Created by oil mogul John D. Rockefeller in 1929, Rockefeller Center is an enormous complex of ofﬁce buildings, shops, theaters, cafes, restaurants, recreation facilities, attractions and underground passageways. It spans a gigantic space in the heart of midtown, stretching east to west from 5th Avenue to 7th Avenue and north to south from 50th Street down to 47th. Almost 300,000 people work in or visit this Art Deco masterpiece every day, many of them heading straight to Radio City Music Hall, the city’s largest and most notable theater.
In 1999, to mark its 70th birthday, Radio City Music Hall underwent an enormous restoration effort aimed at updating the infrastructure and returning the structure to its past glory. The project was led by architect Hugh Hardy, who, as part of Open House New York Weekend, led visitors through the refurbished space and described how he made it sparkle again.
The scope of work was massive and the budget, originally estimated at $25,000,000, eventually topped $70,000,000. Removing seven decades of smoke and grime and repairing wear and tear was just the beginning. Some of the most demanding aspects of the project involved undoing the damage done by inept restorers and un-doing misguided attempts to “modernize” the theater.
During the project, hundreds of workmen and artisans swarmed over the building and stripped away the varnish and dirt that obscured dozens of murals, reupholstered furniture, re-silvered mirrors, installed state of the art lighting, video and audio systems, replaced damaged plasterwork, installed acres of new, custom designed carpets and hung specially woven silk curtains.
Hardy escorted the OHNY visitors upstairs and down: to a private booth high above the theater (“Please, no photos of the stage!,” he ordered), into the men’s and women’s restrooms, across the mezzanine and through the lobby, past the bar and around the sculptures until Radio City employees chased us from the premises so that they could open the doors for the next performance. The show must go on!