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How The Rockefeller Center Started And Its Role

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It is a time period today that is still readily referred to. In fact, many individuals in the older generation have suffered through it and continue with their aggressive saving habits developed during this event today. Personally, my grandma still keeps a cabinet full of food that she will never eat, it is just saved “in case.”

Of course I am talking about the Great Depression. This was a time in American History that absolutely nothing could go right. This economic crisis of the 1930s is one of the most studied periods of American history and scholars have truly studied the economic calamity from multiple points of views. It is undeniable that these events truly took a toll on the American population and would change our future. The average income of the American family dropped by 40 percent from 1929 to 1932. It was a very hard time.

However, one man seemed unaffected during this time period. His name was John D. Rockefeller Jr. He was the only son among the five children of the famous Standard Oil co-founder John D. Rockefeller Sr. and the father of the five famous Rockefeller brothers. He was known for being scrupulously careful with money, and therefore he stood out from other rich men’s sons. After his graduation from Brown University, Rockefeller naturally joined his father’s business in 1897, setting up operations in the family office at 26 Broadway. He would eventually become a director of both Standard Oil and at J. P. Morgan’s U.S. Steel company, which had been formed in 1901. Eventually, though, Rockefeller Junior resigned from both companies in 1910 in an attempt to “purify” his ongoing philanthropy from commercial and financial interests. From here he would begin his lifelong work as a philanthropist.

I mentioned the Great Depression above because although John D. Rockefeller Jr. spent most of his life engaged in philanthropy, his defining business venture was the creation of the “city within a city”. Constructed during the Great Depression’s worst years, the project gainfully employed over 40,000 people, providing light to some citizens that were fully engulfed in the darkness. The developing team truly thought they were providing good service to their community. When it opened in May of 1933, it was undoubtedly one of the greatest construction exhibits of its time. The massive development is pictured to the right.

The Rockefeller Website describes the Rockefeller Center’s impact and creation in the 1930s:

During its first decade, the complex bustled with exciting tenants like the French bookstore, Librairie de France and the brand new publication News-Week. Throughout the 1930s, Rockefeller Center steadily improved, including some accidental innovations like the Christmas Tree tradition in 1931 and the skating rink in 1936. By 1939, more than 125,000 people were visiting Rockefeller Center daily; on its own, it would have been the 51st largest city in the U.S. (New York Attractions).

The Rockefeller Center also had a hand in the entertainment industry – John Hay Whitney and David O. Selznick decided to produce Gone With the Wind at this site.

The Rockefeller Center founder, John D. Rockefeller, passed away in the early years of 1960, but his ideas and vision for the Rockefeller Center continued their operations to align with the philanthropic ways Rockefeller envisioned. Later that decade, with the Cold War escalating, Rockefeller Center initiated a shelter program and stocked their basements with supplies for the community. The dream of entertainment also continued to flourish throughout the sixties. Radio City continued to set records with multiple shows, most famously The Odd Couple. Wait lists to rent at the Rockefeller Center grew rapidly, developers decided to expand themselves, covering even more of midtown Manhattan (Krinsky).

The 1970s brought hard times on the premier “city within a city.” A real estate slump left the Rockefeller Center with more vacancies than ever before. Yet after the sluggish decade, the Rockefeller Center came back with the roaring ‘80s. A prosperous economy led Rockefeller Center to enter the Stock Exchange which allowed the public the opportunity to become investors in the monumental project. The start of the 1990’s was a continuation of the previous decade. Frank Sinatra headlined countless shows in the Radio City Music Hall. Although it seemed that the institution was on the upswing. The mid-nineties, brought another tough stretch for the Rockefeller Center. Another real estate slump moved the center into Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Less than two years later, a new group acquired the complex leaving the bankruptcy bump in the review mirror. Goldman Sachs, Tishman Speyer, and David Rockefeller all purchased in controlling ownership of Rockefeller Center opening the door for many possible expansions in the future (New York Attractions).

Today, nearly a million people walk through the Rockefeller Center every year. Even with the increased growth, the current owners strive to exhibit the original visions of John D. Rockefeller’s. Jerry I. Speyer, the CEO, released the following statement regarding the current state and mission of the Rockefeller Center. The main goal of the center is to allow,“New Yorkers and visitors to appreciate and experience major pieces of art in a public forum.”

Some of the big events that still takes place is the annual art unveiling, a highly anticipated event each year. Some of the biggest works include Louise Bourgeouis’ bronze Spiders spectacle, Agnes Winter’s Monument to Smile exhibition, and Takashi Murakami’s Reverse Double Helix display. This century has been filled with amazing masterpieces. Also, in an effort to contribute to the environment, the complex installed over 350 solar panels around the institution. Other renovations include the reopening of the Observation Deck, or as it is commonly called, the Top of the Rock. So much has happened under the new management so far, it is almost guaranteed there is more to come.

The center has developed as a complete underground network of retailers and stores, the Concourse at Rockefeller Center is a destination unto itself. The Concourse at Rockefeller Center. There is also an excellent opportunity to dive into the amazing history and breathtaking artistry of New York’s most famous landmark with our guided tour (New York Attractions).

This entity is very much a for profit institution. As the mission is to continue with the philanthropic ways of its original founder, the current owners are still competing to raise as much capital as possible to continue to grow the Center’s operation. The center is full of restaurants and attractions to help accomplish just that. The main attractions today are the incredible works of art in the Rock. The view from the top of the Observatory Deck far surpasses anything in Manhattan. Lastly, one can take the opportunity to skate on the ice rink, tour the Channel Gardens or even the Radio City Music Hall.

This truly is a city within a city that can provide endless hours, or perhaps even days, of activities for anyone who wants to walk through. I hope I have the opportunity to do just that when I visit New York this semester.

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