Rockefeller Center is home to many New York landmarks – including the famous ice skating rink, the historic GE Building (where Saturday Night Live and The Today Show are filmed), the grand Radio City Music Hall, and the country’s most famous Christmas tree.
If not for the stock market crash of 1929, Rockefeller Center would never have existed. John D. Rockefeller originally leased the property, an area previously known as the “speakeasy belt”, with plans to build a new Metropolitan Opera House on the site.
When the stock market crashed, the Met couldn’t afford to move so Rockefeller decided to build an office complex instead. Construction of the Art Deco style buildings began in 1931.
Rockefeller partnered with the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), one of the few companies in the country that was prospering despite the Depression. RCA was the parent company of NBC and the network produced radio programs that attracted large audiences seeking diversion during hard times. RCA/NBC became the principal tenant of Rockefeller’s new skyscraper, previously known as the RCA building (and currently known as the GE Building after the tower’s current owner).
Today, Rockefeller Center is comprised of 19 buildings between 48th and 51st Streets from Fifth Avenue to Sixth Avenue. NBC is still a key tenant, broadcasting images of Rockefeller Center live every morning on the Today Show. Rockefeller Center has become a major New York landmark, hosting some of the city’s most famous sights and destinations.
Ice skating at Rockefeller Center is an essential New York City winter experience. The rink was built in 1936, replacing the complex’s original shopping concourse. Today, more than a quarter of a million skaters enjoy the Rockefeller Center rink every year from October through April.
You don’t need skates or reservations to skate at the Rockefeller Center Ice-Skating Rink. You can drop by any time and rent a pair of skates for a spin on the ice.
However, the skating rink can get extremely crowded, especially during the holiday season when tourists flock to Rockefeller Center. Your best bet is to skate in the early morning or on weekdays before 4 p.m. if you can.
Location: Rockefeller Center between 47th and 50th Streets and 5th and 7th Avenues, lower concourse.
Getting There: B,D,F,V to 47-50 Streets-Rockefeller Center; 6 to 51st Street; 1 to 50th Street.
Information Line: 212-332-7654
Hours and Admission: Hours and admission costs vary for pre-season and the busier holiday season.
Skate Rentals: $10
Skating Lessons: 212-332-7655
Radio City Music Hall, located in the Rockefeller Center complex, is the largest indoor theater in the world. Most famous as the home of the legendary Rockettes, Radio City Music Hall has also hosted some of the world's most legendary entertainers on its Great Stage. More than 300 million people have come to the Music Hall to enjoy stage shows, movies, concerts and special events.
Radio City Music Hall got its name because Rockefeller Center's first tenant was the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and the complex was known as "Radio City" in its early years.
Radio City Music Hall was designed to be a "palace for the people," offering spectacular entertainment at a price the average New Yorker could afford. The "Mighty Wurlitzer" organ, with pipes housed in eleven separate rooms, was built especially for the theatre. Original special effects mechanisms, still in use today, can produce rain, fog and clouds through a system that draws steam directly from a Con Edison generating plant nearby.
Take a Tour. Highlights of the guided tour include the Great Stage, the stage's hydraulic system, the renowned private suite with 12-foot gold leaf ceilings, and an audience with a famous Radio City Rockette.
Every year, more than a million visitors attend the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. The eight-week show has been a sell-out success since its debut in 1933. The show includes favorites like"The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" and "The Living Nativity."
You can order tickets online for the Christmas Spectacular and other Radio City Music Hall shows.
More About Radio City Music Hall
-- by James Porto. It's amazing that the Rockettes have been dancing for so long. This beautiful book covers their entire history.
-- Can't get to the live show? Then watch the special 75th Anniversary DVD of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
Radio City Music Hall at Night: Scenic Photographic Poster -- You an adorn your walls with this 8x10 night shot of Radio City Music Hall.
-- This photographic history of the Rockettes and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular has lots of pretty pictures.
The centerpiece of Rockefeller Center is the 70-story, 850-foot GE Building (formerly known as the RCA Building and also known as “30 Rock”).
The building houses most of NBC’s New York studios, including the legendary Studio 8H, home of Saturday Night Live. The Today Show is filmed live from a studio on the street level looking out onto Rockefeller Center. If you’d like an inside look, you can take the NBC Studio Tour, which is given daily at fifteen-minute intervals.
You can also check out the view from the top of the GE Building. Top of the Rock is a rooftop observation deck with 360-degree views of New York City from 70 stories up. Re-opened in November 2005 after almost twenty years, Top of the Rock is open 365 days a year from 8:30 a.m. to midnight (last elevator goes up at 11 p.m.). Tickets cost $25 for adults, $23 for seniors, and $16 for kids 6-12. The special Sunrise Sunset ticket allows for two visits in one day and is $38 for adults and $20 for kids.
Art at Rockefeller Center
Rockefeller Center features more than 100 pieces of original art. One of the most famous is Paul Manship's famous gilded statue of Prometheus bringing fire to mankind. Another famous sculpture by Lee Lawrie depicts Atlas supporting the earth.
One of the most famous Rockefeller Center artworks is one that can’t be seen. When Rockefeller Center was constructed, Rockefeller hired Mexican socialist artist (and husband of Frida Kahlo) Diego Rivera to paint a mural in the lobby of the building.
This mural was later destroyed when Rockefeller found out that Rivera had included a portrait of communist leader Lenin. Rivera’s mural was replaced with a mural titled America’s Progress by artist José María Sert.
Rockefeller Center, home of New York City's most famous Christmas tree, is a favorite holiday destination for locals and tourists alike.
The first Rockefeller Center Christmas tree was put up in 1931 by construction workers building the complex, and the first formal Rockefeller Center tree-lighting ceremony took place in 1933. Today, the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is the biggest, brightest, and most famous evergreen in the U.S.
Every year, the manager of the Rockefeller Center gardens searches for the perfect tree. Trees have been shipped from as far away as Ottawa, Canada. The chosen evergreen tends to be between 75' and 100' tall and is decorated with 30,000+ lights. The holiday season in New York officially begins with the tree lighting ceremony in Rockefeller Center shortly after Thanksgiving and the tree usually stays lit through early January. See photos of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree.
The Christmas tree is only the centerpiece of Rockefeller Center at Christmas. Among the other holiday decorations are the herald angels, wire-sculpted angel figures that have decorated Rockefeller Center during the holidays since 1954. The holiday lights and the picturesque ice skaters also add to the festive scene at Rockefeller Center every holiday season. See photos of the Rockefeller Center Christmas decorations.
Great Rockefeller Center Christmas Gift Ideas
by Christine Roussel -- This full-color art guide provides an in-depth look at the art and architecture of Rockefeller Center. Also available in paperback.
Redbird at Rockefeller Center by Peter Maloney and Felicia Zekauskas -- Kids will love this beautifully illustrated story about tiny Redbird, who wakes up in Rockefeller Center after the giant spruce he calls home is transported to New York for the holidays.
The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree by Nancy Armstrong -- Read all about the history and lore of the world's most famous Christmas tree.
Rockefeller Center 1932 (Resting on a Girder) by Ebbets -- Display an art print of the iconic photograph by Ebbets that depicts 1932 construction workers napping on a girder dangling high above Rockefeller Center.