R is for Rockefeller
Located at 45 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10111
Rockefeller Center is a commercial complex that currently consists of 19 buildings, 12 of them part of the original layout. It also provides a venue for events, art exhibitions, dining as well as shopping. Rockefeller Center has been referred to as a ‘city-within-a-city’.
In 1929, industrialist John D. Rockefeller Jr. signed a long-term lease for the site on which the Center stands, which was owned at the time by Columbia University. Once considered prime real estate, the site had deteriorated since the real estate boom of the late 19th century, and the building of the Sixth Avenue elevated train.
In the late 1920s Rockefeller sought to revitalize the area. The Metropolitan Opera House was expected to occupy a newly built home for it on the land, but the economic downturn, following the stock market crash of 1929, prevented the Opera House from going forward with the plans.
Rockefeller continued with the project, opting to create an exclusive commercial complex. In 1931, construction of Rockefeller Center began, and the 12 original buildings were completed in 1940. Throughout the Depression, the construction of the Center provided jobs for thousands of laborers and helped sustain the building industry in New York City.
The Center is laid out between the Fifth and Sixth Avenues, from 48th Street to 51st Street. Most noticeable about the Rockefeller Center is the beauty and harmony that is visible inside the buildings as well as outside.
The pedestrian promenade area, the Channel Gardens, designed to lead visitors to a cascade of stairs that descend to the brightly colored, international flag-draped Sunken Plaza, is the most tourist-attracting and recognized locale in the Center. The Channel Gardens consist of six granite pools, each with bronze-cast fountainhead sculptures of Tritons, Nereids and sea creatures. Seasonal decorations adorn these pools and surroundings.
The plaza functions as an ice skating rink in the winter and an outdoor dining spot during the warmer seasons.
The exteriors of all of the original complex’s buildings, as well as the interiors of the International Building’s and 30 Rockefeller Plaza’s lobbies, were granted landmark status on April 23, 1985.
The frieze above the main entrance to the front entrance of the Comcast Building, known as 30 Rock for 30 Rockefeller Plaza, was executed by Lee Lawrie and depicts Wisdom, along with a slogan that reads ‘Wisdom and Knowledge shall be the stability of thy times’, a biblical quote. The central figure represents Wisdom, who rules over man’s knowledge and interprets the laws of nature. Wisdom grasps a compass that points to the light and sound waves carved on the cast pyrex screen below. Made of 240 glass blocks, the screen is a technical and artistic masterpiece.
The Rockefeller Center is full of symbolic mythological characters who exemplify power and strength, and willfulness. There is Prometheus, who steals fire from heaven for mankind, presiding over the skating rink and there is Atlas, the Titan who taught man astronomy, a tool used by sailors to navigate the seas, and one used by farmers to measure the seasons, in front of the International Building. If you look around there are many more such icons inside and outside the Rockefeller Center buildings.
The dominating sculpture of Atlas, designed by Lee Lawrie, weighing 14,000 pounds, is the largest sculptural work in the Center. He stands 15-feet tall atop a 9-foot high pedestal. The exaggerated physical features cast in bronze are a fine example of the Art Deco style. What’s odd about Atlas is what he’s supporting on his shoulders -not the earth, as in the original myth, but a representation of the heavens.
The murals showing the evolution of machinery, the eradication of disease, the abolition of slavery, and the suppression of war, by José Maria Sert are displayed in the lobby on the 50th Street side, on the walls and the ceiling. The center ceiling mural is called Time.
No mention of the Rockefeller Center will be complete without a few words about Christmas at the Center. The Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center is THE Christmas Tree for most New Yorkers, signaling the start of the season. An estimated 500,000 people visit Rockefeller Center to see the Christmas tree each day during the holiday season.
In 1931, men working on the excavation for Rockefeller Center put up the site’s first Christmas tree. The workers decorated a 20-foot balsam fir using garlands made by their families and the tinfoil ends of blasting caps. The site of their celebration was situated on the same area of the plaza where the tree is now raised each year.
In 1933, Rockefeller Center decided a tree would be the perfect way to celebrate the Center, and an annual tradition was born.
And the skating rink comes to life with the backdrop of Prometheus and the Christmas Tree!