Recently, OHNY staff had the opportunity to attend a tour of Rockefeller Center, with a focus on the architecture and history of this New York City landmark. Everyone knows Rockefeller Center for their Christmas Tree and skating rink, but our tour focused on the extensive artwork and architectural details throughout the 14 building complex, as well as the history of the Rockefeller family.

Opened in 1933, Rockefeller Center is unique in that the complex was one of the first to incorporate artwork throughout, highlighting the progress of man and new frontiers. Rockefeller Center features over 100 major sculptures, murals, metalwork and enamels. The facade is made of Indiana limestone and many of the artworks reflects the Art Deco style. As our tour guide pointed out during our tour, the artist Lee Lawrie’s work is very prominently featured throughout Rockefeller Center, both interior murals and exterior bas reliefs and sculptures.

Lee Lawrie relief

The murals that cover the walls of the expansive lobby at 30 Rockefeller Center were completed by Frank Brangwyn, Jose Maria Sert and Diego Rivera, who were selected by competition. The sepia tint of the murals give them an almost unfinished feeling, but they all have very grandiose titles, such as “Man’s Intellectual Mastery of the Material Universe,” and “Man’s Conquest of the Material World.”


Diego Rivera mural

The story behind these murals was one of the most interesting parts of the tour — Rivera, a Communist, had been suggested for the competition by John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s son, Nelson, whose mother had previously commissioned portraits from the artist. When it was discovered that Rivera’s mural, “Man at the Crossroads Looking with Uncertainty but with Hope and High Vision to the Choosing of a Course Heading to a New and Better Future,” featured a laborer who looked a lot like Lenin, Rivera was dismissed from the project. The mural was destroyed and never unveiled to the public, instead it was replaced by Sert’s “Man’s Conquests.”

Lawrie's Atlas

One of the last stops on the tour was Lawrie’s Atlas statue, located in the entrance court of the International Building facing St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Although all of us had been to Rockefeller Center many times before, it was nice to stop and actually look at the many artistic and architectural details this time. Many thanks to Tishman Speyer, for arranging our tour!

Rockefeller Center
1250 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY

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