The gardens on Rockefeller Center's building rooftops were part of architect Raymond Hood's original 1930 scheme. There were the plans to have gardens on the roofs of all buildings and also the plans for connecting bridges between the rooftops. But it was difficult time and roof top gardens only were included only on four buildings.
On the RCA building, the small garden included a bird sanctuary, vegetable garden, rock gardens and children's garden. The garden designer Hancock called his masterpiece “The Gardens of the Nations,” taking inspiration from the styles of gardens in a number of different countries, including Holland, France, Japan, Italy and Spain. Native plants, a Zen garden, topiary, fountains, sculpture, stone walls and a winding rock garden were all part of the plan.
3,000 tons of earth, 500 tons of brick, 20,000 tulip bulbs and 2,000 trees and shrubs were lifted up 11 stories. 96,000 gallons a day were lifted by electric pump to the rooftop. Over 400 people attended the opening day on April 15, 1935, including Nelson Rockefeller and ambassadors from each of the countries represented in the gardens.
About 87,000 visitors visited RCA garden on the 11th floor deck for next 8 months. The Entry fee first was one dollar and later went down to 40 cents. So it is not surprise that the garden became non profitable and was closed in three years.
The gardens above the Palazzo d'Italia and the International Building North, designed by A.M. Van den Hoek, also survive today. The original design for these gardens included large beds of ivy, evergreen hedges, cobblestone walkways and fountains. These spaces were restricted to private use from their inception and today can only be viewed by tenants in the surrounding buildings.
The gardens on the British Empire (International) Building and La Maison Francaise, also designed by Hancock, are largely intact today. Each formal garden is roughly 12,000 square feet and includes privet hedges, rectangular lawn, and a shallow pool. Access to the gardens is rare - mostly reserved for Rockefeller employees.
Refurbished in 2013 the grand lobby features 24-foot ceilings and is an excellent space for the art exhibitions. Now on view there are the works of three artists who taught in the Liberal arts college in Bennington, Vermont college during the 1960s. The exhibition starts in the lobby and continues on the 24th floor- you just have to ask the receptionist. The exhibition is open to public Monday through Friday, 9am– 6pm,or otherwise by appointment.
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