La Maison Francaise (French: La Maison Française, literally French House), also known by its address 610 Fifth Avenue, is a 6-story retail building on the west side of Fifth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. Completed in 1934, the structure is part of Rockefeller Center, and was built in the Art Deco style.
The building was part of the original construction of the Rockefeller Center, with an oval-shaped retail building originally planned for the block. The oval building was scrapped in early 1931, and an updated plan proposed a tall 41-story tower and two smaller 6-story retail buildings on the site of the oval building. Because the canceled oval building had contained rooftop gardens, Raymond Hood suggested the idea for rooftop gardens across the complex, including on all of the retail buildings. These gardens would be curated by Ralph Hancock.
As American tenants were reluctant to rent in these retail buildings, Rockefeller Center's manager Hugh Robertson, formerly of Todd, Robertson and Todd, suggested foreign tenants for the buildings. French tenants agreed to occupy the building in February 1932. This made La Maison Francaise the second themed building to be agreed on, after the British Empire Building to its north.
La Maison Francaise is the southernmost of five buildings in Rockefeller Center's International Complex. It is located south of its architectural twin, the British Empire Building. The other three buildings in the International Complex are the International Building, Palazzo d'Italia, and International Building North, located one block north. It is a six-story standalone building with a limestone facade with a sixth-story setback, as well as a partial 1+1⁄2-story penthouse on the west half of the seventh story and a garden on the east side of the seventh-story roof. France's economy was relatively stable at the time of the building's construction, but French prime minister Herriot praised Rockefeller Center building as embodying "prosperity, freedom and peace of the world". La Maison Francaise contains ground-level storefronts on all four sides and a cornerstone inscribed with the building's name. The Channel, a 60-foot-wide (18 m), 200-foot-long (61 m) planted pedestrian esplanade, separates the British Empire Building and La Maison Francaise.
The building's art was mostly designed by artists designing in the French architectural style. Alfred Janniot's 10-short-ton (8.9-long-ton) gilded bronze engraving above the entrance depicts personifications of France and New York holding hands above the ocean and the heads of the personifications of poetry, beauty, and elegance (inscribed "Poésie, Beauté, Élégance"). The personification of France holds the Notre Dame on her lap and the scroll unfurling behind is inscribed with the Latin motto of Paris: "fluctuat nec mergitur" (it floats, but never sinks).
Above this bronze engraving, Janniot also sculpted a cartouche of a female personification of French freedom, proclaiming "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité" (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity).
In 1934, Rene Chambellan created four bronze bas-reliefs on the sixth floor, which symbolize historical eras of France: Charlemagne's Empire, New France, Louis XIV's Absolute Monarchy, and the French Republic. The one non-French artist was Lee Lawrie, who decorated the secondary entrances with scalloped and triangle-patterned lintels, gold-covered fleurs-de-lis, and a woman wearing a Phrygian cap. The building's lobby also contains a model airplane created by Cartier & Co, which signifies the transatlantic flight that Dieudonné Costes and Maurice Bellonte made from France to New York in 1930.
The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission added landmark status to the exteriors of all the original Rockefeller Center's buildings in 1985. In its approval of the complex's status, the commission wrote, "Rockefeller Center ranks among the grandest architectural projects ever undertaken in the United States". The roof gardens of the wings were restored in 1986 for $48,000 each.
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