On the cover of Murals of New York City is a painting by Maxfield Parrish, which hangs over the King Cole Bar in the St. Regis Hotel at Fifth Avenue and 55th Street in Manhattan. In 1906 John Jacob Astor IV commissioned Parrish and paid him $5,000 ($200,000 in today’s money) to paint a scene from the children’s rhyme, Old King Cole. Parrish was reluctant to have one of his works hanging in a bar (he was a Quaker and tee totaler) but the money was too good to pass up.
Commerce trumped virtue. But as soon as the contract was signed Astor told Parrish that he wanted his face to be the face of the King. At that time the center of the art world of New York was located on West 67th Street. Parrish, a man of enormous ego, always insisted there was no subject too elusive for him to capture in paint. His fellow art stars were always challenging him with impossible subjects. So about the time of the Astor commission they gave him the ultimate dare. Paint a fart. So he got his revenge on Astor and won the wager at the same time. In the painting, Astor, as King Cole, is sitting on his “throne” having just passed royal gas. The palace guards are all either holding their noses, grimacing or laughing at this majesty. The guards all resemble Parrish himself. It is a study in passive aggression. The bartenders and regulars at the bar all know the not-so-secret joke and are happy to pass it along to their customers and friends. If Astor knew that he was being ridiculed he never let on. He died a few years later on the maiden voyage of the Titanic.
During the Great Depression John D. Rockefeller Jr. bought up one of the worst slums in New York west of Fifth Avenue from 47th Street to 51nd Street and erected a towering complex of 19 office buildings. The epicenter of it all was the 65 story tall 30 Rockefeller Plaza, then the RCA building. Rockefeller placed the responsibility for the project on the shoulders of his 25-year-old son, Nelson.