Rockefeller Center, Manhattan (History)

neighborhoods_manhttan_rockefeller_center_300x300Rockefeller Center is a complex of 19 commercial buildings covering 22 acres (89,000 m2) between 48th and 51st streets in New York City, United States. Built by the Rockefeller family, it is located in the center of Midtown Manhattan, spanning the area betweenFifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987.

 

HISTORY

Rockefeller Center was named after John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who leased the space from Columbia University in 1928 and developed it beginning in 1930. Rockefeller initially planned a syndicate to build an opera house for the Metropolitan Opera on the site, but changed plans after the stock market crash of 1929 and the Metropolitan’s continual delays to hold out for a more favorable lease, causing Rockefeller to move forward without them. Rockefeller stated, “It was clear that there were only two courses open to me. One was to abandon the entire development. The other to go forward with it in the definite knowledge that I myself would have to build it and finance it alone.” He took on the enormous project as the sole financier, on a 27-year lease (with the option for three 21-year renewals for a total of 87 years) for the site from Columbia; negotiating a line of credit with the Metropolitan Life Insurance Companyand covering ongoing expenses through the sale of oil company stock. The initial cost of acquiring the space, razing some of the existing buildings and constructing new buildings was estimated at $250 million.

It was the largest private building project ever undertaken in modern times. Construction of the 14 buildings in the Art Deco style (without the original opera house proposal) began on May 17, 1930, and completed in 1939. Principal builder and “managing agent” for the massive project was John R. Todd. Principal architect was Raymond Hood, working with and leading three architectural firms on a team that included a young Wallace Harrison, later to become the family’s principal architect and adviser to Nelson Rockefeller. The construction of the project employed over 40,000 people.

It was the public relations pioneer Ivy Lee, the prominent adviser to the family, who first suggested the name “Rockefeller Center” for the complex, in 1931. Rockefeller, Jr., initially did not want the Rockefeller family name associated with the commercial project, but was persuaded on the grounds that the name would attract far more tenants.

What could have become a major controversy in the mid-1930s concerned the last of the four European buildings that remained unnamed. Ivy Lee and others made attempts to rent the space to German commercial concerns and name it the Deutsches Haus. Rockefeller ruled this out after being advised of Hitler’s Nazi march toward World War II, and thus the empty office site became the International Building North.

This subsequently became the primary location of the U.S. operations of British Intelligence, British Security Coordination (BSC) during the War, with Room 3603 becoming the principal operations center for Allied intelligence, organized by William Stephenson, as well as the office of the future head of what was later to become the Central Intelligence Agency, Allen Welsh Dulles

The Center is a combination of two building complexes: the older and original 14 Art Deco office buildings from the 1930s, and a set of fourInternational-style towers built along the west side of Avenue of the Americas during the 1960s and 1970s (plus the Lehman BrothersBuilding). (The Time-Life Building, McGraw-Hill and News Corporation/Fox News Channel headquarters are part of the Rockefeller Center extension now owned/managed by the major private real estate firm, Rockefeller Group.)

In 1985, Columbia University sold the land beneath Rockefeller Center to the Rockefeller Group for $400 million. In 1989, Mitsubishi Estate, a real estate company of the Mitsubishi Group, purchased the entire Rockefeller Center complex, and its owner, Rockefeller Group. In 2000, the current owner Jerry Speyer (a close friend of David Rockefeller), of Tishman Speyer Properties, L.P., together with the Lester Crown family of Chicago, bought the older 14 buildings and land from the previous syndicated owners that included: Goldman Sachs (which had 50 percent ownership), Gianni Agnelli, Stavros Niarchos, and David Rockefeller, who organized the syndicate in 1996 and is historically associated with the other partners, for $1.85 billion