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Bid Farewell to 30 Rock's GE Sign; 'Comcast' Will Top the Tower

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Extremely noticeable changes are coming to the facade of one of Manhattan's most iconic skyscrapers. Yesterday, the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved new signage and other changes to what has been known since 1988 as the GE Building, largely due to the giant sign at its apex.

Its address? 30 Rockefeller Plaza, or just 30 Rock. Prior to 1988, it was dubbed the RCA Building. But in March of 2013, Philadelphia-based cable provider Comcast completed its acquisition of NBC Universal and, simultaneously, became the overlord of NBC's large amount of office space in the building. So, even if Wikipedia is a Comcast denier, there is really no longer anything "GE" about the 1933 building. Therefore, Comcast applied to swap out all of the signage on the magnificent 70-story building. Currently, there are signs at the top on the north, west, and south sides which say "GE" in 24-foot-tall red neon letters. Say good-bye to those while you can.

The current "GE" trappings are actually the third in a series of massive signs to sit atop the building, following two different renditions of "RCA" signs. When Comcast bought NBC, it integrated the NBC peacock into its own logo. Comcast applied to put a logo with the avian symbol plus the company name on the north and south sides of the building, and a solo peacock image on the west side. The new signs will be amber-colored LEDs instead of neon, standing 24 feet tall on the north and south sides and 18 feet tall on the west side. Also, Comcast applied to change all ground-level signage saying "GE Building" to "Comcast Building."

From the street, 30 Rock seems to occupy the entire block between 49th and 50th streets east of Sixth Avenue. But on its western side, the complex includes a second building, 1250 Avenue of the Americas. In a separate application presented to the LPC at the same time, Comcast asked to change the marquees on Sixth Avenue. The application was to remove two of the three marquees (the ones on the north and south sides of the facade) and to replace the one in the middle with a new marquee that blares, on two lines, in all caps: "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon."

"The Tonight Show"—which, it was touted during the hearing, is the longest running regularly scheduled entertainment program in television history—left Midtown Manhattan for Burbank, California in 1972. But earlier this year, SNL alum and now former "Late Night" host Jimmy Fallon brought the show back to NYC, and Comcast doesn't want that fact lost on passersby tourists. While the new marquee would be slightly taller than the one it replaces, the removal of the other two would give the murals greater exposure. Plus, there would be improved lighting.

Comcast presented the LPC with notes from Community Board 5 endorsing both applications. The typically very discriminating Historic Districts Council also voiced its support, though it only spoke about the application for the Sixth Avenue marquees. "HDC commends the applicant on this fantastic project. By emulating the style of other marquees in the Rockefeller Center complex and in the surrounding neighborhood, the proposed replacement for the central marquee is sensitive to both the building and its broader Midtown context. The removal of the two marquees flanking the center is a welcomed change, as they had unfortunately been obscuring the 1933 Art Deco glass mural above the doorway," HDC said. "The mural, entitled 'Intelligence Awakening Mankind,' is described in the designation report as 'the most brilliantly polychromatic work at Rockefeller Center.' HDC is glad to see more of this beautiful mural exposed for public enjoyment."

As for the members of the LPC itself, they found little fault with both requests. Chairman Robert Tierney commended the Comast team, saying "sensitivity [was] evident." Commissioner Frederick Bland said it was the "least controversial" major change to a major building and liked that the new signs at the top will be reminiscent of the original RCA signs. Commissioner Michael Devonshire called it a "step in the right direction."

Almost everyone weighed in. Commissioner Diana Chapin, a self-professed Art Deco lover, called it "appropriate." Commissioner Christopher Moore loved the idea of having the peacock on the building. Commissioner Margery Perlmutter said that having a sign at the top has become "part of the building." However, she did express a wish that Comcast's logo was more flexible. If you were to put the peacock to the side of the word "Comcast" instead of on top of it, you could make all of the letters taller. Part of the word "Comcast" will be obscured from some angles. Commissioner Michael Goldblum also commented, saying that there are "too many darn letters" in "Comcast."

Take a gander at more of the renderings.

In the end, the LPC voted unanimously to approve both applications, though it's unclear when the changes will take effect.
—Evan Bindelglass is a local freelance journalist, photographer, cinephile, and foodie. You can e-mail him, follow him on Twitter @evabin, or check out his personal blog.
· All Landmarks Preservation Commission coverage [Curbed]