When the US was in the economic downturn of the Great Depression and the world was between two wars, John D Rockefeller had a vision to build a center and an observation deck in the heart of Manhattan as a gift to the locals and visitors to inspire confidence in the US and in the city he loved.
His idea was to create a city within a city. Constructed during the great depression’s worst years, the project gave much needed employment to some 40,000 out of work people.
When it opened in May 1933, the center upheld the vision that art and beauty could improve the human situation and inspire greatness in the nation.
The famous Radio City Music Hall, home of the Rockettes, the International Building, the Simon & Schuster building – they are all here in this colossal group of iconic buildings in Rockefeller Center.
Top of the Rock Observation Deck
The centerpiece of the Rockefeller Center is the art-deco General Electric skyscraper completed in 1933. Today it’s known as 30 Rock.
It was previously known as the RCA building up to 1988 (when RCA was the biggest subsidiary of GE).
It’s most famous for being the world headquarters of NBC television, also part of GE, however soon to be part of Comcast and the building will soon be renamed again as a result.
The Rockefeller Family has maintained an office space in this building from the very beginning. John D Rockefeller had a private vault in the basement and a private elevator from his office on the 56th floor to access it. Today Rockefeller Family and Associates occupies the 54th through the 56th floor.
NBC produces many of it’s most popular shows in this building, including The Tonight Show, Late Night with Seth Meyers, Saturday Night Live, The Today Show, and NBC Nightly News.
There are three different observations decks in the building – the 67th, 69th, and 70th floors of 30 Rock.
From these observation decks you can see panoramic views of the city and Central Park.
The observation floors also feature a multimedia exhibition exploring the history of the Center.
The top most deck on the 70th floor is built to resemble the deck of an ocean liner offering visitors a bird’s eye view of the city and is considered the best view panoramic view of the city.
Some of the most beautiful gardens in New York aren’t on the ground. They are hundreds of feet above. Rockefeller Center maintains five spectacular roof gardens originally designed by English landscaper Ralph Hancock between 1933 and 1936. Sadly, the gardens have been closed to the public since 1938, but several can be seen from the Top of the Rock observation deck.
Most people consider the ice skating rink in the heart of Rockefeller Center the quintessential feature of this massive plaza. However, the ice rink was really just a last minute thought, as the original designs called for an elaborate garden in this space, but eventually lack of interest and ideas led the space to be used as a simple ice skating rink opened on Christmas Day in 1936.
The ice rink opens each year from October through April, so it’s closed when we visited.
The Channel Gardens separates the La Maison Française building from the British Empire building, just like the English Channel which separates Britain from France.
The gardens provide a calm diversion from the hustle and bustle of Fifth Avenue for generations of New Yorkers.
Tritons, dolphins, and other creatures cast in bronze for the garden fountains are the work of sculptor René Chambellan. The design for each of them was personally approved by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who loved gardens and knew that they were an essential part of the Center’s personality.