Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan

Friday, 2 June 2017 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: General, Architecture, New York City
Reading Time:  14 minutes

Rockefeller Center's Landmark plaque © Sam Weber/cc-by-2.5

Rockefeller Center’s Landmark plaque © Sam Weber/cc-by-2.5

Rockefeller Center is a large complex consisting of 19 high-rise commercial buildings covering 22 acres (89,000 m2) between 48th and 51st Streets in New York City. Commissioned by the Rockefeller family, it is located in the center of Midtown Manhattan, spanning the area between Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987. It is famous for its annual Christmas tree lighting. Rockefeller Center was named after John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who leased the space from Columbia University in 1928 and developed it beginning in 1930. Rockefeller initially planned a syndicate to build an opera house for the Metropolitan Opera on the site, but changed plans after the stock market crash of 1929 and the Metropolitan’s continual delays to hold out for a more favorable lease, causing Rockefeller to move forward without them. Rockefeller stated, “It was clear that there were only two courses open to me. One was to abandon the entire development. The other to go forward with it in the definite knowledge that I myself would have to build it and finance it alone.” He took on the enormous project as the sole financier, on a 27-year lease (with the option for three 21-year renewals for a total of 87 years) for the site from Columbia; negotiating a line of credit with the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company and covering ongoing expenses through the sale of oil company stock. The initial cost of acquiring the space, razing some of the existing buildings and constructing new buildings was estimated at $250 million. The current Center is a combination of two building complexes: the original 14 Art Deco office buildings from the 1930s, one building across 51st Street built in 1947, and a set of four International-style towers built along the west side of Avenue of the Americas during the 1960s and 1970s.

It was the largest private building project ever undertaken in modern times. Construction of the 14 buildings in the Art Deco style (without the original opera house proposal) began on May 17, 1930, and the buildings were completed and opened in 1939. Principal builder and “managing agent” for the massive project was John R. Todd. Principal architect was Raymond Hood, working with and leading three architectural firms on a team that included a young Wallace Harrison, later to become the family’s principal architect and adviser to Nelson Rockefeller. The construction of the project employed over 40,000 people. It was the public relations pioneer Ivy Lee, the prominent adviser to the family, who first suggested the name “Rockefeller Center” for the complex, in 1931. Rockefeller, Jr., initially did not want the Rockefeller family name associated with the commercial project, but was persuaded on the grounds that the name would attract far more tenants. What could have become a major controversy in the mid-1930s concerned the last of the four European buildings (La Maison Francaise, The British Empire Building, Palazzo d’Italia) that remained unnamed. Ivy Lee and others made attempts to rent the space to German commercial concerns and name it the Deutsches Haus. Rockefeller ruled this out after being advised of Hitler’s Nazi march toward World War II, and thus the empty office site became the International Building North. This subsequently became the primary location of the U.S. operations of British Intelligence, British Security Coordination (BSC) during the War, with Room 3603 becoming the principal operations center for Allied intelligence, organized by William Stephenson, as well as the office of the future head of what was later to become the Central Intelligence Agency, Allen Dulles. In 1985, Columbia University sold the land beneath Rockefeller Center to the Rockefeller Group for $400 million. In 1989, Mitsubishi Estate, a real estate company of the Mitsubishi Group, purchased the entire Rockefeller Center complex, and its owner, Rockefeller Group. In 1996, the entire complex was purchased by a consortium of owners that included Goldman Sachs (which had 50 percent ownership), Gianni Agnelli, Stavros Niarchos, and David Rockefeller, who organized the consortium. Tishman Speyer, led by Jerry Speyer, a close friend of David Rockefeller, and the Lester Crown family of Chicago, bought the original 14 buildings and land in 2000 for $1.85 billion.

In 1962, the center management placed a plaque at the plaza with a list of principles in which John D. Rockefeller, Jr. believed, and first expressed in 1941. It reads:

I believe in the supreme worth of the individual and in his right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty.
I believe that the law was made for man and not man for the law; that government is the servant of the people and not their master.
I believe in the Dignity of labor, whether with head or hand; that the world owes no man a living but that it owes every man an opportunity to make a living.
I believe that thrift is essential to well ordered living and that economy is a prime requisite of a sound financial structure, whether in government, business or personal affairs.
I believe that truth and justice are fundamental to an enduring social order.
I believe in the sacredness of a promise, that a man’s word should be as good as his bond; that character not wealth or power or position – is of supreme worth.
I believe that the rendering of useful service is the common duty of mankind and that only in the purifying fire of sacrifice is the dross of selfishness consumed and the greatness of the human soul set free.
I believe in an all-wise and all-loving God, named by whatever name, and that the individuals highest fulfilment, greatest happiness, and widest usefulness are to be found in living in harmony with His Will.
I believe that love is the greatest thing in the world; that it alone can overcome hate; that right can and will triumph over might.

Rockefeller Center's Landmark plaque © Sam Weber/cc-by-2.5 © Balou46/cc-by-sa-4.0 Christmas tree and The Rink © flickr.com - Gabriel Rodríguez/cc-by-sa-2.0 Comcast Building © David Shankbone/cc-by-2.5 Radio City Music Hall © UpstateNYer/cc-by-sa-3.0 Rooftop Gardens © David Shankbone/cc-by-2.5 Upper West Side and Central Park from Rockefeller Center Observatory © Nmattson10
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Upper West Side and Central Park from Rockefeller Center Observatory © Nmattson10
The landmark buildings comprise over 8,000,000 square feet (743,000 m2) on 22 acres (89,000 m2) in Midtown, bounded by Fifth and Sixth avenues, and from 48th Street to 51st Street. These are co-owned by Tishman-Speyer, and open to the public.

  • 1 Rockefeller Plaza – The original Time–Life Building; an original tenant was General Dynamics, for whom the building was briefly named.
  • 10 Rockefeller Plaza – Originally the Holland House, then the Eastern Air Lines Building. Currently home of Today Show studios. and the Nintendo New York store.
  • 30 Rockefeller Plaza (“30 Rock”) – Originally the RCA Building, in 1988 it was renamed the GE Building, and in 2015 became the Comcast Building. Headquarters of NBC, the Rainbow Room restaurant is located on the 65th floor.
  • 50 Rockefeller Plaza – Formerly the Associated Press Building and home to many news agencies. Isamu Noguchi’s large, nine-ton stainless steel panel, News, holds the place of honor above the building’s entrance. Noguchi’s design depicts the various forms of communications used by journalists in the 1930s. The only building in the Center built to the outer limits of its lot line, 50 Rock 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.
  • 1230 Avenue of the Americas – Formerly U.S. Rubber/Uniroyal Building, now the Simon & Schuster Building
  • 1250 Avenue of the Americas – Serves as an annex building to 30 Rock.
  • 1260 Avenue of the Americas – Radio City Music Hall
  • 1270 Avenue of the Americas – Originally the RKO Building, later the American Metal Climax (AMAX) Building
  • 600 Fifth Avenue – Formerly the Sinclair Oil Building
  • 610 Fifth Avenue – La Maison Francaise
  • 620 Fifth Avenue – The British Empire Building
  • 626 Fifth Avenue – Palazzo d’Italia
  • 45 Rockefeller Plaza – The International Building, also bears the address 630 Fifth Ave.
  • 636 Fifth Avenue – The International Building North
  • 1236 Avenue of the Americas – The Center Theatre; the only structure in the original Rockefeller Center to be demolished (1954); used as an NBC television studio at the time of demolition, it was replaced by an extension of 1230 Avenue of the Americas.

Extensions

The centerpiece of Rockefeller Center is the 70-floor, 872 ft (266 m)-tall building at 30 Rockefeller Center, centered behind the sunken plaza. It is alternatively known as the Comcast Building and 30 Rock (also the name of a comedy television show), and formerly known as the RCA Building and then the GE Building. The building is the setting for the famous Lunchtime atop a Skyscraper photograph, taken by Charles C. Ebbets in 1932 of construction workers sitting on a steel beam without safety harnesses eating lunch above an 840-foot (260 m) drop to the ground. Unlike most other Art Deco towers built during the 1930s, the Comcast Building was constructed as a slab with a flat roof and since 1933 has been home of the Center’s observation deck, the Top of the Rock. The Center’s owner, Tishman Speyer Properties, carried out a $75 million makeover of the observation area between 1985 and 2005. It spans from the 67th–70th floors and includes a multimedia exhibition exploring the history of the Center. On the 70th floor, accessible by both stairs and elevator, there is a 20-foot (6.1 m) wide viewing area, allowing visitors a unique 360-degree panoramic view of New York City. The iconic Rainbow Room is located on the 65th floor. At 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. The acclaimed sculptor Paul Manship was commissioned in 1933 to create a masterwork to adorn the central axis, below the famed annual Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, but all the other original plans to fill the space were abandoned over time. In 1936, The Rink at Rockefeller Center was constructed after Nelson Rockefeller found that a new system had been invented allowing artificial outdoor ice skating, enabling him to bring the pastime to midtown New York City. An immediate tourist attraction, the rink has become one of the most famous skating rinks in the world.

A series of shop- and restaurant-filled, underground pedestrian passages stretch from 47th Street to 51st Street, and from Fifth Avenue to Seventh Avenue. Access is via lobby stairways in the six landmark buildings, through restaurants surrounding the Concourse-level skating rink, and elevators to the north and south of the rink. There is a connection to the New York City Subway via the western concourse, to 47th–50th Streets – Rockefeller Center station below Sixth Avenue (B D F M trains). Two small buildings abut the north and south corners of 1250 Avenue of the Americas. These buildings exist as a result of two tenants, one a leaseholder, the other the property owner, who refused to sell their rights to Rockefeller during construction. In 1892, a trio of Irishmen leased the property at 1240 Sixth Avenue, and opened Hurley’s, a popular pub that operated through prohibition as a speakeasy. Rockefeller bought the building, but their lease trumped his property rights. They offered to sell their rights to him for $250 million (roughly the cost of the entire complex), which he refused. Meanwhile, at 1258 Sixth Avenue on the other corner, owner John F. Maxwell simply refused to sell. In the end, Rockefeller was forced to construct the center around the existing buildings.

Read more on Rockefeller Center, The Rink at the Rockefeller Center and Wikipedia Rockefeller Center (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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