The 50-floor General Electric Building was built in 1931 as the RCA Victor Building. RCA at the time was a subsidiary of General Electric, RCA did not remain in the building long, moving to 30 Rockefeller Plaza in 1933. At that time the building was deeded over and renamed for General Electric.
Described as “one of the city’s most exquisite Art Deco jewels,” architect John W. Cross described his concept in the May 30, 1931 issue of the Real Estate Record and Guide. “Romantic though radio may be, it is at the same time intangible and elusive — a thing which can be captured visually only through symbolism.”
As an illustration, a large clock with the famous cursive GE logo is above the main entrance. It is flanked by two disembodied arms that hold bolts of lightning. The lightning bolt motif, used throughout the building, depicts the radio transmission waves sent by RCA across the country.
The building had to be designed to be compatible with the Byzantine dome of its neighbor, St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, and was built with the same salmon-colored terra-cotta brick.
During the real estate depression of the early 1990s, General Electric found it could not rent its small floors at rates high enough to cover expenses. In 1993 GE donated the building to Columbia University, which attracted new tenants after renovations.
“It may not be the largest gift in the history of Columbia, but we believe it’s the tallest one,” said Dennis D. Dammerman, senior vice president of finance at General Electric.