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30 Rock: 1933

New York. December 5, 1933. "Rockefeller Center and RCA Building from 515 Madison Avenue." Digital image recovered from released emulsion layer of the original 5x7 acetate negative. Gottscho-Schleisner photo. View full size.

New York. December 5, 1933. "Rockefeller Center and RCA Building from 515 Madison Avenue." Digital image recovered from released emulsion layer of the original 5x7 acetate negative. Gottscho-Schleisner photo. View full size.


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Today’s Top 5

Vanderbilt Triple Palace

A long time since this was posted, but I am surprised no one recognized the southern half of the iconic, brownstone-clad Vanderbilt Triple Palaces in the foreground (640 Fifth Avenue), just opposite the lower edge of the excavated building site.

The northern half, with two residences, had been sold, demolished & replaced a long time ago, but the southern half stood until 1947 (Grace Wilson Vanderbilt continued entertaining in her usual style until WWII).

The entrance vestibule to the three residences featured a nine foot tall Russian malachite vase, once given by Emperor Nicholas I of Russia to Nicholas Demidoff, now on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art a couple of dozen blocks north on Fifth.

Rock Rink

The not-yet-built skating rink is in front of the building. The empty space became 630 Fifth Avenue, where a statue of Atlas stands.

Amazing Execution and Restoration

I agree with "Don't get much Better" ! This is as good as it can get for B&W. The exposure is so right-on and this in 1933!! Is this a "night" shot.. there is a lot of ambient light. Simply Amazing. I want it!

Design Continuum of Bertram Goodhue

The proximity of St. Patrick's Cathedral to the newly constructed tower by Raymond Hood brought to mind two "bookends" to the unfulfilled career of Bertram Goodhue. During his early apprenticeship he undoubtedly worked on the St. Patrick's Cathedral, in Renwick's office, which greatly influenced his early career and success. The tower (30 Roc) represents what might have been...rather what should have been the end result of Goodhue's tragically shortened career (ending in 1924). Hood's career, which began to emerge after Goodhue's death is far better known, but is greatly in his debt. Hood's 1922 Tribune Tower clearly displays this link, as a practitioner of the neo-gothic style. Much of Hood's gothic detail is a through-back to design ideas that by 1922, Goodhue had already left behind.

Goodhue was by this time already synthesizing elements of european modernism into an new original american idiom. Goodhue's last major projects were already working out the language of the modern/deco skyscraper; (the Nebraska State capital and Los Angles Public Library the best examples.) Goodhue's unique career was the crucible where concepts of romantic imagery of the Gothic, the sublime juxtapositions of minimal ornament on architectonic massing was being forged with modern construction technology. A close study of his career and work will show that not only Hood, but other notable architects of the era built upon the rigorous and expansive explorations that Goodhue was beginning to fuse at the end of his life.

*It is also curious to me that Hugh Ferris is credited with so much of these innovative design ideas; no doubt he was a super talented delineator, his freelance services were utilized by many architects of the time including Goodhue. Some of his famous massing studies (sketches) owe much to Goodhue's late work.

30 Rock in Living Color

That's a lovely photo, and it's nice to see the perspective so close to that of the original.

Tipster's Photo

Stunning, but in a different way than Gottscho's. It helps when the subject is beautiful.

30 Rock 09

Here's the view today made with a 4x5 view camera, farther back seen through the St. Patrick's spires and somewhat higher than the 1933 photo. Lots more buildings now. I was doing an interior architectural shoot, and went out on the terrace of a wedding-cake building on Madison Avenue. It was after midnight. Not much wind. Strangely quiet.

As an architectural photographer I have great admiration for these Gottscho pictures.

30 Rock

Is the excavated area where the skating rink is? I've been there once and it is very magical. Right across the street from the "Today" studio.

I worked here

I worked here in the 1960s for the "Tonight" show unit as as a production assistant for Dick Carson, brother of Johnny Carson. An attractive, dark-haired woman named Barbara Walters was working at the "Today" show at the same time. She is about 10 years older than I am.

I also worked with the News department for a time. I was in the elevator with David Brinkley coming back from lunch when I learned that President Kennedy had been shot. We stayed up all Friday night and most of Saturday assembling film footage for a retrospective of JFK's life. When we weren't editing, we were visiting St. Patrick's Cathedral to light candles with others in the crowd.

That's an absolutely amazing photo. I'm going to link this to other New Yorkers and broadcasters who might be interested.

Thanks for all your work.


Ellen Kimball
Portland, OR

It may be calm now...

I have a feeling that all hell is about to break loose -- this picture was taken the day Prohibition was repealed.

In Your Mind's Eye

You can smell and feel the air and hear the traffic.

Gotta love those whitewalls!

On the convertible by the front door. Double O's. Looks like it's ready to go somewhere in a hurry.

I am in love with this photograph

Exquisite doesn't even begin to describe it.

City of the gods

In 1933, my father was a seven-year-old living up Lick Branch Hollow in the Ozark Mountains. He would read books by kerosene light in the evenings. His family kept butter and milk (and Uncle Linus' hooch) in the cold spring-fed creek outside their house. It's astonishing to think he could have boarded a train and eventually arrived in this city of the gods, only a thousand miles away.


Is the Garden Patio still across the street from the skylights?

Send this to Christopher Nolan

Here's the art direction for the next Batman sequel.

Beautifully put!

I'm sure Samuel Gottscho would have been very gratified to know thoughtful and eloquent people like Bob H would be appreciating his work in the 21st century.

The Singularity of the Moment

This is an amazing photograph.

As one earlier contributor observed, the pure technical aspects of the black and white composition are fabulous. The spread of detailed gray shadows and whites make this photo almost magical. It has the qualities of an Ansel Adams zone photograph that makes his work so arresting.

But what really makes this photograph dramatic is what it reveals about New York City in 1933.

A vision of the future of large cities, bustling twenty four hours a day and electrified. Today visions such as these can be seen on any continent in any large city. It has become the norm. But in 1933 there were only two places in the world that looked like this: New York City and Chicago.

One can vicariously put oneself into the shoes of some kid from rural America or from Europe setting on Manhattan Island and seeing visions such as these for the first time. I can only guess it had the same effect as it had on 14th-century peasants in France, visiting Paris for the first time and entering the nave of the Notre Dame Cathedral.

Time machine

I admire NY photos of the 1950s. And now I see that many of the buildings in NY I admire already were erected in early 1930s! What a discovery. What a shot.

Ethereal, Powerful

There have been many photos on this site that have impressed and pleased me, but this one is one of my favorites. Absolute magic. It's the quintessence of the power and style of 1930s design.

Samuel H. Gottscho

I'd never heard of him, but one look at this photo and I'm instantly a fan. This image is nothing short of spectacular.


Two of my favorite photos on Shorpy consist of those like this one, showing the immense power of a huge city, even in the depths of the Depression, and those of small towns, especially when patriotic holidays were still celebrated.

The Future Is Now

Interesting that this photograph looks into a future in which many of the same buildings are still with us. At far left midground is the tower of Raymond Hood's American Standard Building. Next to it, with the illuminated sign on top, is the New Yorker Hotel (now Sun Myung Moon's) where Nikola Tesla spent the last ten years of his life. At center is the N.Y. Times Building with its flagpole convenient for deploying the New Year's Eve ball. And last, but not least, the Paramount Building topped by a globe and illuminated clock which is about as close to the Hudsucker Building as could hope to be seen. Of these four only the appearance Times Building has changed to any extent. A wonderful slice of time.

I am amazed

The detail in the spires at St. Paul's Patrick's is fantastic. The amount of work that went into that building must have been enormous. I am very grateful not to have been on the crew detailed to put the crosses atop the spires!


What a totally wonderful image, Sat here slack jawed at the incredible detail and the superb composition.

Very neat picture...

Can you give us an idea of what it looked like before it was restored?

[There's an example here. - Dave]

What Gets Me

Looking at this photo - and it looks spectacular on my new monitor - is the sky. It has a sort of foggy twilight quality that is difficult to put into words but which emphasizes the the "star" of the photo - the RCA Building - and its nearby consorts or supporting cast over the buildings in the background which seem to fad into the mist.

The building seems like the height of modernity, and one can easily imagine a couple of kids from Cleveland named Siegel and Shuster seeing this and making it a model for the cities of the doomed planet Krypton.

Time stopped

Is it 2:25am or 5:10am?

Can you spot the clock?

The Greatest

Dave, this has to be one of the greatest photos you have posted. I work around the corner, and can look out my window at 30 Rock from 6th Avenue... my building wasn't built until 1973. Thank you.


Lo mismo digo.

Hugh Ferriss

This is like the photographic equivalent of one of Hugh Ferriss' architectural drawings, coincidentally of roughly the same era.

Sign of the Cross

The double bar cross was the emblem used by the National Tuberculosis Association. Wonder if the lights were part of the campaign to fight TB.


What a wonderful, wonderful image! I love coming to Shorpy because you never know what Dave will come up with next.

Thanks so much!

American Express Building

That hole in the ground, I believe, bacame the American Express Building. If you come out of the subway at the Rockefeller Center stop, and come up on the escalator in that building, you get an incredible view of St Pat's from below, with the spectacular statue of Atlas in the foreground as well. Very cool.

Other noteworthy background details here include the Hotel Edison, and the old NY Times Building, at Times Square, before they went and utterly ruined it in the 60's by stripping all the detail off the skeleton.

And check the skylights on the roof of what I think is the Cartier store, in the foreground!

King Kong might have had a chance

...had he chosen 30 Rock instead.


The quality of this incredible photo captures the magic that New York City always longs for but seldom delivers.

Reaching New Heights

The skyscraper is 30 Rockefeller Plaza before the RCA and current GE neon signage. Not that it wasn't famous before, but the TV show "30 Rock" has made it an even more iconic. Another claim is the gigantic Christmas tree on the Plaza, between the building and the skating rink, that when illuminated kicks off the Holiday Season in NYC.

"Don't get much better"

This image is a about as close to textbook perfect BW as you will find. It contains the complete range of grays from what looks like solid black in a few places to solid white in the highlights. The camera was level and the focus was dead on. As a photographer, I am envious.
Old shooter

Take a peek

This picture makes me want to get out the binoculars and look in the windows.

Churchly And Corporate Spires

That's St. Patrick's Cathedral on the lower left, probably the only building from the 19th century left on Fifth Avenue, except for the Chancery House that's attached to it.

Both styles of architecture are very dramatic. When I was a small child, at Christmas, my family would go to the Christmas Pageant at Radio City Music Hall every year, and then attend Midnight Mass at St. Patrick's.

Ever since, I've never been able to separate religion from showbiz. Possibly because they really are the same thing.

High Drama

This marvelous building, reaching for the sky as if erupting from the ground, combines amazing delicacy, impressive size, and a feeling it is built for the ages to admire. SO much more breathtaking than today's typical glass box, although you need a view like this to really appreciate the classical lines and artful massing. A nice complement to the gothic cathedral in the foreground - a true temple of commerce!


I just can't believe how beautiful this shot is. Looks like the view from my New York Penthouse sitting there drinking martinis and listening to that new "jazz" music.

Awesome scan job.

I only wish I could see an even higher res version. Great work bringing this one back to life.

Released emulsion layer?

Dave, can you explain the technology of this image? How does an emulsion layer get released from a negative?

[This is a process used on deteriorating acetate transparencies and negatives when they've begun to shrink. The negative is placed in a chemical solution that separates the emulsion from the film base. The released emulsion layer (the pellicle) is then placed in another solution to "relax," or unwarp, it. It's kind of like disappearing your body so that only the skin is left. More here. - Dave]

Amazing view

The shot is incredible! It looks almost surreal. I love it!

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