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Columbia University Digital Knowledge Ventures The Architecture and Development of New York City with Andrew S. Dolkart
image The Skyscraper City Rockefeller Center
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Rockefeller Center
The Plan
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The plan was very sophisticated. You would move from Fifth Avenue down a major promenade, and it would take you to a sunken plaza—now an ice-skating rink but originally a shopping plaza. From there you would go underground through shopping arcades. Then you would go to Sixth Avenue where the subway was, or if you did not want to go underground, you could walk along the streets, as all the buildings would have shops along the street. So you would be spending money in the shops as you went along, and you would have all this office space that was being rented to corporations.

Rockefeller pitched this new complex to two different kinds of businesses. He was very interested in the idea that you could have world peace through international trade, so he hoped to attract a lot of companies involved in international trade. The small buildings on Fifth Avenue were going to be given over to the great economic powers of Europe. There would be a British Building, a French Building, an Italian Building, and a German Building. And the tall building behind would be known as the International Building; it would be for the offices of trade organizations from other countries all over the world. His other interest was in technology, especially in communications technology. He hoped to be able to rent space to modern, up-to-date technology companies, so RCA, the Radio Corporation of America, was an obvious tenant for him. And he was able to attract RCA to move into the tallest building in the complex. This complex was built during the Depression, but Rockefeller was able to attract tenants, even though it was not fully rented. He was able to attract paying tenants because, of course, members of the Rockefeller family were on the boards of directors of a number of these corporations. So he was able to lure some of these companies to move into this new, very modern complex.

You enter the complex along the promenade, and it separates the British Empire Building from the French Building, so immediately people in New York began calling this the Channel Gardens, as if it were the English Channel separating England from France. Even to this day, although the sign at the entrance says Promenade, it is actually called by most people the Channel Gardens.

Here is a fountain with plantings in the middle. The Rockefeller group was very interested in making this complex as beautiful and dramatic as possible. But the fountain is not in the middle just for beauty. This promenade is as wide as a city street, so if there were no fountain here, you might be strolling up the middle of the street, which meant you were not window shopping and you were not going into the stores. So this is placed right in the middle so that when you walk down this promenade, you are close to the shops, and so that you have to see what is for sale in these shops, and hopefully you will go in and spend some money. You are also on axis here with the RCA Building, the tallest, most dramatic building in the complex.

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