A New York icon……..Rockefeller Plaza


At the height of the Great Depression in New York, Columbia University sought to capitalize on a parcel of land it owned adjacent to its Manhattan campus. The land, between West 48th and West 51st Streets, and 5th and 6th Avenues (about 22 acres in total) was eventually leased by Nelson D Rockefeller, Jr. in 1928 and the complex of buildings known as Rockefeller Center grew up. The original 14 buildings were completed in a grand Art Deco style, including 30 Rockefeller Plaza, or ’30 Rock’, which is known today as the GE Building.

At the heart of the Rockefeller Center is the Plaza. A sunken plaza area in front of what is now ’30 Rock’ (home of NBC) it had been, originally, a financial disaster, as the first retail tenants had been unable to generate trade and had soon left; the rink, and its associated refridgeration plant, had been installed as a kind of last throw of the dice. It is now wildly successful, and surrounded by boutiques and a selection of eating places, including the delightful Rock Center Café, The Sea Grille, and Cucina and Co. which command a close view of the rink.  A seasonal delight of locals, the rink is just over 122 feet long and 59 feet wide, but manages to satisfy the skating urges of tens of thousands of New Yorkers and visitors each winter. Access is via timed ticket, and neophyte skaters may book lessons.

The wonderful Art Deco sculpture which dominates the Plaza is of Prometheus, who stole fire from the Gods (he is shown carrying fire in his right hand); the statue appears to be rising from a water feature. The work was executed by Paul Manship, in gilded bronze, and is in keeping with the overall Art Deco design theme of the development. The inscription, on granite, behind the work is by Aeschylus, the Ancient Greek dramatist, and reads ‘Prometheus, teacher in every art, brought the fire that hath proved to mortals a means to mighty ends’. 

Surrounding the plaza there is displayed a vexillophile’s delight – a set of flagpoles (close to 200) carrying, at various times of the year, a wide array of flags. These can include all the member nations of the United Nations, the flags of US States and Territories and other flags. During official US holidays (Presidents’ Day, Thanksgiving, Columbus Day, etc.) the flagpoles all fly the Stars and Stripes. Around the last week in November, the Plaza is the scene of a truly joyous event – the annual lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. Traditionally, this is a Norway Spruce – Picea abies – the largest one used was in 1948 and was harvested from Killingford, Connecticut; the tree was100 feet tall. After use, the tree is taken down and converted to lumber which is then used to build a house. It takes around five MILES of wire and 30,000 LED lights to dress the tree, and it is topped out with a magnificent Swarovski crystal star. The event is covered on television (of course), and various musical artists perform for the crowds who gather. This, along with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, can be said to mark the start of the holiday season in New York.

In 1987, the US National Parks Sevice placed Rockefeller Center on the National Historic Landmarks List, No. 87002591 – I don’t think that anyone who has visited this site would disagree with their judgement!

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