Cracking open the origins of The Egg

The Egg

"The Grapefruit" just doesn't have the same ring.

OK, here's the legend.

Governor Nelson Rockefeller is having breakfast with Empire State Plaza architect Wally Harrison. They're discussing the need for a building that would break up the vertical lines of the towers when Rocky looks down at his half grapefruit, tops it with an overturned coffee cup and says, "That... it should look like that."

And thus, "The Egg" was born. But they didn't call it "The Egg" (nor "The Grapefruit"). It was originally known as "The Meeting Center" and was intended for town-meeting-style gatherings. The Egg nickname actually was bestowed by the public, and Rockefeller didn't care for it. Current OGS Commissioner John Egan was an executive deputy commissioner back then. "No one called it The Egg," he says, "we always referred to it as The Meeting Center." But people just kept calling it the Egg. Finally a PR consultant suggested the "if you can't beat'em, join 'em" strategy, officials relented, and Albany officially became home to the world's largest oeuf.

The idea to turn the building into theaters came later on, though it's unclear who came up with it. Albany historian -- and state assemblyman -- Jack McEneny credits long-time mayor Erastus Corning with the idea. Not that Corning had a whole lot of input. McEneny says the mayor told him he was called into Rocky's office on a Thursday to look at plans for the plaza. Those plans were put in motion the following Monday.

Credit -- or blame, depending on whom you ask -- for the structure itself rests with Rockefeller. "Some say he was a frustrated architect," John Egan says, "But he had grand ideas." But what seems grand to some can seem like craziness to others (A giant concrete egg?!? Seriously!?!). Egan says there was no opposition -- or even second thoughts -- inside the administration to the design of The Egg. Jack McEneny remembers that city residents were fascinated as they watched the strange structure go up, "but there was all kinds of derision. People thought it would crack, that it wasn't made for this climate. Rockefeller was a great collector of modern art, and was thought by some to be ahead of his time. But back then most locals weren't thrilled with what he called art."

And then there was the cost. John Egan estimates that the Egg cost about $90 million (in 1970 money) to build. Others estimate the cost at closer to $100 million.

Even today, performers can't help but joke about the oblong structure. Suzy Roche said it looked like the ass of a fat guy. Neko Case recently joked about being inside the Super Bowl trophy. And, maybe most famously, They Might Be Giants set their feelings about the the Egg to song: "From the outside I am thinking, What were they thinking?"

Comments

Thanks for this piece of local history!
Kathleen Lisson

Interesting bit of history. When my mother visits from TX she always comments that it's more like the business end of the chicken that does the egg laying.

Ah, further insight into the architectural white elephant/monument to Rocky's political egotism that is the Empire State Plaza! Thanks!

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