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!

Say Something!

We'd really like you to take part in the conversation here at All Over Albany. But we do have a few rules here. Don't worry, they're easy. The first: be kind. The second: treat everyone else with the same respect you'd like to see in return. Cool? Great, post away. Comments are moderated so it might take a little while for your comment to show up. Thanks for being patient.

The Scoop

Ever wish you had a smart, savvy friend with the inside line on what's happening around the Capital Region? You know, the kind of stuff that makes your life just a little bit better? Yeah, we do, too. That's why we created All Over Albany. Find out more.

Recently on All Over Albany

Today's moment of late summer

There was something about the way the late-summer late-afternoon sun poured onto the western side of the ESP. Also: The walls of the ESP, west... (more)

The flashing yellow arrow

Turn signals w/ flashing yellow arrows are coming to your town! After green-yellow-red phase, turns to flashing yellow. Let's more ppl turn pic.twitter.com/pMY0wXIlZt— NYSDOT... (more)

Downtown Albany Residential Open House 2017

The Downtown Albany Residential Open House event returns September 28. It's pretty much what it sounds like -- a bunch of residential buildings in the... (more)

Cereal sundae from Bumpy's Polar Freeze

The lies we tell ourselves as adults: It's completely fine to eat ice cream -- just ice cream -- as a meal if 1) you... (more)

Hello, 838

Starting today -- September 19 -- if you get a new phone number/line, it's possible it could be a number with the 838 area code.... (more)

Recent Comments

Seems like they've put together realistic plans, though I wonder whether the proximity to the ESP ramps would be a deterrent to finding a residential developer. I'd really like to see that Trailways Building kept. We have so few century buildings in Albany that I'd really we rather keep them when we can. And this building is not at all shy about advertising its era. E-Comm 6, however...well, I won't cry if it comes down.

Bikes and cars, sharing the road

...has 14 comments, most recently from Zed

Quick-scan primary election results 2017: Sheehan wins Albany Democratic mayoral primary

...has 7 comments, most recently from Real Pine Hills

If you want to provide direct feedback on that Capital District Gondola idea, here's your chance

...has 5 comments, most recently from Rory Dolan

Cereal sundae from Bumpy's Polar Freeze

...has 1 comment, most recently from Nope

Good lawn mowing service in Albany?

...has 1 comment, most recently from Albany Landlord