J ohn Wenrich’s original drawings of Rockefeller Center helped attract tenants in the middle of the Depression. Fifty years later they survive as talismans of a golden moment in American architecture .
When John D. Rockefeller, Jr., announced his intention to build a great urban complex in December 1929, the project was meant to be “as beautiful as possible,” but it also had to be a solid business proposition. Ultimately the Center was both, but not without a long process of negotiating, planning, designing, and redesigning—much of it heavily criticized by the press. Despite the stock market crash of a few weeks before, Rockefeller had no choice but to undertake the project: he had previously signed a twentyfour-year lease on the land that required him to pay nearly four million dollars a year. In 1932 Rockefeller’s first two buildings, one of them Radio City Music Hall, were opened to the public.
A significant piece of the credit for the success of the venture goes not only to the architects and to the Rockefellers but also to a small band of hired architectural renderers. One of these was John Wenrich, whose works are shown on these pages.
Wenrich took the architects’ developing design and rendered it in a series of compelling images. The architects could then point to these and say, “ This is what we have in mind,” and the Rockefeller group in turn could present them to potential tenants and say, “This is what we will offer you.” Wenrich enriched and expanded the physical facts of the buildings and made them palpable. The result was a collection of drawings that show not merely what the Center was actually to be, but what people were meant to think of it and how, fifty years later, they continue to think of it.