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Customer Review

on November 16, 2003
Daniel Okrent has produced a vividly rendered account of Rockefeller Center's formative years. This is a superb book, destined to the the definitive standard on its subject, that will appeal strongly to readers with a wide variety of tastes and interests.
Seven decades removed from the event -- with Rock Center holding such an iconic place in the Manhattan skyline -- this reader was especially struck by Rock Center's seemingly star-crossed beginnings: its architecture universally excoriated (Lewis Mumford being among the most vociferous early critics, until suddenly and inexplicably reversing course); opening night at Radio City Music Hall an unmitigated flop; the sparsely-trafficked retail concourse derided as "the catacombs;" a controversial Diego Rivera mural providing a public relations black-eye, etc. With its leasing program stalled in the Depression-ravaged economy, the Rockefellers desperately slashed office rents from $4 to $1 per sq ft, under-cutting the market. Their tactic of buying-out the existing leases of companies being courted to lease space at the Center -- not uncommon in today's marketplace -- drew the opprobrium of rival property owners, including a lawsuit from August Heckscher (whose grandson would go on to be a high profile Parks Commissioner).
"Great Fortune" is laden with rich anecdotes and compelling, larger-than-life characters like the mercurial John R. Todd (managing agent and construction manager and grandfather to the future New Jersey Governor, Christine Todd-Whitman); the lead architect with a penchant for fast living, Raymond Hood, and, of course, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and his ambitious second son, Nelson, first among equals of the Rockefeller's third generation.
Okrent is a gifted wordsmith (it's not suprising that the New York Times just named him its new ombudsman) who's penned an entertaining, fast-paced narrative. Anyone even remotely curious about New York City and its history will be held in thrall from cover to cover. Recommended.
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