The Center Magazine
Buy Tickets
Back to Stories

Rockefeller Center Turns 85

By Karen HudesMay 16 2018

Rockefeller Center celebrates a milestone this month, marking its 85th anniversary since opening its doors in May 1933. An architectural feat that prevailed despite the Great Depression, employing over 40,000 people during those lean years, it's a gem of urban design from its centerpiece tower (the RCA Building, now known as 30 Rock) to the Plaza, Promenade and Concourse. According to writer Brendan Gill, "Rockefeller Center amounts to an extended family of buildings, none of which, though they grow older, appears to grow old."

John D. Rockefeller Jr. initially planned the development as the new home for the Metropolitan Opera, but after the stock market crash of 1929, the Opera bowed out of the project and Rockefeller funded it himself, making it one of the most ambitious private construction projects ever undertaken. (Rockefeller's fortune was amassed by his father, John D. Sr., who co-founded Standard Oil and became the richest person in America.) The design took shape with the influence of figures including architect Raymond Hood, Radio City Music Hall designer Donald Deskey, and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, founder of MoMA and wife of John D. Jr., who advocated for Art Deco modernism and helped the Center become home to over 100 works of public art. The forward-looking planners envisioned Rockefeller Center as a grand public space, a commercial center and a media hub, and it still fulfills all of those roles, from its restaurants, shops and businesses to the world-famous skating rink and Christmas Tree (a tradition started by Rock Center's workers in 1931), to NBC Studios, where fans flock for tours and tapings.

Click through the slideshow above to see the construction of the Center, including images with the Empire State Building and St. Patrick's Cathedral in the backdrop, and photos showing some of the earliest visitors to the observation deck (later relaunched as Top of the Rock), as well as the first-class team of guides who staffed it. Learn about the buildings' construction workers, and take a tour of Rockefeller Center to discover more of its history, art and architecture.

Share this Story:
Back to all Stories



Seasonal Pop-Up Shops Debut

The new stores at Rockefeller Center have something for everyone, whether it’s the softest slippers, a plate of fresh pasta, sweet treats, or the perfect gift for the guy in your life.


Brand New and On-Brand

Shopping feels more New York than ever, thanks to the RC CAPSULE Program that welcomes unique emerging and expanding brands to Rock Center. Meet RC CAPSULE’s first residents, Steven Alan and Jill Lindsey, who curate their collections with love.

The Center Newsletter

Need more information on Top of the Rock? Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor.

Learn More

Share your experience.

Use #RainbowRoom, #RainbowRoomNYC, #BarSixtyFive, or #RockEats.
Sign up for our newsletter
Subscribe Now
Follow Us
Download the App
Only Here
Top of the Rock
Plan Your VisitMap & DirectionsContact UsGift ShopFAQs
© Rockefeller Center 2020 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED