PODCAST: Rockefeller Center

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In the veritable wilderness that would become midtown Manhattan, Dr. David Hosack opens his Elgin Botanic Garden, the city’s first collection of exotic plant species that’s eventually sold to the state, who then passes the land fatefully over to Columbia University.

The John D.’s, Senior and Junior, the two richest men on the planet

Excavation of the Rockefeller Center site, photo by Berenice Abbot taken in 1931. Materials taken from the site were used to fill in Central Park’s South Reservoir (making the Great Lawn) and helped create landfill for Brooklyn’s Shore Parkway.

One of the most famous photographs ever taken, in 1932 by Charles Ebbets, features some nonchalant construction workers taking a break from work on the RCA Building.

I get sick just from looking at this picture.

The majestic RCA Building (later the GE Building) was perfectly proportioned so that natural light would reach every square foot of office space

From this image, it’s easy to see how Rockefeller Center radically transformed midtown.

The plaza, seen in a view from 1937, allowed architect Raymond Hood much leeway in his design of the RCA Building

A classic overhead shot by Margaret Bourke-White taken in 1939

The offending Diego Rivera mural that briefly adorned the lobby of the RCA Building

Prometheus in 1941 (courtesy of Flickr)

Also from 1941, a look at the Center’s new garage

A spry ice skater in 1942 (photo by Wallace Kirkland, Life archives). The rink was not an original feature of the plaza, but soon became one of its most popular attractions.

In 1943, the Channel garden features an unusual wartime exhibit. Speakers on either end continually broadcast speeches by President Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Chiang Kai-Shek. Fun! (Photo courtesy Library of Congress)

1948 — for some reason, ice skating and dining takes a backseat this day for a sheepherding demonstration

The roof gardens, now closed to the public, were originally a top tourist draw to Rockefeller Center and even enabled Rockefeller to raise rents on any offices that benefits from views that overlooked them.

Two interior shots of the Center Theatre, formerly the RKO Roxy, Rock Center’s other big stage. It changed it named because of a lawsuit with the Roxy Theatre and changed its entertainment from films to ice spectacles in the 1940s. It was torn down in 1958 to make room for what is today the Simon & Schuster Building, also part of the Rockefeller Center complex.

Wild crowds gather for Radio City Music Hall’s Easter show in 1961, and not, I’m assuming, to get into to see the Absent Minded Professor

The first Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, in 1931, with Saks Fifth Avenue and St. Patrick’s Cathedral right across the street

The tree in 1943

And in 1954, one of the first years that featured the illuminated angels (courtesy of PLCjr)

CHRISTMAS GIFT ALERT: One of my favorite New York City history books ever is actually about Rockefeller Center — Daniel Okrent’s Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center. The writing is as stout and witty as many of its principal characters. Extremely readable.

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