ROCKEFELLER CENTER is home to the National Broadcasting Company, Radio
Hall’s rockettes, the Rainbow Room, and a famous holiday Christmas tree (bottom). Rockefeller Center
(top) was built by John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
in 1931, and its art deco design created by Raymond Hood. Rockefeller Center
is actually a complex of 19 buildings, numerous shops and the Top of the Rock observation deck which
offers the best view of the downtown Manhattan
skyline. (A visit to the top includes a
video history of Rockefeller
Center and NBC television
narrated by Tom Brokaw. Tours of Radio
City Music Hall and of NBC Television studios are also available.)
Architect critic, Ada Louisa Huxtable, notes that the architects of
Rockefeller Center combined "Beaux-Arts and modern principles into a
really complex, humanistic urban plan."
First known as the RCA Building,
it became the GE Building when General Electric acquired RCA. During the construction of the building, Mexican
and socialist artist, Diego Rivera, painted
a mural for the Center’s lobby. The
mural, entitled “Man at the Crossroads Looking with Hope and High Vision to the
Choosing of a New and Better Future,” created a major controversy because it included a portrait of Russian communist Vladimir Lenin. Rivera was dismissed and his mural destroyed
On a lighter note, Rockefeller Center gets a mention in the George Gershwin song, “They All Laughed,” as the lyrics note: “They all laughed at Rockefeller Center, now they’re fighting to get in.” Johnny Carson’s Tonight show was first broadcast live from a studio here; currently Saturday Night Live is filmed in that same studio. The Today Show has originated from here for many years. On the Fifth Avenue side of the building, there is an Atlas sculpture and a skating rink featuring a gold statue of Prometheus. The plaza also has 200 flag poles which fly flags of United Nation countries.
It is fitting that today Rockefeller Center's Christmas tree continues New York City's association with this country's Christmas traditions and Santa Claus as Sam Roberts points out in his book, ONLY IN NEW YORK. Sinterklass was the Dutch word for Santa Claus and his legend was brought to New York City by the Dutch in the 17th Century. New York author, Washington Irving, further developed and Americanized the legend of Santa Claus in his book, A History of New York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, which he wrote under the name of Diedrich Knickerbocker in 1809. In 1831 William Gilley published an illustrated poem about Santa complete with a sleigh and one reindeer. Later, Clement Clark Moore, wrote the poem A Visit from Saint Nicholas or The Night Before Christmas at his apartment in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. Moore also gave Santa additional reindeer and gave them names. Cartoonist Thomas Nast is credited with giving Santa his jolly wink and a red suit with white cuffs. In 1939, a NYC advertising writer, Robert May, created a new reindeer, that now very famous one Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Composer Irving Berlin wrote White Christmas in his Upper East Side apartment in 1942. And, of course, it was German immigrants to NYC who brought the tradition of the Christmas tree to America. The history of the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center dates back to 1931.
The site of Rockefeller Center in Manhattan's earlier years was once the location of a 20 acre botanical garden, the Eligin Botanical Garden, the first public garden in America which was established by David Hosack, a man who was a botanist and also Alexander Hamilton's physician at Hamilton's fatal duel with Aaron Burr.