History of the Rockefeller Center Ice Rink

The Rink at Rockefeller Center, located in the heart of Midtown Manhattan in New York City, has a rich and storied history that is closely tied to the development and cultural significance of Rockefeller Center itself.

Here’s an overview of the history of the Rink at Rockefeller Center:

Construction of Rockefeller Center (1930s):

In the late 1920s, John D. Rockefeller Jr. acquired a large plot of land between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in Midtown Manhattan.

John D. Rockefeller Jr. enlisted the help of a talented team to bring his vision to life. The architect Raymond Hood played a key role in the design, while the construction was overseen by Todd, Robertson, and Todd as the primary architectural firm.

The construction of Rockefeller Center began in 1931, led by John D. Rockefeller Jr. The complex aimed to provide a modern, commercial, and cultural hub in the heart of New York City during the Great Depression.

The Vision of a Skating Rink (1936):

The idea for the ice rink specifically is believed to have originated with the construction of the complex.

When the original plans for Rockefeller Center were being developed, the lower plaza area was initially intended to be a temporary space for trucks to unload deliveries. However, as the project progressed, it was decided to transform this space into a more aesthetically pleasing area.

The first temporary rink was created in 1936 as a winter attraction to bring people to the complex during the colder months. It turned out to be immensely popular, leading to the establishment of a permanent ice rink the following year in 1937.

The rink has since become an iconic and beloved feature of Rockefeller Center, attracting locals and tourists alike for ice skating in the winter months.

Opening on Christmas Day (1936):

The Rink at Rockefeller Center officially opened on Christmas Day in 1936. Its inaugural season marked the beginning of a long-standing tradition of winter recreation in the heart of Manhattan.

The opening of the Rink was part of a grand ceremony that included the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, another cherished tradition.

Design and Architecture:

The Rink was designed by architect Stuart Constable, and the layout was strategically positioned in the Lower Plaza of Rockefeller Center, providing a picturesque setting surrounded by the stunning Art Deco architecture of the complex.

The sunken design of the rink allows visitors to skate against the backdrop of the towering skyscrapers. The ice rink is about 7,000 square feet of ice and is able to hold 150 skaters at a time. The rink is also about 122 feet long and 59 feet wide. Skaters each get 40 – 60 minutes on the ice.

Children and adults ice skating at the Rockefeller Center rink in 1953

The ice rink at Rockefeller Center uses artificial ice. The rink uses a refrigeration system beneath the surface that helps maintain the ice in suitable skating conditions.

This artificial ice allows for more controlled and consistent conditions, ensuring that the rink can operate throughout the winter season, regardless of the outside temperature.

The use of artificial ice also enables the rink to provide a smooth and enjoyable skating experience for visitors to Rockefeller Center.

Early Years and Popularity:

The Rink quickly gained popularity as a central gathering place for New Yorkers and tourists during the winter months.

Its opening ceremonies, often synchronized with the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, became iconic events that marked the beginning of the holiday season in the city.

Cinematic and Cultural Impact:

The Rink at Rockefeller Center has played a significant role in various films and television shows, contributing to its cultural legacy.

One of its most notable appearances is in the movie “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York,” where the main character, Kevin McCallister, enjoys an adventurous skate at the iconic rink.

Over the years, the Rink at Rockefeller Center has undergone renovations and improvements to enhance the overall experience for visitors. The addition of modern amenities, such as skate rentals and lessons, has made it accessible to skaters of all levels.

Year-Round Usage:

While originally conceived as a seasonal attraction, the Rink at Rockefeller Center has expanded its usage beyond the winter months. During the summer, the ice rink is converted into an outdoor cafe called the “Rink Bar.”

In recent years, the rink has been utilized for special events, including summer activities such as outdoor dining and live performances, showcasing its versatility.

Continued Tradition:

The Rink at Rockefeller Center continues to be a beloved destination for New Yorkers and visitors during the winter season and is considered one of the best ice skating rinks in the U.S.

Its timeless charm, picturesque location, and association with the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony make it an integral part of the city’s holiday traditions.

In conclusion, the Rink at Rockefeller Center stands as a testament to the vision of creating a vibrant, cultural center in the heart of New York City.

From its humble beginnings in 1936 to its continued popularity today, the rink has evolved into an iconic symbol of winter joy, holiday celebrations, and community spirit in the heart of Manhattan.

“History at Rockefeller Center.” Rockefeller Center, rockefellercenter.com/history/
Barr, Naomi. “The Rink Turns 80.” Rockefeller Center, rockefellercenter.com/magazine/arts-culture/rockefeller-center-rink-history-80-years/

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