8 Historic Treasures Hidden In Plain Sight Around Rockefeller Center
When you plan your visit to see the Christmas Spectacular, you’ll find that there’s plenty of art and culture to experience around Rockefeller Center. Whether you’re a native New Yorker or it’s your first time in the Big Apple, when you’re in a city that’s this rich in history, there are bound to be quite a few unique hidden treasures. From art deco gems at Radio City Music Hall to tiny treasures concealed in Grand Central Terminal, here are eight of our favorite hidden gems housed around the national historic landmark:
Don’t miss viewing these beautifully manicured gardens on the top of Rockefeller Center before or after the show! Envisioned as a scenic amenity for Rockefeller Center, the gardens on the rooftops (each formal garden is roughly 12,000 square feet and includes privet hedges, rectangular lawn and a shallow pool) were part of architect Raymond Hood’s original 1930 scheme. While the gardens have been closed to the public since 1938, you can spot three of them from the Top of the Rock Observation Deck at Rockefeller Center.
Located in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, Paley Park, which has an abundance of honey locust trees, a 20-foot waterfall and benches perfect for a quick break from the buzz of the city, is full of rich history. Tucked away in the plaza behind 520 Madison Ave. at 53rd St., there are five, 12-foot-high, 20-foot-long remnants of the Berlin Wall. On display since 1990 (in September 2014, they were removed for restoration work!), the artifacts, painted by German artists Thierry Noir and Kiddy City in September 1985, were originally located along the Waldemarstrasse in Berlin Kreuzberg.
Rockefeller Center is rich in art deco motifs and sculptures that signify man’s development in spirit, science, industry, art and more over the years. Placed high up on the south façade of our home, Radio City Music Hall, there are three large decorative plaques that represent the theater’s main activities: dance, drama and song. Each piece of art is 18-feet in diameter and is a combination of carbon steel, copper, aluminum, enamel and gold and silver gilding. Designed and created by sculptor and muralist, Hildreth M. Meière, and metalworker, Oscar B. Bach, the plaques add a historic yet playful touch to the simple limestone façade.
With over 750,000 people passing through one of America’s busiest train stations each day (and over one million during the holidays!), it can be tough to take a moment, step aside and take it all in. But that’s exactly what you should do, and especially during the holiday season when the “Centennial Holiday Light Show” is projected on Grand Central’s famous celestial ceiling over the main concourse. If you’re an eagle-eyed traveler, then you’ll notice something off about the astrological mural—it’s upside down! While some believe that painter Charles Basing was holding the depiction the wrong way when replicating it, Cornelius Vanderbilt claimed that the mural was intended to depict the way it looks from heaven rather than earth. Another hidden secret in Grand Central Terminal? Check out the Whispering Walls located in front of the Oyster Bar & Restaurant (lower level). When two people stand at the diagonal archways and whisper, they can hear each other loud and clear across the 2,000-square-foot chamber.
Look familiar? This park statue is a must-see for anyone who grew up reading Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland children’s book. The bronze piece of art was commissioned by philanthropist George Delacorte as a gift to the children of New York City in 1959, and it’s been climbed on by thousands of children over the years. The statue was created by Spanish-born American sculptor José de Creeft and shows Alice perched on the mushroom, having a tea party with the Mad Hatter and the White Rabbit, as a mouse nibbles a snack at Alice’s feet.
You don’t have to trek all the way downtown to say you “saw” the Statue of Liberty! If you visit the famed Waldorf Astoria New York, you can see a mini-Lady Liberty that rests atop the grand clock in the lobby of the hotel. While the clock was exhibited in Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, John Jacob Astor affixed a small Statue of Liberty to the top of the clock. And while you’re there, be sure to glance up at the hotel ceilings as you’re walking through to appreciate some of the 123 chandeliers made with Austrian crystals.
The Plaza first opened its doors in 1907 and is known as one of America’s most celebrated hotels, becoming a New York City landmark in 1969—the only New York City hotel to be designated as a National Historic Landmark. The Plaza served originally served as a residence for wealthy New Yorkers, including Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, but one of the most famous residents was a fictional character in children’s books, Eloise—a little girl who lives at The Plaza. If you take a stroll through the Palm Court corridor, you’ll notice Eloise’s adorable smirk looking down at you, but it’s not the original 1957 portrait by Hilary Knight—the real one mysteriously disappeared after a dance in the ballroom and was never found.
This must-visit New York City landmark opened in 1897 and is visited by about five million people each year. The historic church was created in the American Gothic Revival style, designed by the distinguished New York architect, James Renwick, Jr. While there is so much to see around the church—beautiful stained glass, statues, ornate animals depicted throughout the art—chances are, you missed the collection of red hats on the ceiling of the cathedral’s sanctuary. Located up above the cathedral’s high altar, there’s a collection of four red hats suspended from the ambulatory. Known as Galeros, the ornate wide-brimmed hats were originally given to new cardinals by the pope. Since 1969, His Holiness doesn’t issue the hats anymore, though the Cathedral continues to use them as symbolic reminders of cardinals who have died.