Secrets of Rockefeller Center
Rockefeller Center is one of NYC’s top tourist attractions, but even locals will be surprised by these secrets. Most NYC tourists know about the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, the Rink at Rockefeller Center, and Top of the Rock. A few lucky NYC tourists may have snagged a ticket to a taping of Saturday Night Live or stood outside to witness a taping of the Today Show. New Yorkers may have enjoyed a cocktail date at the Rockefeller Center’s Rainbow Room or dined on sushi at Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar. As these savvy travelers take in the bright lights of the city, they walk right past these clues to Rockefeller Center’s past, missing some of the Big Apple’s most exquisite history. Keep reading to impress your friends on your next visit to NYC’s Rockefeller Center.
THE LAST RIVET
Rockefeller Center was famously constructed during the Great Depression. In fact, it was one of the largest employers in NYC during the Great Depression, creating over 75,000 construction jobs. More than ten million rivets were used to create the massive complex, which, at the time, comprised 14 buildings. On November 1, 1939, the final rivet of Rockefeller Center was hammered into place, and it was quite the dramatic event. The rivet was made from silver alloy. The hammer that secured it in place weighed 60 pounds. John D. Rockefeller Jr. was there, and it was him that swung the hammer driving the ceremonial rivet into place. The event was even broadcast live on the radio!
Visitors can still see this final rivet, encased in glass for public viewing. It’s a secret most New Yorkers today don’t know about. To find the final rivet, walk into the lobby of 1230 Avenue of the Americas. There is a column in the middle of the lobby. A metal plaque bearing John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s name surrounds a tiny illuminated peep hole. Peek into the peep hole, and you’ll see the final rivet, with John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s name etched into it.
It’s fitting that John D. Rockefeller Jr. hammered the final rivet into place. Rockefeller Center was his idea and bears his name. He deserved to have the final word on Rockefeller Center as well.
Thousands of people pass through Channel Gardens every day and are completely unaware of the area’s name. As you approach 30 Rockefeller Plaza from Fifth Avenue, you pass through Channel Gardens, flanked on either side by regal buildings. The north building is called the British Empire Building. The south building is called La Maison Francaise. These two buildings represent England and France. The body of water separating England and France is called the English Channel. Thus, the path between the British Empire Building and La Maison Francaise is called Channel Gardens. The next time you see the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, you can amaze your friends with this NYC trivia.
Anyone who has seen the Rink at Rockefeller Center is familiar with the giant gold statue that watches over skaters. The statue is called Prometheus. In Greek mythology, Prometheus stole fire from the gods and brought it to humans. This act defied the wishes of Zeus, who punished Prometheus.
While Prometheus is one of the most recognizable structures at Rockefeller Center, many visitors miss that an art deco carving of Zeus is looming behind him. This depiction of Zeus, called Wisdom, is seen above the entrance of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. If you stand in Channel Gardens and look at the engraving of Zeus, you’ll notice it’s positioned over Prometheus in such a way it looks as though Zeus is in the process of doling out his punishment and banishing Prometheus from Mount Olympus. It’s a small yet powerful detail.
On the Sixth Avenue side of Rockefeller Center, there are two small townhouses flanking either side of 30 Rock. One of them is currently occupied by the world-renowned Magnolia Bakery. These townhouses are leftover from the era before Rockefeller Center. When John D. Rockefeller Jr. bought the land to construct Rockefeller Center, the owners of these townhouses refused to sell. One was even quoted as saying, “I’ve seen sonofabitchin’ Rockers come and sonofabitchin’ Rockefellers go and no sonabitchin Rockefeller’s gonna tear down my bar.” The bar referenced was Hurley’s, which would later be transformed into Pebble Bar by former SNL cast member Pete Davidson.
Surrounding the Rink at Rockefeller Center are 193 flagpoles. On a normal day, each flagpole displays the flag of one of the 193 Member States that comprise the United Nations. When you visit, see if you can find the flag of your home country.
On certain American holidays, such as Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, each flag pole bears an American flag.
On holidays such as Christmas, decorative flags will be raised. The Christmas flags are usually gold and silver.
This coming April will see the annual Rockefeller Center Flag Project. Artists of all skill levels are invited to design a flag inspired by their favorite NYC food memory. Submissions are due March 2nd. 193 designs will be chosen and turned into flags to fly around Rockefeller Center. It’s a wonderful opportunity to engage with the city in a truly unique way.
Another wonderful, unique New York experience is to put a photo on an illuminated Times Square Billboard. You can do this for just $150. Visit timessquarebillboard.com to learn more. The billboard is located just a few blocks from Rockefeller Center and is sure to impress just as much as these Rockefeller Center secrets.