Currently the 62nd tallest building in New York City, the General Electric Building’s tower (570 Lexington Avenue) soars high above the rear of St. Bartholomew’s Church on Park Avenue and 51st Street. The 50-storey tower was completed in 1931 during the same period of the great skyscraper boom that yielded 40 Wall Street, the Chrysler Building, and the Empire State. But rather than build yet another tower to take on the title as tallest, the architecture firm of Cross & Cross was tasked with the challenge of creating a building that would complement the Byzantine style of the adjacent church. The project was initially funded by the Bartholomew Building Corporation and had secured the lease of what was hoped to be the anchor tenant, the Radio Victor Corporation of America. Since the large radio company—incidentally, also the owners of NBC—were to occupy at least nine floors of the building, much of the building’s ornamentation reflects RCA’s influence. However, before the construction was completed, RCA had decided to move their headquarters to the newly completed 30 Rockefeller Center, taking everything, including NBC, with them.
Fortunately, the design for this magnificent Art Deco masterpiece was just as complementary to the new owners, its former parent company: the General Electric Corporation. Built with salmon colored brick and terra cotta, the building complemented the tones of the church, but the zigzag ornaments of radio waves and lightning bolts paid homage just as well to the new god of the jazz age, electricity. The crown of the building is a delightful burst of bolts and spikes, which are illuminated at night, symbolizing the power of radio. The Art Deco style is a perfect match for this building’s theme. The only significant change made by GE was the clock on the corner above the entrance that was retooled with the new corporate logo. Ironically, GE reacquired RCA in the 1980s, and by 1991 had replaced RCA’s logo on the top of 30 Rock.