Rockefeller Center: Facts and History of the Giant

11:20 am  |  12.06.2021

The Rockefeller Center is one of the most famous commercial properties in the world and connects the New York of the 1930s with the modern. The building complex is centrally located in Manhattan, consists of a total of 20 buildings, and is located between Fifth Avenue and the Avenue of Americas, West 47th Street, and West 52nd Street.

If you are in New York anytime soon, you shouldn’t miss a visit to the Rockefeller Center. It is the main attraction in New York, especially at Christmas time.

The Rockefeller Center: Facts

  • Height: 259 meters.
  • Admission: Tickets cost approximately $ 30 for adults.
  • Opening times: Daily from 7 a.m. to midnight.
  • Floors: 70.
  • Construction time: 1931-1940.
  • Opening: 1939.
  • Location: New York City, USA.
  • Address: 45 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10111, USA.

The Rockefeller Center combines the New York of the 1930s with the modern city.

Top of the Rock

The heart of the Rockefeller Center is the “Top of the Rock” viewing platform on the top floor of the Comcast Building. During the Christmas season, the Rockefeller Center shines brightly. The large, festively decorated Christmas tree is located in the square in front of the building. An ice rink entices many visitors to prove their talent on runners.

During the construction of the Rockefeller Center, a picture went around the world showing 11 construction workers who were seemingly casually enjoying their food on the scaffolding between the skyscrapers, while an abyss opened up below them. 

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From the observation deck of the Rockefeller Center “Top of the Rock” one has an extraordinary view of the Empire State Building and the skyline of New York.

If you want to enjoy a magnificent view over Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, and the surrounding skyscraper canyons, think first of the Empire State Building. The “Top of the Rock” viewing platform at the Rockefeller Center doesn’t have to hide from the Empire State Building.

On an area of ​​16,000 square meters, visitors can enjoy a panoramic view of New York with an incomparable 360-degree perspective. At a height of 260 meters, guests have an unobstructed view of Central Park, the Hudson River, and the Chrysler Building. This grandiose view of Manhattan and the surrounding districts is possible both from the inner rooms and in the open air.

If you stay in Rockefeller Center, the world of Manhattan is literally at your feet, because the view through the glass floor of the viewing platform offers an extraordinary experience. The Sky Shuttle takes visitors up to the 67th floor. From there, an elevator takes you to the 69th floor and the “Grand Viewing Deck”. From here, visitors can take stairs to the 70th floor, the highest point of the building, and to the glass floor.

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John D. Rockefeller: The Visionary

John D. Rockefeller was an American entrepreneur who is considered the richest person of modern times. It’s not for nothing that the saying “Am I, Rockefeller?” Is used when it comes to spending money. The entrepreneur was exceptionally successful in the oil business. He laid the foundations for his wealth with the Standard Oil Company in 1870. In the following three decades this company became so powerful and controlled numerous other companies that the American government in 1906 was forced to divide Standard Oil into 34 individual companies.

However, John D. Rockefeller was also a philanthropist and promoted education and culture with his billion-dollar fortune. In 1928 he felt it was time to build his own opera. Only one year later, however, the great stock market crash followed, which wiped out entire fortunes around the world by causing the prices of the securities traded on the stock exchanges to collapse. The people in the USA were also hit hard, what came now were the years of the so-called Great Depression. Nobody felt the urge to go to the opera anymore, not to mention that nobody had the money to afford this luxury either. So another plan had to be found.

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Location in New York

Quite the resourceful entrepreneur, Rockefeller did not let the Great Depression get him down and was already forging new plans that were no longer culturally but commercially oriented. Without further ado, Rockefeller decided to build a building for the newly emerging radio and television industry. The name: Rockefeller Center.

However, this should not be just a simple building, but an extraordinarily complex unmatched, and admired in its size. This plan has succeeded because the Rockefeller Center consists of 20 individual, economically independent complexes, 19 of which are high-rise buildings.

The building complex extends in a square between Fifth Avenue and Avenue of the Americas, which is also known as Sixth Avenue. Additional parts are on West 47th Street and West 52nd Street. The Radio City Music Hall is also located here. This concert hall can seat 6,000 people. NBC’s headquarters are in the General Electric Building.

The Iconic Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center

At Christmas time, this globally unique complex has become an institution. Every year the ice rink under the Prometheus statue and the oversized Christmas tree are popular photo opportunities. The Christmas tree is not only festively dressed up, but also ceremoniously inaugurated when the time comes to switch on the 30,000 lights for the first time.

This important role falls to the incumbent mayor of New York. With a height of approximately 27 meters and a width of ten meters, this Christmas tree is the largest Christmas tree in the USA. The top is adorned with a three-meter-high star, which is decorated with 25,000 Swarovski crystals.

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The Christmas tree and the ice rink at Rockefeller Plaza are popular destinations, especially during the Christmas season.

A Look Back at History

If you want to learn more about the history of the building, take the Rockefeller Center Tour. Historically trained tourist guides explain the history and architecture of the building to visitors.

After construction was finished in 1933, the Rockefeller Center experienced some ups and downs. In addition to the commercial use, Rockefeller wanted to create a building that would give residents and visitors to the city the opportunity to experience New York from a completely different, unobstructed perspective. 

The ice rink on the forecourt of the building directly in front of the stately Christmas tree was initially opened as a temporary attraction in 1936, but it became so popular within a very short time that it was decided to repeat this event every year. About 150 people can use the ice rink at the same time. This New York-defining establishment experienced its heyday in the 1940s when around 90 percent of the commercial space was left. The Rockefeller Center was in good shape for the next two decades. However, this was to change with the economic crisis in the 1970s. A large part of the commercial buildings was vacant.

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To change this unfortunate situation, a different business strategy had to be found. The companies that rented this large building complex could now also become shareholders. In the 1980s, the great trade boom picked up again. The NBC studios are also located in Rockefeller Center. Many major US television shows are broadcast from here.

General Electric also has offices here. The 65th floor was completely renovated for $ 20 million. In the 1990s, Frank Sinatra gave five concerts at Radio City Music Hall, all of which were sold out. Still, the Rockefeller Center had to take another short-term low this decade. This extraordinary building complex could not be brought to its knees this time either. New investors were found so that even the subway station at Rockefeller Center could be modernized.

Empire State Building in the evening light from Rockefeller Center.

Renovation and Reopening

The “Top of the Rock” viewing platform has always been the focus of this architectural masterpiece. Rockefeller himself had this vision before construction began because he wanted to share New York, the city he loved so much, with its residents and visitors. The modernization of this viewing platform was a tough one, however, because it took no less than twenty years. In the period from 1986 to 2005, this special excursion location was closed.

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The new opening took place in November 2005 and showed that the investment of time and money had been worth it. Approximately 2.5 million people visit this unique place high above New York City every year. Another new opening took place in September 2014. Since then, the Rainbow Room has been an event location and restaurant in one. If you are not afraid of heights, you can enjoy an extraordinary meal here on the 65th floor. From here there is an incomparable panoramic view of the city. Those who dine there should ask for a seat by the window so that they can enjoy the view during this time.

Also on the 65th floor is the Sixty Five bar, where cocktails and canapés are served. Those who are not too hungry should enjoy their happy hour here. This exclusive bar offers an unobstructed view of Central Park. The dress code is chic, so the clothes shouldn’t be too casual. Sneakers, jeans, and sportswear are undesirable. Anyone who appears that way will simply be refused entry.

An Architectural Masterpiece

From an architectural point of view, this building complex is extraordinary. The architects dared to take a new approach to urban construction that was previously unknown. What was new about this path was that not just a single skyscraper was built, but an entire group of buildings as a unit in the middle of a metropolis. 

However, not all 20 buildings were erected at once. In the period from 1930 to 1939, 15 Art Deco-style skyscrapers were built. One was demolished in 1954. From 1947 another five buildings followed. The oldest building is the seat of the Radio City Music Hall. In addition, many nations are represented here with their own buildings, for example, Italy, Great Britain, and France. There is also the International Building for all nations.

The buildings are not square, but elongated rectangular. In this way, it is possible to make maximum use of the sunlight even in New York’s concrete canyons. The cladding is made of white limestone from a quarry in Indiana, which still shows numerous fossils of marine animals. The most famous and tallest building is the Comcast Building. This is where NBC and MSNBC have pitched their tents.

The Rockefeller Center was honored in 1989 by the New York Landmarks Preservation Foundation.

Despite the eventful history, John D. Rockefeller’s vision has worked and the Rockefeller Center has become a real New York institution not only for guests from all over the world, but also for the city’s residents.

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