Any trip to Manhattan usually includes a stop at Fifth Avenue. Usually this involves shopping, as this large thoroughfare is known for its numerous upscale (read: expensive) offerings.
Fifth Avenue isn’t all about shoes and clothing, though, so you can put your wallet back in your pocket. This street is one of the world’s architectural wonders, and features many buildings you’ve probably seen on TV and in the movies. So put on your learning cap and come along with us as we explore some of Fifth Avenue’s historic buildings—make sure you bring your camera!
Even if you’ve never been to New York, you’re probably familiar with the Rockefeller Center. The GE Building, which sits right in the middle of the 19-building complex, is featured in the opening credits of “30 Rock,” and tends to be at least fleetingly featured in any show centered in NYC.
That said, if your only contact with the area has been through Liz Lemon, you may be wondering, “What is the Rockefeller Center?”
John D. Rockefeller, Jr.—yes, of those Rockefellers—started building up the area in 1930. He initially wanted to build an opera house, but when that deal fell through, he started constructing the giant plaza anyway. It’s become an NYC centerpiece, and is home to a lot more than just 30 Rock, a.k.a. the GE Building. If you’re a fan of Tina Fey’s “30 Rock,” you may recognize the name and the building from the opening credits and some of the show’s storylines. The GE Building isn’t all there is to the Rockefeller Center, though it may be the most famous; the area also hosts Radio City Music Hall is there, along with the Simon & Schuster Building, and a bunch of other big, important companies that we won’t get into.
You can tour some of the buildings, including 30 Rock, but please note that Jack Donaghy won’t be there. Remember to take a picture with the statue of Atlas!
Just a few blocks south of Rockefeller Center is the New York Public Library. You’ve seen this building before, even if you don’t realize it. Jake Gyllenhaal burned books for warmth in it during “The Day After Tomorrow,” and the Ghostbusters fought one of their first spooks in the movie of the same name. Ringing a bell now? Good!
The New York Public Library’s history is pretty simple: Its creators wanted a striking, imposing branch. The structure itself looks like it belongs in some Greco-Roman epic, though its interiors could probably fit into the RMS Titanic (both the library and the infamous ship were under construction in 1911, when varnished woods and fancy chandeliers were the bee’s knees).
Obligatory photo op: Get a shot with one (or both) of the library’s lions, which guard the building from evildoers and/or book thieves. Patience and Fortitude, as they are so named, have been around since the library was constructed, and looking majestic is just second nature to them by now.
Last but not least, we come to the Empire State Building, located about six blocks south of the library. The ESB, which shares its initials with “The Empire Strikes Back,” is on the corner of Fifth Avenue and W. 33rd St.
The history of the Empire State Building could fill out several blogs, so we’ll just give you the background. When completed in 1931, it was the tallest building in the world, and maintained that title until 1970. It’s an art deco masterpiece that stands a whopping 1,454 feet tall when you count its impressive spire.
We’ll leave you with a story about the ESB’s observation deck, which is on the 102nd floor. A native New Yorker recalled visiting with her family when she was a child, and sharing the elevator down with a uniformed staff member who held a pigeon in his hands. The bird, he explained, had landed on the observation deck, took one look at how far down the ground was, and promptly refused to fly down. Apparently it happened often.
“And that,” she concluded, “is how I learned birds can be afraid of heights, too.”
There’s lots more to this fabled stretch of street than just the buildings we talked about here, but why not do yourself a favor and visit it on your own? Walk or drive around, see the sights, and explore the city. Fifth Avenue is waiting for you!