Art Deco Rockefeller Center in New York
No visit to New York would be complete without a visit to Rockefeller Center. Located in midtown Manhattan at 50th Street, the complex spans 5th and 7th Avenues, is easily accessible from anywhere in the city and contains many more sights than the average New Yorker is aware!
Rockefeller Center is synonymous with the notorious industrialist and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller who became America’s first billionaire. Built largely after the stock market crash of 1929, the project was the largest private building project ever undertaken during modern times and was finished in the art deco style of the times.
Making up Rockefeller Center are Radio City Music Hall, The GE Building and many works of art. Radio City is of course the place to go during Christmas time to see the Rockettes and was originally intended for variety entertainment but films proved more popular and Radio City became a movie theatre – the biggest of its time. Many big award shows have taken place in the huge hall including the Daytime Emmy Awards and the Grammys. It is recommended that visitors book tickets well before their trip if they intend to see a show there.
The GE building (General Electric) houses the famous Rainbow Room, formerly a supper-club and now an up-scale restaurant. For diners wishing to have a glimpse of the Rainbow Room but not pay the upmarket prices, the Rainbow Grill is a great alternative and is on the same floor of the building. The GE building also boasts one of the best bird’s eye views of the city from its observation deck nicknamed the “Top of the Rock”. The skyscraper also serves as the headquarters of NBC who produce Saturday Night Live and other popular shows. Visitors to New York often go to see live recordings of shows for television as they are free but show-goers must take into account the long waiting list, and put their names down well before their visit.
In and around the centre are many famous sculptures and artwork, the most well recognised is likely to be the gold centrepiece statue of Prometheus by Paul Manship, although the most well known piece of art history about Rockefeller Centre is a highly controversial mural by Diego Rivera that was destroyed.
Abby Aldrich Rockefeller convinced her husband John D. Rockefeller in 1932 to commission a mural by Mexican artist Rivera. The painting entitled “Man at the Crossroads” was begun in 1933 but never saw completion. The controversy surrounding the mural came about when Rockefeller identified Russian Revolutionary Vladimir Lenin depicted participating in a May Day parade. At the time, the portrayal of the communist leader was considered propaganda and anti-capitalist and the action considered extremely controversial and was written about scathingly in newspapers.
Rivera offered to paint American president Abraham Lincoln in the mural on the opposing side but this offer did not assuage Rockefeller who ordered Rivera to remove the mural, to which he refused. Rivera was subsequently banned from the building leading to demonstrations by his supporters. Rockefeller’s workmen demolished the mural, despite negotiations to transfer the work to the Museum of Modern Art. Rivera never worked in the United States again, but determined to finish the mural, he recreated the frescoes in the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City.