Tag Archives: Rockefeller Center

R is for Rockefeller

Located at 45 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10111
Website:  https://www.rockefellercenter.com/

  Rockefeller Center 

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!

21 Apr 2023

Festive New York

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

The last days of December… The best time to be in the city. Just as we pull out our winter woollens at the first indication of the chill, the city pulls out its adornments of magical enchantment. Lights twinkling from every building and every tree, music percolating into the street, smells of hot chocolate and coffee wafting in the air… all add a lightness to your steps.


Of course, there are more tourists in the city, more than at any time of the year; they are everywhere wandering around with maps in hand and eyes on top of the buildings. However, even they begin to look charming, with their mittens and scrubbed faces and dangly caps. Maybe an unforeseen impact of the holiday cheer going around! 🙂


For me, the one event that triggers the festive season is the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. This year, it took place on December 4, a Wednesday.


In an event broadcast live worldwide, Mayor Michael Bloomberg turned on the 45,000 multi-coloured LED lights on the 76-foot tall tree, topped with a 9 1/2-foot-wide Swarovski star. Artists who performed at the ceremony included Mary J. Blige, the Goo Goo Dolls, Jewel, Mariah Carey and Leona Lewis.

Toy soldiers at the Rockefeller Center

Toy soldiers at the Rockefeller Center

Looking at the spectacular pageantry associated with the event today, it will be hard to imagine the simple origins of the tradition.


The year was 1931. The nation was under the grip of the great depression, but New York suffered more than other parts of the country. Businesses had closed, manufacturing had ceased, and construction had come to a standstill. The stock market had lost 90% of its value; unemployment was above 25%.


Like a ray of light shining through the cloudbank, work on the Rockefeller Center started in the summer of 1931, bringing hope to the construction industry, burdened with a 64% unemployment rate.


By December 24, the plaza was cleared and excavation had started. Workers lining up at the site to collect their paycheck decorated a 20 foot evergreen rising out of the rocky ground, with garlands of cranberries, tinsel and tin cans. I’m sure none of them even dreamed that their action would set up such a long standing tradition!


Today, the search for the perfect evergreen to become the Rockefeller Center Tree starts in the beginning of the year. A minimum height of 65 feet, with a width of 35 feet at its broadest point, will qualify a tree to be in the running, but it takes a special something, be it a symmetrical shape or thick branches – something that contributes to that perfect look – to be the winner. The Rockefeller Center’s head gardens manager makes the final decision on the selection.


Once the tree has been identified, it is given special care and regular grooming. In November, preparations will start to get it ready for its travel to Manhattan. The branches are wrapped in twine and burlap, and are strapped tight to the trunk to make a compact shape. When ready, the tree is held up using a hydraulic crane and cut. Trees have travelled to the city on trucks, barges and once even on an airplane!


  • There were two Christmas trees at the Rockefeller Center in the years 1936 and 1937; three trees in 1942.
  • The 1966 tree, harvested 120 miles north of Ottawa, was donated by the Canadian government to celebrate their country’s centennial in 1967.
  • In 1941, four live reindeer were penned near the Christmas Tree as an added attraction.
  • On Dec 27 1979, a man climbed to the top of the tree to demand the freeing of Americans held hostage in Iran, and stayed there for an hour and half till he was coaxed down.


Generally the trees are taken down in the first week of January, most often either donated to Habitats for Humanity for use as lumber or chipped and turned into mulch.


Though the Rockefeller tree holds the pride of place in the city – the country, the world – J there are so many lovely ones I make a point of visiting every year. Here is the one at the Bryant Park with the ice skating rink.

Bryant Park

The shop windows dress up so beautifully during the season that one tends to forget the crass commercialism for the moment and marvel at their beauty. Look at these from JC Penny…




“I’d rather be a lamppost in New York than mayor of Chicago.”

James Walker, Mayor of New York City from 1926 to 1932, nicknamed ‘The Late Mayor’ for his tendency to be always late and ‘The Night Mayor’ for obvious reasons. 🙂


01 Jan 2014