General Electric Building
Originally known as the RCA Victor Building, the General Electric Building is a skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. This prominent landmark has a stunning Art Deco facade with some Gothic elements. The General Electric Building has been used as an office space since opening in the 1930s.
The GE Building is the centerpiece of the entire Rockefeller Center Complex. This Art Deco skyscraper was known as the RCA Building until 1988 and it is the 9th tallest building in NYC, the 32nd tallest in the United States, and the 60th tallest building in the world. It was built in the 1930s for the Radio Corporation of America. It is also popularly referred to as “30 Rock” and is among the grandest and most dazzling buildings on the Manhattan skyline.
In spite of its somewhat bulky limestone base, the GE building is typified by a larger-than-life grace. In fact, the chunky base earned the building yet another nickname “The Slab.” When it was constructed this 70-story building was considered to be quite modern for its time. It had a contemporary open lobby and an escalator connecting the ground floor to lower-level shops, a novelty back then.
Architecture and Design
The General Electric Building has an official architectural height of 640 feet. Extracted from local quarries, the terra cotta facade is combined with bricks in a salmon pink finish. Granite in a light rose hue is integrated into the base of this historic skyscraper.
The most notable decorative element of the General Electric Building is the Gothic crown that mimics cathedrals and churches of Medieval Europe. These traditional, religious-inspired outlines symbolize modern radio technology. After all, RCA Victor was one of the top brands for radios in the early 20th century. A clock with GE’s signature recursive label is installed above the main entrance of the building. The lobby of the General Electric Building has vaults, arches, and other intricate outlines that epitomize the height of the Art Deco style.
The Rockefellers were fond of providing guidance to commissioned artists and in keeping with the tradition of the ’30s, they hired a philosopher to do so. The Rockefeller complex showcases more than 100 pieces of original art, and some of the best works are on display at 30 Rock. For an art lover, this place is a veritable paradise.
Of interest is the sculptural relief over the plaza-side entrance by Lee Lawrie. It depicts a very fierce-looking Zeus in limestone and glass and it is highly allegorical in nature. There is also a message sculpted below the relief that states “Wisdom and Knowledge shall be the stability of thy times.” It is an excerpt from the Biblical book of Isaiah.
The black and beige lobby originally had a mural designed and painted by left-winged artists Diego Rivera and Ben Shahn. It depicted Lenin as a worker’s leader, which was considered to be too controversial. That’s why it was replaced with a more appropriate painting that featured Ralph Waldo Emerson, Abe Lincoln, and some other less controversial and more popular figures by Jose Maria Sert. Other pieces of art that are particularly striking are Paul Manship’s famous gilded statue of Prometheus bringing fire to mankind and another sculpture by Lee Lawrie depicting Atlas supporting the earth.
Today, this historical building houses most of NBC’s New York studios, including the home of Saturday Night Live, Studio 8H. You can join a tour to get a sneak peek into the NBC Studios which are conducted every day at fifteen-minute intervals
As one of the most successful electronics companies in the United States, RCA Victor was eager to set up a strong presence in the heart of New York City. This corporation chose Midtown Manhattan as the ideal location for a new office. By the late 1920s, the firm finalized plans for the construction of a skyscraper that would be one of the tallest and most splendid in North America.
The site of the project was designated near St. Bartholomew’s Church, an Episcopal entity that was built in 1903. Based in NYC, Cross & Cross was chosen to design the RCA Victor Building. This local architectural firm applied Art Deco and Gothic elements to the high-rise property. In 1931, the stunning RCA Victor Building was ready for commercial use. This spectacular edifice rivaled the Art Deco facades of the Empire State Building and Chrysler Building, which were also built in the 1930s.
The General Electric Building was officially renamed after RCA Victor relocated to the Rockefeller Plaza. In fact, General Electric was the parent company of this iconic electronics brand that dominated the American market for decades. It’s also important to distinguish the General Electric Building from 30 Rockefeller Plaza, which was once known as the GE Building. As the official address, 570 Lexington Avenue is commonly used to clarify any ambiguous references involving the General Electric Building.
In 1985, the City of New York officially designated the skyscraper as a landmark. The property was also recognized by the National Register of Historic Places approximately 20 years after earning landmark status.
Visiting GE Building
The General Electric Building stands at the corner of Lexington Avenue and East 51st Street. Served by the 4 and 6 trains of the New York City Subway, the 51st Street station is situated directly below this historic skyscraper. Both of these rapid transit lines connect Midtown Manhattan and the Upper East Side. Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) buses stop at the intersection of East 50th Street and Lexington Avenue. These roads have one-way traffic patterns, but the adjacent Park Avenue accommodates vehicles heading northbound and southbound. Street parking near the General Electric Building is limited, so you’ll need to find indoor garages in the vicinity. Due to heavy traffic and occasional closures for construction, the streets and avenues surrounding the skyscraper might not be good stopping points for taxis and other hired vehicles for private transport.
30 Rockefeller Plaza, between 49th and 50th Streets
Location: 570 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY
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