Rockefeller Center’s Rooftop Gardens are a Hidden Urban Treasure

by , 10/26/14

Rockefeller Center Rooftop Gardens, rockefeller center, rooftop gardens, rooftop gardens nyc, green roof, green roof nyc, private rooftop gardens, secret rooftop gardensimage © James Maher

The gardens, located atop the British Empire Building, the Maison Francaise, and the setbacks of other central buildings, were planned and built when the Center was first erected. Developer John R. Todd and architect Raymond Hood wanted the buildings’ design to be aesthetically pleasing for the tenants and passers-by, and they felt that the formal gardens would be a special treat for the thousands of employees working in the Center. Originally, they had an even more elaborate idea in mind, envisioning the network of rooftop gardens connected by pedestrian bridges, likening them to the hanging gardens of Babylon.

Just by looking at these images, you can tell that these are not rooftop gardens that were just thrown on top of a building. Created by landscape architect Ralph Hancock, the gardens’ elaborate fountain pools, stone planters, and vegetation are most definitely not the types of structures you see on rooftop gardens today. To support the thousands of tons of extra weight from the pipes, soil, and pumps, the Rockefeller Center’s roofing was reinforced with extra steel.

Rockefeller Center Rooftop Gardens, rockefeller center, rooftop gardens, rooftop gardens nyc, green roof, green roof nyc, private rooftop gardens, secret rooftop gardensimage © vipnyc

Like we said before, the gardens are closed to the public, but for a few years running, they were opened for the Open House New York weekend, during which many of these pictures were taken. Unfortunately, they have not been a part of OHNY for the last couple years, and it doesn’t look like they will be this year either. But occasionally, companies pay a pretty penny and invite the public into the gardens. They can also be rented for weddings and private events, but we can’t even begin to guess how much that would cost.

NewYorkology unearthed a history book of Rockefeller Center, which revealed that the gardens were originally open to the public, and the operating costs lost the Center $45,000 every year. Here is a passage from the book that describes the gardens as they were built:

The roofs on the four low buildings on Fifth were done up in styles appropriate to the buildings’ themes — cobblestones from the streets of Italian towns and two stone plaques from the Roman Forum framed the plantings on the Palazza d’Italia, for instance, and the British Empire’s Building’s umbrella-topped garden tables, where tenants could take tea in clement weather, were surrounded by well-trimmed yews and other hedge plants. But the gardens meandering around the eleventh-floor setback, on the RCA building, 140 feet above street level, were so lavish they made the tops of the low buildings look like suburban backyards.

Here’s hoping the gardens are opened to the public again soon, or else we might have to find a job at Rockefeller Center.

+ Rockefeller Center Rooftop Gardens

Lead Image © Rian Castillo


1 Comment

  1. useful-community-develo... August 20, 2011 at 8:53 pm
    Thanks for sharing this true hidden garden. Analyzing its impact or why I even liked it, I think it's a combination of two things: (a) while it's a bit formal and perhaps even slightly outdated in its basic look, it's a beautifully maintained specimen of this particular kind of garden, and (b) the stark contrast, between the building tops and the intense greenery and slightly organic shape that all plantings take on, is very pleasing to the eye. Thanks for putting this together for us.