Everybody knows the General Electric Building, the iconic structure that stands as a towering focal point of the Rockefeller Center building complex. (Or at least everybody thinks they do) Yet the other night while skyline-gazing on the magnificent rooftop of The Palace I discovered what turns out to be the original G.E. building – one of the most impressive examples of Byzantine-influenced Art Deco in the city – just a few short blocks away to the east.
It was easy to get distracted by the southern view, which captured both the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings in one sweeping panorama. However, looking to the east I quickly became enamored of the tall building on the corner of 51st and Lexington with Art Deco detailing in a warm rosy granite and an astounding Gothic latticework roof of carytids and sunbursts. Thanks to the wonders of iPhone, I learned the 1931 skyscraper was first the home of RCA Victor, before becoming the General Electric Building.
Tucked in and behind St. Bart’s church, which fronts Park Avenue, the tower serves as an almost unofficial campanile, complementing the warm color of the church’s stonework while rising high above it. It’s an unusual move for a commercial building and a very early example of contextual design. And though by today’s standards the lobby would be considered small and sedate, there is a refined beauty in the details of intricately vaulted ceilings and polished pink marble walls.
Even the subway entrance outside the building has a flash of Deco extravagance. Plus, notice the attention to detail afforded the glass lighting fixtures along the perimeter. Occupying such a small plot of land, the slim tower is adorned with a quantity of decorative detail that belies the building’s significance – which makes it the very quintessence of civic romance.