If you have ever dreamed of being a construction worker in the years before the National Labor Relations Act, here is your chance. The Beam is a new “experience” at Top of the Rock, where, for an additional $25 on top of the $40 it costs to get to the observation deck, you can sit on a metal beam for 90 seconds to replicate the 1932 photo Lunch Atop a Skyscraper. The Beam is Tishman Speyer’s latest effort to make Rockefeller Center cool, and there’s a certain kind of historical symmetry in the stunt of it all: The original photo itself was totally staged, a promotional image for the then–newly built Rockefeller Center. Naturally, I went.
The crowd was smaller than usual, I was told by my handlers, Nicole and Lizzie, when I arrived on a rainy Monday morning to be greeted by signage advertising the building’s most influential occupants, Jimmy Fallon and the hosts of the Today Show.
Last year, a flurry of high-profile retail and dining options opened in the concourse, and while not all are holding strong, the glorified office complex’s reputation seems to be better than some of its neighbors’. As the midtown office district crawls toward its tomb, developers have been trying to court a new clientele in the neighborhood: thrill seekers. Extell revealed plans to build a ride with a 260-foot drop atop a new building west of Times Square, and Stefan Soloviev threw a Ferris wheel into his Midtown East casino proposal. The Beam, having the benefit of being built on top of an existing attraction, expedites the trend of turning midtown into an amusement park. It would be a disservice, however, to call the Beam a ride. It’s a gentle up, down, and around in which the most adrenaline-producing aspect is the high winds. (If you are afraid of heights, the seat buckle may feel insufficient.) Instead, it fits neatly into the landscape of Instagram experiences disguising themselves as museums that now inhabit the shells of forgotten retail or once-landmarked sites, like the Hall des Lumières.
No eating is allowed on the Beam, but I was given special permission by a representative from Tishman Speyer to eat a turkey breakfast sandwich to try to re-create my own version of the classic photo. With the 90-second cap, I wasn’t able to finish. Exiting on the 69th floor, I looked into the café below, currently being decorated for Christmas. It was cold when I got out there, and while I’m told there have been marriage proposals on the Beam, nothing like that happened on my visit. Still, people seemed happy. Lisa Keenan, who was visiting New York for the first time, felt she had to come. “My mum kept the photo in our dining area growing up for a long time,” she said.
Maybe my photos will sit above my future child’s dining area as well.