This massive seven-ton, 15-foot tall cast bronze statue of the
colossal Titan Atlas has stood at the 630 Fifth Avenue main entrance
frontcourt to Rockefeller Plaza since it was installed in January,
1937. Conceived and designed by Lee Lawrie, and modeled by Rene
Chambellan, it depicts the story of Atlas from Greek mythology. The
largest sculptural work in Rockefeller Center, it embodies both the
Center's mythical and heroic theme as well as its Art Deco style.
Atlas, brother of Prometheus, was a Titan--one of the race of half-god half-man giants who warred against Zeus and the Olympic gods. After their defeat, Atlas was condemed to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders for his role in the uprising. The world is represented by an armillary spehere with the north-south axis poitning to the North Star. Affixed to one of the sphere's rings are symbols for twelve constellations through which the Sun passes during the year. Laid across his shoulders is a wide, curved beam that displays a frieze of the traditional symbols for Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Adjacent to Earth (over Atlas's right forearm) is a small crescent symbolizing the Moon. Atlas is depicted with exaggerated musculature and a stylized body, characteristic of Art Deco style. His face, deeply furrowed, Atlas stands perched atop a simple 9-foot granite pedestal--knees bent, with one leg overhanging, emphasizing the great burden he was made to carry. The warm brown patina not only draws attention, but contrasts against the white limestone of its background buildings. The pedestal is uniquely placed so that its corner faces off against Fifth Avenue to give the illusion of flow and space.
German-born Lee Lawrie was well known as an architectural sculptor. His work can be found at St. Thomas Church and throughout Rockefeller Center: Wisdom, flanked on the left by Light and on the right by Sound at 30 Rockefeller Plaza; Winged Mercury and Heraldic Lions at the British Empire Building; Fleur-de-lis and Seeds of Good Citizenship at La Maison Française; Progress at One Rockefeller Plaza; The Story of Mankind, Saint Francis of Assisi, Swords into Plowshares, Columbia Greeting a Woman, Boatman, Fourteen coats of Arms, and Corncucopia of Plenty at the International building.
Rene Paul Chambellan, an architectural modeler and sculptor, was born in 1893 in West Hoboken. He was one of the foremost practitioners of what was then called the French Modern Style and has subsequently been labeled Zig-Zag Moderne, or Art Deco. His sculpture adorns landmarks like the American Radiator Building, the Chicago Tribune Building, the New York Life Insurance Building, Carew Tower, the Chanin Building, Beekman Tower and the Daily News Building. His other pieces around Rockefeller Center include the decorative drain covers and fountainhead sculptures in the Channel Gardens, the Motifs from the Coats of Arms of the British Isles and Pageant of French History.
The GE Building at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, was completed in 1933 as the centerpiece of the Rockefeller Center complex. Designed by Raymond Hood and The Associated Architects, the 860-foot, 70-story Art Deco skyscraper was originally named the RCA Building for its main tenant, the Radio Corporation of America, formed in 1919 by General Electric. Today it is most famous as the headquarters and New York studios of the television network, the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), also owned by GE. After RCA was reacquired (and split up) by GE in 1986, the building was renamed two years later.
"30 Rock" looks dramatically different when viewing its narrow and wide facades. From 5th Avenue it is an elegant, narrow shaft while looking down 6th Avenue it forms an enormous slab. It was the first building constructed with the elevators grouped in the central core. During construction, photographer Charles Clyde Ebbets took the famous photograph Lunchtime atop a Skyscraper on the 69th floor. Unlike most other tall Art-Deco buildings constructed in the 1930s, the GE Building has no spire on its roof. A shopping concourse, accessible from the lobby, sits below the building. The top floor of the building is an event room and restaurant named the Rainbow Room. The observation deck atop the building, "Top of the Rock," which had been closed since 1986 to accommodate the renovation of the Rainbow Room and reopened to the public in 2005, is built to resemble the deck of an ocean liner.
The Art Deco decoration of the building follows heroic and mythical themes glorifying modernity. In the niche above the main entrance is Lee Lawrie's sculptural group, consisting of Wisdom, flanked on the left by www.flickr.com/photos/wallyg/451875425/.
Rockefeller Center was designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1985.
In 2007, Rockefeller Center was ranked #56 on the AIA 150 America's Favorite Architecture list.
Rockefeller Center National Register #87002591 (1987)