Leonard Bernstein's NYC Residence Mapped As An LGBT Historic Site

Leonard Bernstein's NYC Residence Mapped As An LGBT Historic SiteThe NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project has announced the digital publication of the Leonard Bernstein Residence at the Osborne Apartments to its online map, a dynamic continually-evolving catalogue of geographic locations significant to LGBT history.

This Saturday, August 25th, is the centennial of the great composer's birth and an auspicious moment to consider his monumental contributions to American classical music. The Osborne Apartments, located at 205 West 57th Street in Manhattan, was designed by architect James E. Ware and built in 1883-85.

Leonard Bernstein, the great American composer of classical and Broadway music, conductor, and educator, was born on August 25, 1918, to Jewish immigrant parents in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and grew up in Boston. While studying music at Harvard, he met three of the musical figures who would have a great influence on his work and career - conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos and composers Aaron Copland (a life-long friend) and Marc Blitzstein. Bernstein had brief affairs with both Mitropoulos and Copland.

In 1943, Bernstein became the assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony. On November 14 of that year, he was asked, on short notice, to conduct a matinee in place of the ailing Bruno Walter. The concert, which was heard around the country on radio, was a huge success and Bernstein became an immediate musical sensation. The next year, Bernstein composed the music for Jerome Robbins' ballet Fancy Free (1944), which he, Robbins, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green soon turned into the hit Broadway musical On the Town (1944).

In 1951, following a short affair with actor Farley Granger, Bernstein married Felicia Cohn Montealegre, who was aware of Bernstein's homosexuality. Shortly after the wedding, she wrote to her husband, stating "you are a homosexual and may never change - you don't admit to the possibility of a double life, but if your peace of mind, your health, your whole nervous system depend on a certain sexual pattern what can you do?" It has been suggested that Mitropolous told Bernstein that if he wished to become the music director of a prestigious orchestra he should marry. Bernstein had a loving relationship with his wife and their three children, but continued to have affairs with young men.

Shortly after their marriage, the Bernsteins moved into apartment 4B in the Osborne. While in residence here, Leonard Bernstein completed the scores for the Broadway musicals Wonderful Town (1953), Candide (1956), and West Side Story (1957), and the film On the Waterfront (1954). In 1958, Bernstein was appointed music director of the New York Philharmonic - the first American to ever lead a major American orchestra. Shortly after this appointment, the Bernsteins moved to an apartment on Park Avenue and, later, into the Dakota Apartments on Central Park West. Located diagonally across from Carnegie Hall (another LGBT historic site), the Osborne Apartments has long been a popular home for people in the arts. Other significant LGBT residents have included:

  • Bobby Short, legendary cabaret artist (who lived in Bernstein's former apartment)
  • Van Cliburn, pianist who won the inaugural International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow in 1958, at 23
  • Robert Osborne, actor and film historian best known for hosting prime-time films on Turner Classic Movies

Learn more by reading the complete historic site entry. (more)

Explore additional NYC sites which connect to the legacy of Leonard Bernstein, from the Winter Garden Theater to Carnegie Hall and more.

The NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project is a cultural initiative and educational resource that is documenting historic sites connected to the LGBT community throughout New York City. Its interactive map features diverse places from the 17th century to the year 2000 that are important to LGBT history and illustrate the community's influence on American culture. The Project is nominating sites to the National Register of Historic Places and developing educational tours and programs.

As sites connected to LGBT history in NYC are threatened - the former site of the Paradise Garage has been demolished; the former Alternate U. at 69 West 14th Street, site of the founding of the Gay Liberation Front, is actively threatened by the wrecking ball - it is more important than ever to remember the determination of LGBT equal rights pioneers and the physical sites which place key people and events in history.

For more, visit www.nyclgbtsites.org.

Photo by Sedge LeBlang, via the Leonard Bernstein Collection, Library of Congress.

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