The Corner

Culture

David Koch and His Name

David H. Koch (1940–2019) (Carlo Allegri / Reuters)

Kevin (Williamson) has written a piece about David Koch and his devotion to the arts, especially ballet. (The piece is about other things than that — it is a superb piece, making important points — but that is one aspect.) A lot of people who work in the David H. Koch Theater . . . aren’t crazy about the name. I am putting it as mildly as possible. I have also heard the theater called by a vulgar name.

Anti-Koch denizens of Lincoln Center object to his politics. But then, he objected to theirs — and they are benefiting from his generosity.

Anyway, I wanted to say something about the naming of that theater. Let me quote from an essay I wrote in 2015, when Mount McKinley became “Denali.” That essay was called “Goodbye, McKinley: The rise and fall of names.”

In the early 1970s, a man named Avery Fisher endowed the concert hall at New York’s Lincoln Center. So for all this time it has been “Avery Fisher Hall.” But the Lincoln Center people wanted to upgrade the place. To do that, they needed lots of money, and that meant an offer of “naming rights.” The Fisher family pitched a fit and threatened legal action: They figured Avery’s name should be on the hall forever. Ultimately, they were paid off ($15 million), and Lincoln Center found a new donor: David Geffen, of Hollywood. He pledged $100 million, and, starting this season, the hall will be David Geffen Hall.

Across the plaza is the David H. Koch Theater, formerly the New York State Theater. In 2008, this Koch brother pledged — as Geffen would — $100 million. And he said that, after 50 years, his name could go. A half a century was enough. “A naming opportunity should be a defined length of time to allow the institution to regenerate itself with another round of major fundraising,” Koch said. Geffen has a different view — and has said that his name must be on the concert hall forever.

Look, it’s none of my business — and Geffen’s generosity “cannot be gainsaid,” as WFB would say — but good for Koch.

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