Rockefeller Center comes to many people’s minds around the holidays, with the lighting of the towering Christmas tree above its ice skating rink in the Lower Plaza. But this complex that covers 22 acres is a hub of Art Deco architecture and art with more than 100 unique stores, restaurants, and amenities. Its landmarked buildings include Radio City Music Hall and 30 Rockefeller Plaza (headquarters of NBC Studios, The Tonight Show, Saturday Night Live and the Today show). Visitors also can enjoy a panoramic view of the city, including the iconic Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, from the rooftop observation deck Top of the Rock.
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Key Features of Rockefeller Center
Although people flock to Rockefeller Center for its shops and entertainment, the site has a collection of famous artwork, Art Deco motifs and sculptures that the center says signify man’s development in spirit, science and industry.
Some of the most recognizable pieces are the statue of Atlas, the Titan condemned in Greek mythology to carry the world on his shoulders. Atlas and his burden are located at 630 Fifth Ave.
Above the main entrance to 30 Rockefeller Center is a sculpture of Wisdom with a quote from the Bible: “Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy time.”
Above the 49th Street entrance is a bas-relief called Progress with Columbia, the female symbol of America. She holds a flame of divine fire and an olive branch and is flanked by an eagle and the mythological winged horse Pegasus.
The main entrance to the Lower Plaza is through the Channel Gardens, a 200-foot-long pedestrian esplanade with narrow pools and hedges. At the plaza’s western end is the well-known gilded bronze sculpture of Prometheus, the Greek legend who brings fire to mankind.
History of Rockefeller Center
1801: Physician David Hosack purchases 20 acres of the future site of Rockefeller Center from New York City and opens the Elgin Botanic Garden, the country’s first botanical garden.
1811: The Elgin Botanic Garden closes.
1823: Columbia University takes ownership of the property.
1928: Columbia University leases the land to financier and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. as a site for the new Metropolitan Opera building. But the Metropolitan Opera is unable to move, and the building is revamped.
1930: A new design is unveiled with facilities for television, music, radio, “talking pictures and plays,” plus theaters. A total of 228 buildings are razed to build the center.
1931: Construction begins.
1932: The RKO Building is the first of the 14 original Art Deco buildings to be completed. Radio City Music Hall also opens to the public.
1933: The first of many Rockefeller Center Christmas trees is placed in the plaza.
1934: The elegant Rainbow Room restaurant is established on the 65th floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
1936: The ice skating rink opens. Also, the Time & Life Building, named for Time Inc., is completed.
1939: The original core of the Rockefeller Center complex is complete.
1947: The complex expands, acquiring ownership of the Esso Building, then built for the Standard Oil Company, at 75 Rockefeller Plaza. This later becomes known as the Time Warner Building.
1950s: The Today show debuts from 30 Rockefeller Center.
1960s to 1970s: The center continues to expand, later opening the Exxon Building, the McGraw-Hill Building, and the Celanese Building.
1985: Rockefeller Center is declared a New York City landmark.
1987: Rockefeller Center is named a National Historic Landmark.
Location & Tourism
Rockefeller Center’s street address is 45 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY, but it faces Fifth Avenue between East 48th Street and East 51st Street. Visiting the buildings and the plaza is free, although businesses keep their own hours. The Top of the Rock observation deck is open daily from 8 a.m. to midnight; prices start at $36 for adults, $34 for seniors, and $30 for children ages 6 to 12.
Interesting Facts About Rockefeller Center
- The Top of the Rock observation deck is 200 feet higher than the 86th floor observatory of the Empire State Building. It is designed to resemble the deck of an ocean liner and is enclosed with frameless safety glass.
- Radio City Music Hall has about 5,960 seats. About 3,500 are at ground level while the others are distributed among three mezzanine levels.
- The Prometheus sculpture, built in 1934, is 18 feet tall and weighs 8 tons.
Directions to Belluck & Fox from Rockefeller Center
Belluck & Fox’s NYC law office is located in Midtown at 546 Fifth Ave., 5th Floor, New York NY 10036. Our office is about a six-minute walk from Rockefeller Plaza. Simply walk east to Fifth Avenue, then turn right to head south. Follow roughly the same route by vehicle, or take the M3 bus south on Fifth Avenue from West 50th Street.