Last week, I was scouting office space in midtown, and I stopped by one of my favorite buildings on Sixth Avenue. At 850 feet tall, 30 Rockefeller Plaza is the 10th tallest building in New York…
…which is why I love the little townhouse standing next to it so much. On an avenue lined by some of Manhattan’s most iconic skyscrapers, this thing simply shouldn’t exist.
But there it is, and in fact, it’s not alone: there’s a second townhouse at the northern corner, with 30 Rock (technically, the 1250 Sixth Avenue portion of the building) sandwiched in the middle.
For the longest time, I’ve wondered why these buildings weren’t just torn down. When you look at Rockefeller Plaza from an aerial view, it’s simply insane that the entire complex was shifted to accommodate them. Can you even find them??
Here they are!
How did this happen? Back in 1892, three Irishmen, Paddy Daly, Daniel Hurley, and Connie Hurley, signed a long-term lease on the property at 1240 Sixth Avenue and opened a pub called Hurley’s. The pub became quite popular, and they even managed to survive prohibition by operating a speakeasy through the rear entrance on 49th Street.
Later, as Rockefeller gobbled up land throughout midtown at the end of the Great Depression, he was able to buy the building from its owners – but what to do about its tenants, whose lease trumped any attempts at eviction?
The pub owners made him an offer: $250,000,000 to buy them out (for comparison, $250,000,000 is the initial estimate of what the entire Rockefeller Center complex cost to build). Rockefeller said no; they refused to leave.
Meanwhile, at the opposite corner, 1258 Sixth Avenue was owned by one John F. Maxwell, who flat out refused to sell.
In the end, Rockefeller, one of the richest and most powerful men in the world, had no choice but to build his gargantuan skyscraper between the two townhouses. You can see them below as the entire operation goes on around them (Radio City Music Hall is on the right):
Hurley’s remained in business through the 1970s, and became a favorite for NBC employees, who referred to it as Studio 4-H. The pub finally sold and moved locations in 1979; a bar continued in its place until 1999. Today, it’s a Magnolia Bakery (1258 is now a Nine West shoe store).
One of my favorite views in the city is looking up at the towering 30 Rock while standing beside the diminutive 1240 Sixth Avenue – a reminder that sometimes, the little guys can still win:
Though it’s easy to miss it for the plethora of skyscrapers lining the block, be sure to give 1240 a glance next time you’re in the area.
Then, use it to picture a time when all the buildings along Sixth Avenue looked about the same.
PS: For more information on Hurley’s Pub and 1240 Sixth Avenue, check out this excellent post by Daytonian in Manhattan.