February 19, 2008
The New York of Raymond Hood, Architect: Rockefeller Center
Walking the long cool dimly-lit black and gold power corridors of the GE building in Rockefeller Center, beginning my journey at the west entrance on the Avenue of the Americas and moving toward the east, I feel like I've fallen into a liminal pre-death dream state, a wandering soul pushed toward the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. The cool black hallways and the low lighting, the main source of which are illuminated numbers, discourage sounds above a whisper. "Shhhh....that's NBC over there...and look!, over there - if you've been good in your mortal life, you may ascend to the Rainbow Room." The darkness continues unabated, enveloping the visitor with the signifiers of a higher power. This must be the work of a medieval-loving man of great largesse, I think, someone who has inherited an empire.
After the dark journey through the long corridor, the pilgrim enters the Grand Lobby. Enveloped now by golden images of muscular semi-nude figures, the mythical workers of José Maria Sert's mural American Progress tumble down staircases, soar across the ceiling, and in several cases look as if they may trounce anyone below. I am less than nothing. I marvel at my insignificance.
Finally, a light at the end of the tunnel appears. Just as I suspected, the doors to heaven are those damn revolving doors. And beyond I see...Joy beyond joys! Light! Space! So many flags! People! And behold! Wouldn't you know it? Heaven has a sunken ice rink and places to eat some lunch.
At the beginning of creation, the center's site, owned by Columbia University and leased to John D. Rockefeller, Jr., was originally intended as a new home for the Metropolitan Opera. When the opera pulled out, Junior's architecture team, Reinhard and Hofmeister; Corbet, Harrison and MacMurray; Hood and Fouihoux, spent months drawing up hypothetical configurations. When the Radio Corporation of America, NBC, and then RKO decided to become the principle tenants, the project started to make sense.
Raymond Hood, as head of the team, bore the main responsibility for negotiating among the many interests to make "the City within a City" a reality in limestone. While speaking the language of cost and efficiency, he argued that Rockefeller Center needed roof gardens, open spaces, and works of great art if it was going to succeed. Almost everyone else at the time thought it was going to fail. They were wrong.
Photos of Rockefeller Center by Walking Off the Big Apple, from February 18, 2008.
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