A garden for the Rockettes! That’s the big revelation in the plans for Radio City Music Hall, approved with enthusiasm by the Landmarks Preservation Commission last week. In these renderings, the roof over Radio City’s auditorium is covered nearly from end-to-end with greenery and winding paths, and it’s accessible not only through the theater’s building itself but also from the Sixth Avenue tower next door, via a nifty little eighth-floor skybridge that will be built through what was, up to this point, a couple of windows. The commission’s Frederick Bland called it “a great affirmation,” and given that barely a generation ago, Radio City Music Hall itself was on the verge of demolition because it seemed obsolete, it’s hard to argue.
Even on rigid preservationist grounds, it’s a plan with legs. When the early renderings for Rockefeller Center were shown in 1932, the rooftops and setbacks of nearly all the buildings were covered in greenery, and quite a few of those gardens were actually built. Some were not intended as functional spaces for office workers to visit: They were visual gardens, meant purely to provide relief as one gazed down from an office window on high. But others were usable, and they were all over the complex, even on the narrow setbacks of the RCA — later GE, now Comcast — Building. The garden around the 11th floor of the tower was particularly lavish. (One of the RCA Building’s rooftops, over by Sixth Avenue, had a semicircular fountain, and it’s still up there, dry.) There were catwalks on the plans, never constructed, intended to connect the garden levels, too. Ten Rockefeller Plaza even had a glassed-in conservatory on the roof. Three of these green areas are still in place, atop the two low buildings that front on Fifth Avenue and 1250 Sixth Avenue, and they are occasionally rented out for things like photo shoots and the odd product launch. But they remain principally gardens for viewing, not for lunchtime hanging out or tourist visits.