Memory Lane



Politics, Lincoln and Good Cars

Longtime Oakdale resident Thomas Murray recalled his young days living in New York City in the mid-1950s. His father was a mechanic, probably at Park Motor Sales, a Lincoln-Mercury dealer, located on the west side at 1884 Broadway at 62nd Street, about a two minute walk from the proposed Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. (1) In fact, a 2011 article describes the “stretch of Broadway from the West 50s to slightly north of Columbus Circle” as “Automobile Row.” (2)  Although those who lived there didn’t agree, this neighborhood was considered a slum and designated for renewal by Robert Moses. (3) In fact, Thomas Murray states that even though they dealt in higher end cars, Park Motor Sales would never have been located on the other side of Central Park since east siders considered that area too refined for a garage. Tom stated that his father’s co-workers and people in the neighborhood, known as Lincoln Square, believed that the new cultural center was being named for the beautiful cars that were purchased there. Lincoln cars were a luxury line and the dealership served people with a comfortable living and studios for the celebrity actors of the time, including Milton Berle. Studios wanted stars to be seen in the newest cars so they were frequently traded back to the dealer within a year. Consequently Tom got to own a used gray Lincoln Zephyr convertible that had been Bert Lahr’s!

Curious to find out if a discussion of the naming was recorded anywhere, we began researching and discovered it to be indeed a mystery, albeit one that’s been discussed before and even reported in the New York Times. In a 2011 article celebrating the 50th anniversary of its groundbreaking 50 Years in, Lincoln Center Name is still a mystery, Glen Collins wrote ““Surprisingly, after five decades, the origin of the word “Lincoln” in Lincoln Center “is a mystery” said Judith Johnson,” [Lincoln Center’s corporate archivist at the time]. “It is one of those questions that should have an answer.””(4) But, when we recently contacted the new Lincoln Center archivist, Bonnie Marie Sauer, she forwarded me a document dated 2004 that is copyrighted by Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and states definitively that “Lincoln Center was named after the neighborhood in which it was built,” namely the Lincoln Square area which was roughly bounded by Broadway and Columbus from 63rd to 66th Streets. (5)  The article reports that this was discussed by members of the Exploratory Committee for a Musical Arts Center headed by John D. Rockefeller back in 1955.

So changing direction, we focused instead on how the Lincoln Square area, where Lincoln Center is located, got its name. Following the thread that maybe Lincoln Square was named for Lincoln-Mercury cars we attempted to contact the Ford Motor Company, which owns Lincoln, but were unsuccessful. The online newspaper and blog, The West Side Rag, published an article in June of 2012 titled “Lincoln Square Mystery: Was it Really Named for Abe?” which reported that the area was named Lincoln Square in May of 1906 by the city’s Board of Aldermen, but no discussion of the reason for the name was given. (6) Furthermore, according to this article, President Lincoln was never “overwhelmingly popular” in NYC “with those here whose business involved dealings with Southern plantation owners.” Further research shows that the Lincoln Motor Company was founded in 1917, and combined with Ford in 1922, so this is about 12 years after the naming of Lincoln Square (6).  So Lincoln Square was definitely not named for the luxurious auto, either.  In fact, the first New York Times reference to the Lincoln car is in an ad about a car show at Ford headquarters at 1710 Broadway in November, 1938 (7). There were, however, more than 200 references to Lincoln Mercury cars appearing in New York between October 1, 1955 and January 30 1956. (8) During this same period, the Exploratory Committee for the Musical Arts held meetings in Rockefeller Plaza, a twelve minute drive to the future site of Lincoln Center, and one whose route could take you past either 1710 Broadway or 1884 Broadway or both of them. (9) Surely, with the close proximity of the car dealership to the site and indeed to Automobile Row, and frequently passing by  the stylish new cars in the showroom window, who can say what was in the mind of the committee planning the ambitious new cultural center?  We like to think that the memory that Tom Murray has held since he was a young man is as valid a possibility as any stated in the articles I’ve reference for the naming of Lincoln Center. Take a look at the gorgeous cars below to see if you don’t agree.

  1. Display Ad 90-No Title New York Times October 6, 1938, pg. 31, digital image, (ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times 1851-2010).  Accessed December 29, 2016.
  2. “When the Best Shows on Broadway Were Cars,” James Barron. New York Times, April 24, 2011, pg. AU1, digital image, (ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times 1851-2010). Accessed December 23, 2016.
  3. “New Cultural Vista for the City,” Howard Taubman. New York Times, April 22, 1956, pg. 222, digital image, (ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times 1851-2010). Accessed December 1, 2016.
  4. “50 Years In, Lincoln Center’s Name Is Still a Mystery,” by Glen Collins.; May 11, 2009. Accessed December 23, 2016.
  5. How Lincoln Center Got Its Name.” Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc. Copyright 2004. Emailed in an attachment by Bonnie Marie Sauer, Lincoln Center Archivist, November 14, 2016.
  6. “Lincoln Square Mystery: Was It Really Named for Abe?” by Stan Solomon, Posted on June 2, 2012. West Side Rag. Accessed December 23, 2016. 
  7. Display Ad 12—No Title New York Times  October 14, 1955, pg. 12, digital image,( Proquest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times 1851-2010). Accessed December 23, 2016.
  8.  Search results “Ford Lincoln Mercury dealer” date range October 1, 1955-January 30, 1956, New York Times. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times 1851-2010). Accessed December 29, 2016.
  9.  Searches “Rockefeller Center, N.Y. to 1884 Broadway, N.Y.” and “Rockefeller Center, N.Y. to 1710 Broadway,” [search]. Accessed December 29, 2016.

Thomas Murray Interview