964-1965 World's Fair.
Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller signed Assembly Bill (Introductory Number 4829, Print Number 5383) on April 25, 1961 which stated, in part: "An ACT to authorize and empower the office of general services to contract to purchase a completed building within the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts as part of the state's participation in the 1964-1965 World's Fair and to transfer title of the same to the city of New York at the termination of said world's fair. ... An understanding was reached whereby the State and the City each were to make contributions estimated at approximately $15,000,000."
The New York State Theater was the second theater to open at Lincoln Center. The first was Philharmonic Hall, home of the New York Philharmonic.
Turner Construction Company built two of the theaters at Lincoln Center: the New York State Theater and the Vivian Beaumont Theater; as well as the New York Public Library for Performing Arts Research at Lincoln Center.
At a New York City Ballet Seminar in 1994, celebrating the 30th anniversary of the New York State Theater, in response to a question from moderator Robert MacNeil about the use of travertine stone throughout the Theater, architect Philip Johnson replied, "I felt that if it was good enough for God, it was good enough for us!" (Travertine stone was used to build St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in Rome.)
The New York State Theater is a 13-story building. Several stories are below ground.
It took two years, 51 sub-contractors, $19.3 million and 1,000 construction workers to complete the New York State Theater, which was built on time and on budget. The construction workers and their wives were the first to see a performance at the New York State Theater when they were invited to attend NYCB's initial dress rehearsal in the new theater on Saturday, April 18, 1964 at 8:15 PM. The all-Balanchine rehearsal included Raymonda Variations, Agon, and Western Symphony.
The artistic program for the opening night gala for the New York State Theater on Friday, April 23,1964 included "The Star-Spangled Banner", Allegro Brillante (Tschaikovsky/Balanchine) with Maria Tallchief and Andre Prokovsky, Robert Irving conducting the New York City Ballet Orchestra; a scene from Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel by the Music Theater of Lincoln Center with John Raitt and Joan Weldon, Franz Allers, conductor; Marche Joyeuse by Emmanuel Chabrier and Stars and Stripes (Sousa/Balanchine) with Melissa Hayden and Jacques d'Amboise, Suki Schorer, Gloria Govrin, and William Weslow with Robert Irving conducting the New York City Ballet Orchestra. The second hour (9 -10 PM) of the program was televised live by WCBS-TV (Channel 2).
The beaded curtain that covers the glass windows at the front of the Theater consists of 8,000,000 gold colored metal balls — one for every citizen of New York City in 1964 when the Theater opened to the public. Over time, the effect of the sun has turned the balls to a silver color. Architect Philip Johnson first created a similar curtain as part of his design for The Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram Building, also in New York City.
The ceiling of the Promenade is made of 18K gold leaf. The ceiling has been replaced three times since the Theater opened in 1964.
The gigantic Elie Nadelman sculptures, Circus Women and Two Nudes, that dominate the Promenade were carved in Italy from a virgin vein of Carrara marble. They recreate smaller, 4-foot versions made of plaster and paper that were made by Nadelman decades before. The name of the actual Italian sculptor is lost to history. Overhearing construction workmen remarking on the naked "goils," Kirstein arranged to have the immense artworks brought into the Theater just before the fourth and final wall was closed up and before the Lincoln Center leadership could order their removal, which, in fact they did; but the statues could no longer be removed. They were here to stay.
The central "globe" chandelier that shines down on the auditorium of the New York State Theater weighs two tons, has 55 faceted "diadems," uses 500 light bulbs and 5,000 watts of electricity. The wired forms holding the diadems are shaped to resemble herald's trumpets.
The stage of the New York State Theater has had four different curtains. The current curtain has been in use since 1982. The gold curtain is made of synthetic material which is entirely flameproof with the exception of the bottom gold fringe which is made of cotton.
When discussing the color scheme for the interior of the auditorium, Johnson understood that Balanchine wanted the deep garnet color that has defined the space since the Theater opened. At the time, the architect thought that also included the color of the stage floor where the performances actually took place. On one of Balanchine's inspection tours, he was greeted by the sight of dark maroon battleship linoleum covering the surface of the stage — which very quickly was changed to the neutral gray tone with which the audience is familiar.
The Orchestra pit of the New York State Theater has been enlarged twice. When Balanchine saw the Orchestra pit as the Theater neared completion, he decided it was too small. The pit was again enlarged in 1982 when the auditorium's current proscenium was added above the stage.
The new proscenium that was added in 1982 is frequently referred to as the "eyebrow."