10.09.16: Above Central Park

A view of Central Park, as seen from the observation deck at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York City. 


Technical information

Nov. 18, 2005,
8:52 a.m.

40°45'32” N,
73°58'45" W
(Show in Google Maps)

Canon EOS 20D

Canon EF 28-135 f/3.5-5.6 (28mm) 


1/125th second


There are three observation decks overlooking New York City that provide great views of the city.

The most famous is the observation deck on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building. It has been featured in movies, most memorably in An Affair to Remember, a 1957 film starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, and Sleepless in Seattle, a 1993 romantic comedy starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan that was partly inspired by An Affair to Remember.

The second is about a mile north of the Empire State building atop 30 Rockefeller Plaza, known as “Top of the Rock.” It’s on the 67th, 69th and 70th floors, lower than the Empire State Building observation deck, but Top of the Rock is larger and can accommodate more people. That usually means shorter waiting times. 

The third, and newest, is the 1 World Observatory on the 100th floor of the new 1 World Trade Center, about three miles southwest of the Empire State Building. It’s the tallest and provides a view of the New York City skyline to the northeast.

All three observation decks offer great views of the city, but Top of the Rock provides two opportunities the others don’t: (1) a nice, close view of the iconic Empire State Building to the south (which I’ve photographed a number of times), and (2) an excellent, mostly unobstructed view of Central Park to the north.

I usually try to visit Top of the Rock about an hour before sunset with a plan to stay until about an hour after sunset. I can watch the city transition from day to night, when the warm glow of interior lights replaces the view of steel and concrete exteriors. And sunsets behind the Empire State Building can be spectacular.

But I made a rare daytime visit in November 2005, about two weeks after the 30 Rockefeller Plaza observation deck reopened to the public after being closed for almost 20 years, to get a shot looking down at the fall leaves in Central Park.

It will soon be impossible to replicate this photo. Two extremely tall skyscrapers, expected to be completed in 2018, will stand between 30 Rock and Central Park and obstruct the view. 

One building, at 225 W. 57th St. (known as the Central Park Tower), will be a mixed-use commercial/residential structure rising 131 floors and 1,550 feet. It will be the second-tallest building in the country behind 1 World Trade Center. It will stand near the left edge of this photo.

The second, a condominium tower at 111 West 57th St., will rise 1,438 feet and stand near the center of this photo. This tower is listed at 82 floors, but is only about 100 feet shorter than the 131-floor tower under construction at 225 W. 57th St. and is almost 600 feet taller than 30 Rock. It will be the most slender building in the world based on width-to-height ratio and will look like someone stuck a giant pencil in the middle of the view of Central Park from Top of the Rock.

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.