How lucky I am that one of my characters in Lilac Girls worked for the French Consulate, since I got to learn everything I could about the lovely French Building that housed it. (Before it moved further uptown, New York’s French Consulate was located in the French Building of Rockefeller Center.) Caroline Ferriday worked there as a volunteer, so a few scenes are set there in the consulate offices.
On the way to the French Building the Titan Atlas, above, sets the scene in front of Rockefeller Center. A collaboration by artists Lee Lawrie and Rene Paul Chambellan, it is one of the most recognized symbol of the complex.
The rear of the French Building as seen from the plaza
The lovely cornerstone Above the Channel Garden entrance, Lee Lawrie’s gilded French peasant woman sews fleur-de-lis seeds across a plowed field. According to Christine Roussel’s The Guide to the Art of Rockefeller Center the poor fleur-de-lis has had a stormy past. French revolutionaries in 1789 set out to obliterate this symbol so closely associated with French monarchy, burning any trace of it from textiles and chiseling it off buildings, but it was so loved it endured and remains France’s most iconic symbol.
Here is one of my favorite pieces in Rockefeller Center, the sterling silver Cartier plane. It’s an exact replica of the Hispano-powered Breguet biplane that famed French aviators Dieudonne Costes and Maurice Bellonte flew across the Atlantic in 1930 (the reverse of Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 journey from New York to Paris.)
Handcrafted in France by Cartier silversmiths and members of the French aircraft company Avion Breguet, (which built the original plane,) the cockpit opens, the propeller and wheels turn and the flaps move. It was a gift from the French ambassador to the U.S., on behalf of the Republic of France, given in 1933 to Rockefeller Center as an endorsement of the newly-built Maison Francaise. What an exquisite gift and how lucky the people who work in this building are to see it in their lobby everyday.
An exquisite gilded panel by Alfred Janniot stands over the man in entrance to the French Building, which features the three Graces: Poetry on the left, elegance on the right and beauty in the center.
How wonderful it must have been to have the Librarie de France (once located in the concourse under the GE Building, later moved to the French Building) right downstairs! How sad that it is closed now, due to rising rents.