This is the time of year when people from the New York metropolitan area, around the country and abroad flock to Rockefeller Center in Manhattan to enjoy the holiday season. Known primarily for its ice skating rink and enormous decorated tree, it is a perfect place to celebrate winter's festivities.
This year marked the 77th anniversary of the tree lighting, a tradition which dates back to 1933, when the tree stood in front of the then eight-month-old RCA Building (now the GE Building) and was adorned with seven-hundred lights. In 1936 the ice skating rink was opened and in 1951 the tree lighting was broadcast on television for the first time.
Although the tree and the skating rink are perhaps the most well known features of Rockefeller Center, this historic landmark in the center of Manhattan holds much artistic, architectural and historical significance that make it a truly unique and fascinating place.
Rockefeller Center is a complex of 19 commercial buildings that cover twenty-two acres in the center of Manhattan between 48th and 51st streets and Fifth Avenue and Avenue of the Americas. The buildings house offices, shops, restaurants, exhibition rooms, and broadcasting studios. The Center was built by the Rockefeller family, a family known primarily for having made the world's largest private fortune in the oil business during the late 19th and early 20th century, as well as for its long association with the Chase Manhattan Bank, now JP Morgan Chase. It was John D. Rockefeller Jr. who resolved to make Rockefeller Center contemporary and innovative, and his vision was realized with every artwork and attraction. When Rockefeller Center officially opened in May 1933, it held true to the developing team's belief that art was an act of good citizenship. The lobby of 30 Rockefeller Plaza was decorated by accomplished European artists, including Frank Brangwyn and JosÚ Maria Sert. The acclaimed sculptor Paul Manship was commissioned in 1933 to design the statue of Prometheus which overlooks the outdoor skating rink and mall.
The Center is a combination of two building complexes: the older, original Art Deco office buildings, and a set of four International-style towers which were built along the west side of Avenue of the Americas during the 1960's and 1970's. The older section of Rockefeller Plaza, consisting of fourteen limestone skyscrapers set amidst a series of outdoor spaces on a twelve-acre site, was built between 1930 and 1939. The Principal architect was Raymond Hood, working with and leading three architectural firms, on a team that included a young Wallace Harrison. Wood veneering, mural painting, mosaics, sculpture, metalwork, and other allied arts were integrated with the architecture. It can be said that among John D. Rockefeller's various business ventures, the single most defining undertaking was the creation of the "city within a city", the project that gainfully employed over 40,000 people during the worst years of the Great Depression.
Some of the more notable buildings in The Center include:
THE GE BUILDING (RCA BUILDING)
Formerly known as the RCA Building, the seventy-floor GE Building is 872 feet tall, making it the ninth tallest building in New York City and the 32nd tallest in the United States. The building is sometimes referred to as 30 Rock, a reference to its address at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
Completed in 1933, The GE Building is one of the most famous and recognized skyscrapers in New York. It was named the RCA Building for its main tenant, the Radio Corporation of America, formed in 1919 by General Electric. It was the first building constructed with the elevators grouped in the central core.
The office of the Rockefeller family occupied Room 5600 on the 56th floor. This space is now occupied by Rockefeller Family & Associates, spanning between the 54th floor and the 56th floor of the building. In 1985, the building acquired official landmark status and in 1988 was renamed as the GE Building, two years after General Electric re-acquired the RCA Corporation, which it helped found in 1919.
The front of 30 Rock is the Lower Plaza in the very center of the complex, which is reached from 5th Avenue through the Channel Gardens and Promenade.
Unlike most other Art Deco towers built during the 1930s, the GE Building has no spire on its roof. Instead it was constructed as a slab with a flat roof, where the Center's newly renovated observation deck, the Top of the Rock is located.
The skyscraper is the headquarters of NBC and houses most of the network's New York studios. NBC currently owns the space it occupies in the building as a condominium arrangement. The building is the setting for the famous Lunchtime atop a Skyscraper photograph, taken by Charles C. Ebbets in 1932 of workers having lunch sitting on a steel beam, without safety harnesses.
RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL
Completed in 1932, Radio City Music Hall is New York City's largest theater. Its original intended name was the "International Music Hall", but this was changed to reflect the name of its neighbor, "Radio City," as the new NBC Studios in the RCA Building were known. RCA was one of the complex's first and most important tenants and the entire Center itself was sometimes referred to as "Radio City."
The Music Hall was designed by three architectural firms who employed Edward Durell Stone to design the exterior. Abby Rockefeller assigned the interior design to Donald Deskey, an exponent of the European Modernist style and innovator of a new American design aesthetic. Desky believed the space would be best served by sculptures and wall paintings and commissioned various artists for the large elaborate works in the theater. The Music Hall seats 6,000 people and has become the biggest tourist destination in the city. The interiors are one of the world's greatest examples of Art Deco design and in 1978 the Music Hall's interior was declared a New York City landmark.
THE TIME LIFE BUILDING
Designed in 1936, the thirty-three-story Time Life Building in Rockefeller Center was completed in 1938 by a team known as Associated Architects, which included L. Andrew Reinhard and Henry Hofmeister, Harvey W. Corbett, Wallace K. Harrison and William H. MacMurray, Raymond Hood, Frederic Godley, and Jacques Andre Fouilhoux.
The large wooden sculptures by Carl Milles on the west wall of its lobby are home to one of Rockefeller Center's most charming features. Above the head of the woodsman in the middle piece of the triptych, a mechanical bird chirps every hour. The original bird in the featured role was a clarino, or Mexican thrush, that belonged to Bronx Zoo president Fairfield Osborn. This was the original Time & Life Building, before the publishing company moved west to 1271 Avenue of the Americas in 1960.
50 ROCKEFELLER PLAZA
Originally built for the Associated Press, for many years "50 Rock" was also home to many news agencies, press bureaus and other journalistic practitioners. It is the only building in the Center built out to the limits of its lot line, and it took its shape from the main tenant's need for a single, undivided, loft-like newsroom as large as the lot could accommodate. At one point, four million feet of transmission wire were embedded in conduits on the building's fourth floor.
Above the building's entrance, Isamu Noguchi's giant, nine-ton stainless steel panel, "News," holds the place of honor. Noguchi's design, selected from a competition conducted by Rockefeller Center managers, depicts the various forms of communications used by journalists in the 1930's.
THE INTERNATIONAL BUILDING
The International Building at 630 Fifth Avenue was so named to follow the theme established with the British Empire Building, La Maison Franšaise, and its southerly frontage on Fifth Avenue which is known as the Palazzo d'Italia. The international theme was both an effort to attract tenants with connections to the honored countries, as well as to celebrate the internationalism that John D. Rockefeller, Jr., believed was the key to world peace.
For years, the International Building was home to steamship lines, travel agencies and foreign consulates, which all benefited from the presence of the U.S. Passport Office that once occupied the building's second floor.
THE UNDERGROUND CONCOURSE
A series of underground pedestrian passages stretches from 47th Street to 51st Street, and from Fifth Avenue to Seventh Avenue, creating a shopper's paradise. Numerous business operate in the Concourse offering shoppers a range of products and services. There are also eating establishments and a post office.
There are several ways to access the Concourse, including stairways which lead down from the lobbies in six landmark buildings. Access can also be gained through the restaurants at the skating rink, since the rink is on the concourse level. Additionally, there is access to the western entrance of the Concourse through the 47-50th Street subway station below Sixth Avenue.
Buildings that were once part of Rockefeller Center include: The RKO Roxy Theatre (which was the only structure in the original Rockefeller Center to be demolished); 75 Rockefeller Plaza (originally the Esso Building, later the Time Warner Building); AXA Equitable Building (formerly the Sperry Rand Building) at 1290 Avenue of Americas; and The Hilton New York Hotel & Towers (formerly The New York Hilton at Rockefeller Center).
In the 1980's, Rockefeller Center made its foray into the Stock Exchange, offering the public the opportunity to become investors, but by the mid-nineties, times got tougher and Rockefeller Center moved into Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Luckily, less than two years later, Goldman Sachs, Tishman Speyer and David Rockefeller acquired controlling ownership of Rockefeller Center and in 1997 acquired controlling ownership of The Center from Mitsubishi.
Now Rockefeller Center's annual art unveiling is a highly anticipated New York City tradition. From the sculptor Louise Bourgeouis' bronze Spiders spectacle to Takashi Murakami's Reverse Double Helix display, the 2000's have been filled with innovative and inspirational masterpieces that continue to maintain John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s original vision for The Center.