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The Top of the Rock, Rockefeller Center's observations decks, opens today after being closed for 19 years, and it will soon become something anyone visiting New York for the first time or someone who has lived here for ages will want to do. We've been excited about this since reading the NY Times article in March, and Gothamist was able to head up there before today's opening and we weren't disappointed. It truly is breathtaking. There will undoubtedly be a rivalry between The Top of the Rock and the Empire State Building, as there was back in the heyday, but there are notable differences. For one thing, the The Top of the Rock offers something different - an unobscured view of Central Park, not to mention one of the Empire State Building.

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Reopening the observations decks has been in the works from Rockefeller Center's co-owners, Tishman-Speyer, since 2001, with Michael Gabellini of Gabellini Associates leading the redesign. You get to The Top of the Rock at an entrance on West 50th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues. There's a three-story staircase sweeping around a dramatic Swarkovski crystal chandelier (a "waterfall"); the ticketing area in one floor below the street level (which has a fun mural pointing out what's where in a panorama of the view).

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One floor above street level is the waiting area, where there are a number exhibits about the history of Rockefeller center: Gregory Peck's employment card as a Rockefeller tour guide, an early microphone from NBC's first days. The iconic photograph of building workers lunching on a steel beam at Rockefeller Center becomes a launching point for an interactive display where you can "stand on a beam" and virtually feel what it was like to work 60 floors up (below left). After entering a queueing area where you can see short films (one with the Rockettes, another with David Rockefeller, and the third a history of the building narrated by Tom Brokaw), you enter the best elevator (below right) ever.

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The elevator's ceiling is clear, so you can see the elevator shaft as you ascend (it's very Great Glass Elevator, though it doesn't travel sideways). There are some photographs and film sequences projected onto the ceiling as well, making the short trip slightly psychedelic. And then you're at the 67th floor.

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The observation area is made up of three floors, the 67th, 69th, and 70th (no 68th as the 67th is double height). The 67th and 69th floor decks have glass partitions, instead of metal bars, at the edge; the 70th floor is a smaller structure, whose deck is set back and overlooking the lower decks, so there is no need for glass partitions or high gates. As apparent on the website, 67th floor will also be available for events; it's also rumored that Don King had offices there back in the day, but more recently the space was used for elevator machinery and storage.

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The Top of the Rock is at 30 Rockefeller Center, with an entrance on West 50th Street.
- Open 365 days a year, from 8:30AM until midnight (with the last elevator going up at 11PM)
- Tickets are available online as well as in person; adults are $14, children $9, and seniors $12.

More photographs at Bluejake and from neps and jenchung on Flickr. Plus, here's a gallery of what the observation decks used to look like (there are no chairs anymore). And other press: The NY Times, Newsday and the Observer on the Top of the Rock.

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