|Location||1260 Avenue of the Americas (Sixth Avenue), Manhattan, New York City|
|Owner||Tishman Speyer Properties (operated by The Madison Square Garden Company)|
Radio City Music Hall
|Area||2 acres (0.8 ha)|
|Architect||Edward Durell Stone
|Architectural style||Art Deco|
|Part of||Rockefeller Center (#87002591)|
|NRHP reference #||78001880|
|Added to NRHP||May 8, 1978|
|Opened||December 27, 1932|
Radio City Music Hall is an entertainment venue located at 1260 Avenue of the Americas at Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. Nicknamed the Showplace of the Nation, it was for a time the leading tourist destination in the city. The venue is notable as the headquarters for the precision dance company, the Rockettes.
Radio City Music Hall was built on a plot of land that was originally intended for a Metropolitan Opera House. The opera house plans were canceled in 1929, leading to the construction of Rockefeller Center. The new complex included two theaters, the "International Music Hall" and the Center Theatre, as part of the "Radio City" portion of Rockefeller Center. The 5,960-seat Music Hall was the larger of the two venues. It was largely successful until the 1970s, when declining patronage nearly drove the Music Hall to bankruptcy. Radio City Music Hall was designated a New York City Landmark in May 1978, and the Music Hall was restored and allowed to remain open.
Radio City Music Hall was designed by Edward Durell Stone and Donald Deskey in the Art Deco style. One of the more notable parts of the Music Hall is its large auditorium, which was the world's largest when the Hall first opened. The Music Hall also contains a variety of art.
The construction of Rockefeller Center occurred between 1932 and 1940 on land that John D. Rockefeller Jr. leased from Columbia University. The Rockefeller Center site was originally supposed to be occupied by a new opera house for the Metropolitan Opera. By 1928, Benjamin Wistar Morris and designer Joseph Urban were hired to come up with blueprints for the house. However, the new building was too expensive for the opera to fund by itself, and it needed an endowment, and the project ultimately gained the support of John D. Rockefeller Jr. The planned opera house was canceled in December 1929 due to various issues, but Rockefeller made a deal with RCA to develop Rockefeller Center as a mass media complex with four theaters. This was later downsized to two theaters.
Samuel Roxy Rothafel, a successful theater operator who was renowned for his domination of the city's theater industry, joined the center's advisory board in 1930. He offered to build two theaters: a large vaudeville "International Music Hall" on the northernmost block with more than 6,200 seats, and the smaller 3,500-seat "RKO Roxy" movie theater on the southernmost block. The idea for these theaters was inspired by Roxy's failed expansion of the 5,920-seat Roxy Theatre on 50th Street, one and a half blocks away. Roxy also envisioned an elevated promenade between the two theaters, but this was never published in any of the official blueprints.
In September 1931, a group of NBC managers and architects went to tour Europe to find performers and look at theater designs. However, the group did not find any significant architectural details that they could use in the Radio City theaters. In any case, Roxy's friend Peter B. Clark turned out to have much more innovative designs for the proposed theaters than the Europeans did.
Roxy had a list of design requests for the Music Hall. First, he did not want the hall to have either a large balcony over the box seating, or rows of box seating facing each other, as implemented in opera houses. This resulted in a "tiered" balcony system where several shallow balconies were built at the back of the theater, cantilevered off the back wall. Second, Roxy specified that the stage contain a central section with three parts, so that the sets could be changed easily. Roxy also wanted red seats because he believed it would make the theater successful. He wished for an auditorium with an oval shape because contemporary wisdom held that oval-shaped auditoriums had better acoustic qualities. Finally, he wanted to build at least 6,201 seats in the Music Hall so it would be larger than the Roxy Theatre. There were only 5,960 audience seats, but Roxy counted exactly 6,201 seats by including elevator stools, orchestra pit seats, and dressing-room chairs.
Despite Roxy's specific requests for design features, the Music Hall's general design was determined by the Associated Architects, the architectural consortium that was designing the rest of Rockefeller Center. The Radio City Music Hall was designed by architect Edward Durell Stone and interior designer Donald Deskey in the Art Deco style. Stone used Indiana Limestone for the facade, as with all the other buildings in Rockefeller Center, but he also included some distinguishing features. Three 90-foot-tall (27 m) signs with the hall's name on it were placed on the facade, while intricately ornamented fire escapes were installed on the walls facing 50th and 51st Streets. Inside, Stone designed 165-foot-long (50 m) Grand Foyer with a large staircase, balconies, and mirrors, as well as commissioned Ezra Winter for the grand foyer's 2,400-square-foot (220 m2) mural, "Quest for the Fountain of Eternal Youth". Deskey, meanwhile, was selected as part of a competition for interior designers for the Music Hall. He had reportedly called Winter's painting "God-awful" and regarded the interior and exterior as not much better. In order to make the Music Hall presentable in his opinion, Deskey designed upholstery and furniture that was custom to the Hall. Deskey's plan was regarded the best of 35 submissions, and he ultimately used the rococo style in his interior design.
The International Music Hall later became the Radio City Music Hall. The names "Radio City" and "Radio City Music Hall" derive from one of the complex's first tenants, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), who planned a mass media complex called Radio City on the west side of Rockefeller Center.
Construction on Radio City Music Hall started in December 1931, and the hall topped out in August 1932. In November 1932, Russell Markert's American Rockets (later to be known as the Rockettes) stopped performing the Roxy Theatre and announced that they would be moving to the Music Hall. By then, Roxy was busy adding music acts in preparation for the hall's opening at the end of the year.
The Music Hall opened to the public on December 27, 1932, with a lavish stage show featuring numbers including Ray Bolger, Doc Rockwell and Martha Graham. The opening was meant to be a return to high-class variety entertainment. However, the opening was not a success: the program was very long, spanning from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. of the next day, and a multitude of acts were crammed onto the world's largest stage, ensuring that individual acts were lost in the cavernous hall. As the premiere went on, audience members, including John Rockefeller Jr, waited in the lobby or simply left early. Some news reporters, tasked with writing reviews of the premiere, guessed the ending of the program because they left beforehand. Reviews ranged from furious to commiserate. The film historian Terry Ramsaye wrote that "if the seating capacity of the Radio City Music Hall is precisely 6,200, then just exactly 6,199 persons must have been aware at the initial performance that they were eye witnesses to [...] the unveiling of the world's best 'bust'". Set designer Robert Edmond Jones resigned in disappointment, and Graham was fired. Despite the negative reviews of the performances, the theater's design was very well received. One reviewer stated: "It has been said of the new Music Hall that it needs no performers; that its beauty and comforts alone are sufficient to gratify the greediest of playgoers."
On January 11, 1933, after incurring a net operating loss of $180,000, the Music Hall converted to the then-familiar format of a feature film, with a spectacular stage show that Roxy had perfected. The first film shown on the giant screen was Frank Capra's The Bitter Tea of General Yen, and the Music Hall became the premiere showcase for films from the RKO-Radio Studio. The film-plus-stage-spectacle format continued at the Music Hall until 1979, with four complete performances presented every day.
Through the 1960s, the Music Hall was successful regardless of the status of the city's economic, business, or entertainment sectors as a whole. In 1965, the hall was closed entirely for five days for its first-ever full cleaning.
By the early 1970s, the proliferation of closed-captioned foreign movies had reduced attendance at the Music Hall. Changes in film distribution made it difficult for Radio City to secure exclusive bookings of many films, and the Music Hall preferred to show only G-rated movies, which further limited their film choices as the decade wore on. Popular films, such as Chinatown, Blazing Saddles, and The Godfather Part II, failed the Music Hall's screening criteria. By 1972, the Music Hall had fired performers' unions and terminated six of the thirty-six Rockettes. A painting by Stuart Davis was donated to the Museum of Modern Art in order to reduce Radio City Music Hall's tax burden. In 1977, annual attendance reached an all-time low of 1.5 million, a 70% decrease from the 5 million visitors reported in 1968.
By January 1978, the Music Hall was in debt, and officials stated that it could not remain open after April. Alton Marshall, president of Rockefeller Center, announced that due to a projected loss of $3.5 million for the upcoming year Radio City Music Hall would close its doors on April 12. Plans for alternate uses for the structure included converting the theater into tennis courts, a shopping mall, an aquarium, a hotel, a theme park, or the American Stock Exchange. Upon hearing the announcement, Rosemary Novellino, Dance Captain of the Radio City Music Hall Ballet Company, formed the Showpeople's Committee to Save Radio City Music Hall. The Committee consisted of an alliance between performers, the media, and political allies including New York lieutenant governor Mary Anne Krupsak.
Following the closure announcement, the interior was made a city landmark in March. This designation was contested, and Rockefeller Center Inc. unsuccessfully filed a lawsuit to try to reverse the landmark designation. On April 8, four days before the planned closing date, the Empire State Development Corporation voted to create a nonprofit subsidiary to lease the Music Hall. On May 12, 1978, Radio City Music Hall was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Plans for a 20-story mixed-use tower above the Radio City Music Hall were announced in April 1978, with rents from the proposed tower providing the necessary funds to keep the hall open. An alternative involving transferring the hall's air rights to another building in the complex was also privately discussed. The office building plans were recommended in a draft study that was published in February 1979. The office building was ultimately not built, and Rockefeller Center Inc. instead decided to restore Radio City Music Hall to its original condition. The renovation of the Music Hall started in April 1979. In 1980, the hall reopened to the public. Regular film showings at Radio City ended, and live shows were cut back to holiday showings only.
Radio City Music Hall is currently leased to and managed by The Madison Square Garden Company. Movie premieres and feature runs have occasionally taken place there such as the Harry Potter film series, but the focus of the theater throughout the year is now on concerts and live stage shows, and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular continues to be an important annual event (see below). The Music Hall has presented most of the leading pop and rock performers of the last 30 years, as well as televised events including the Grammy Awards, the Tony Awards, the Daytime Emmy Awards, the MTV Video Music Awards, and the NFL Draft.
Starting in 2013, however, the Tony Awards was the only major televised awards ceremony at Radio City, as the Video Music Awards relocated permanently to the Barclays Center that year. (The Grammys, which alternated between New York City and Hollywood, has been held since 2004 in Los Angeles, as have the Daytime Emmys, off and on, since 2006.)
In 2017, the Music Hall's dance troupe faced some controversy when it was announced they would perform at the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States. The announcement prompted calls on social media for boycotts of the Rockettes and the Music Hall.
Radio City Music Hall is located on the east side of Sixth Avenue between 50th and 51st Street.:325, 326 Located in a niche under the neighboring 1270 Avenue of the Americas, the Music Hall is housed under the building's first setback on the seventh floor. Its exterior is notable for a long marquee sign that wraps around the corner of 6th Avenue and 50th Street, as well as narrower, seven-story-high signs on the north and south ends of the marquee's Sixth Avenue side; both signs display the hall's name in neon letters. The main entrance to the Music Hall was placed at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 50th Street, underneath the marquee. The entrance's location, which was enhanced by the amount of open space in front of that corner, ensured that the hall could easily be seen from the Broadway theater district a block to the west.
The hall's exterior also has visual features signifying the building's purpose. Above the entrance, Hildreth Meiere created six small bronze plaques of musicians playing different instruments, as well as three larger metal and enamel plaques signifying dance, drama, and song; these plaques denote the theater's theme. At one point, a tennis court was located on the theater's rooftop garden.
The interior contains a "majestic" grand foyer, the large and lavishly decorated main auditorium, and a series of stairs and elevators that lead to levels of mezzanines. Designed by Edward Durell Stone, the interior of the theater with its austere Art Deco lines represented a break with the traditional ornate rococo ornament associated with movie palaces at the time. Donald Deskey coordinated the interior design process, as well as designed some of the wallpaper, furniture, and other decor in the Music Hall. Deskey's geometric Art Deco designs incorporate glass, aluminum, chrome, and leather in the ornament for the theater's wall coverings, carpet, light fixtures, and furniture. All of the Music Hall's staircases were fitted with brass railings, an aspect of the Art Deco style.
Deskey commissioned textile designers Marguerita Mergentime and Ruth Reeves to create carpet designs and designs for the fabrics covering the walls. Reeves designed a carpet that contained musical motifs in "shades of red, brown, gold, and black", but her design was replaced in 1999. Mergentime also produced geometric designs of nature and musicians for the walls and carpets, which still exist. Deskey also created his own carpet design consisting of "singing head" depictions, which still exists. Rene Chambellan produced six "playful" bronze plaques of vaudeville characters, which are located in the lobby just above the entrances to the theater. Henry Varnum Poor designed all of the Music Hall's ceramic fixtures, especially the lighting bases.
The entrance to the Music Hall is at its southwestern corner, where there are adjacent ticket and advance sales lobbies. Both lobbies contain terrazzo floors and marble walls. The ticket lobby, accessible from Sixth Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets, is the larger of the two lobbies. There are four brass ticket booths: one each embedded into the northern and southern walls, and two in the middle, facing the booths in the walls. Large black pillars support a low, slightly coffered ceiling. Circular light fixtures are set into the ceiling of the ticket lobby, within each of the slight indentations. The advance sales lobby, accessible from 50th Street just east of Sixth Avenue, contains a single ticket booth on the eastern wall.
To the ticket lobby's east, and the advance sales lobby's northeast, is the elliptical grand foyer, whose four-story-high ceiling and dramatic artwork contrast with the compactness of the lobby. Two long, tubular chandeliers created by Edward F. Caldwell & Co. hang from the ceiling. The northern side of the grand foyer contains Ezra Winter's mural, and a grand staircase leading up to the first-mezzanine foyer runs along the northern wall next to Winter's mural. Another set of stairs below the grand staircase descends from the northern side of the foyer to the main lounge one level below. A smaller staircase to the first-mezzanine lounge runs along the southern wall, connecting to a curved extension of that level's balcony. The southern and northern sides of the grand foyer, respectively leading to 50th and 51st Streets, contain shallow vestibules with red marble walls. The northern vestibule is used as the exit lobby, while the southern vestibule is an emergency exit. The grand foyer's eastern wall contains openings from the first, second, and third mezzanine levels, and the western wall contains 50-foot-tall (15 m) mirrors within gold frames. Eleven doors leading to the Music Hall's auditorium are also located on the grand foyer's eastern side. Chambellan commissioned several plaques on the auditorium doors' exteriors, which resemble the vaudeville representations in the lobby and depict the types of performances in the Music Hall.
The Music Hall includes four elevators that serve the main lounge level through the third mezzanine level. At ground level, a marble lobby for these elevators is located to the west of the northern exit vestibule. Chambellan also designed the elevator doors with reliefs of musicians in atypical representations. The maple circular roundels inside the cabs were designed by Edward Trumbull, and represent wine, women, and song.
The auditorium itself is very large and striking. Architectural critic Douglas Haskell describes it thus: "The focus is the great proscenium arch, over 60 feet [18 m] high and 100 feet [30 m] feet wide, a huge semi-circular void. From that the energy disperses, like a firmament the arched structure rises outward and forward. The 'ceiling', uniting sides and top in its one great curve, proceeds by successive broad bands, like the bands of northern lights." In the hall's early years, the Federal Writer's Project noted that "nearly everything about the Music Hall is tremendous", with the hall hosting the world's largest orchestra; most expansive theater screen; heaviest proscenium arch used in a theater; and "finest precision dancers", the Rockettes.
The auditorium has around 5,960 seats for spectators, and additional seating can be placed on the pit elevator during events that do not require that space bringing the seating capacity to over 6,000. Around 3,500 of these seats are located in the orchestra seating area on ground level, while the remaining seats are distributed among the three mezzanine levels (see § Mezzanines). The orchestra and mezzanine sections all contain reddish-brown plush seating throughout, as well as storage compartments under each seat, lights at the end of each row of seats, and more legroom space than in other theaters.
The auditorium's ceiling is ringed with eight telescoping bands, the "northern lights" Haskell described. Each of the bands' edges contain a 2-foot (0.61 m) overlap with each other. In Joseph Urban's original plans, the ceiling was to be coffered, but after the cancellation of the Opera House, designers proposed many different designs for the proposed Music Hall's ceiling. The current design was put forth by Raymond Hood, who incidentally derived his band-system idea from a book that Urban had written. The walls are covered by intricate fabric silhouette patterns of performers and horses, which were created by Reeves. The radiating arches of the proscenium unite the large auditorium, allowing a sense of intimacy as well as grandeur. The ceiling arches also contain grilles that camouflage the air conditioning and the auditorium's sound system.
The Great Stage, designed by Peter B. Clark, measures 66.5 by 144 ft (20.3 by 43.9 m) and resembles a setting sun. Roxy reportedly envisioned the sunset design of the stage while traveling home from Europe on an ocean liner. There are two stage curtains; the main one is made of steel and asbestos, which can part horizontally, while the plush curtain behind it has several horizontal sections that can be raised or lowered independently of each other. The center of the stage consists of a rotating section of floor with a 50-foot (15 m) diameter. The orchestra pit, which could fit 75 musicians, was placed on a "bandwagon" that could move vertically or longitudinally relative to the stage.
There is a complicated system of indirect cove lighting at the front of the stage, facing toward the audience. When the Music Hall was first opened, it was equipped with all of the newest lighting innovations at the time, including lights that changed colors automatically and adjusted their own brightness based on different lighting levels in the theater.
The Music Hall contains three mezzanines within the back wall of the auditorium, as well as a main lounge in the basement. Each of the mezzanines is shallow, and all three mezzanine levels are stacked on top of the orchestra's rear seats. Ramps on either side of the stage lead to the first mezzanine level, the lowest of the three mezzanines, creating the impression of a stage encircling the orchestra. Each of the three mezzanine levels has a men's smoking room, a women's lounge, and men's and women's restrooms. No two restrooms or lounges have the same design. A 1932 New York Times described the reasons for such varied designs: "Since the auditoriums, men's lobbies, smoking rooms and women's lounges are used for a few hours only, decorative schemes are appropriate in them that would be too dramatic for a home."
The main lounge in the basement is decorated with a gaudy design rivaling the grand foyer above it. The walls are composed of black "permatex", which was a new material at the time of the Music Hall's construction. The ceiling has diamond-shaped light fixtures and is supported by six diamond-shaped piers, as well as three full-height piers of a similar shape that exist only for aesthetic purposes. The lounge is decorated with several artworks (see § Art). Deskey also designed the chrome furniture and the carpeting of the lounge.
The landing for the Music Hall's elevator bank is located on the northern side of the main lounge. A marble wall with three large columns comprises the western side of the lounge. A hallway extends off the eastern side of the lounge and leads to a men's smoking room and a women's lounge, which both connect to restrooms of their respective genders. The smoking room has a masculine theme with terrazzo floors, brown walls, and copper ceilings. The accompanying men's restroom has black-and-white tiles and simple geometric fixtures, which are duplicated in the men's restrooms on each mezzanine level. The women's lounge is mostly designed with the same soft colors as Witold Gordon's "History of Cosmetics Mural", located on the room's walls, although the wall area not covered by the mural is painted beige. The attached women's restroom is similar to the men's restroom on the same floor but contains vertical cylindrical lighting, stools, and circular mirrors above aqua sinks.
The offstage area of the Music Hall contains many rooms that allow all productions to be prepared on-site. The offstage rooms include a carpenter's studio, a scene shop, sewing rooms, dressing rooms for 600 people, a green room for performers' guests, and a dormitory.
Its system of elevators was so advanced that the U.S. Navy incorporated identical hydraulics in constructing World War II aircraft carriers; according to Radio City lore, during the war, government agents guarded the basement to assure the Navy's technological advantage. This elevator system was also designed by Peter Clark, and was built by Otis Elevators.
The public areas of the Music Hall feature the work of many Depression-era artists, who were commissioned by Deskey as part of his general design scheme. The large 2,400-square-foot (220 m2) mural in the grand foyer, "Quest for the Fountain of Eternal Youth", was painted by Ezra Winter and depicts a fable from a Native American tribe in Oregon. The murals on the wall of the grand lounge, which depict five eras of differing theater scenes, are collectively known as the "Phantasmagoria of the Theater" by Louis Bouche. Three female nudes cast in aluminum were commissioned for the music hall, but Roxy thought that they were inappropriate for a family venue. Although the Rockefellers loved the sculptures, the only one that was displayed on opening night was "Goose Girl" by Robert Laurent, which is located on the first mezzanine and depicts a nude aluminum girl beside a slender aluminum goose. Since opening night the other two sculptures have been put on display at the Music Hall. "Eve" by Gwen Lux is displayed in the southwest corner of the grand foyer, and "Spirit of the Dance" by William Zorach is visible from the grand lounge.
Each of the public restrooms have adjoining lounges that display various works of art. The third-floor women's restroom contains the Panther Mural by Henry Billings, which is accompanied by Deskey's abstract wall coverings in the women's lounge. The women's lounge on the second mezzanine houses Yasuo Kuniyoshi's oil painting of "larger-than-life botanical designs" along the entire wall, which had originally been commissioned by Georgia O'Keeffe before she suffered a nervous breakdown and left the mural incomplete. Deskey created a wall covering for the men's lounge on the second mezzanine, containing masculine icons and nicotine motifs. He also designed the first-mezzanine women's lounge, a room full of mirrors with a blue-and-white carpet and frosted low-intensity lights. Witold Gordon painted a map with caricatures and stereotypical motifs in the men's lounge on the same floor, as well as a "History of Cosmetics Mural" in the women's lounge in the basement. Stuart Davis created an untitled mural of masculine stereotypical pastimes in the basement-level men's lounge, which was donated to the Museum of Modern Art in 1975 and loaned back to the Music Hall in 1999. Finally, Edward Buk Ulreich created a "Wild West Mural" on the third-mezzanine men's lounge.
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American new wave band Devo performed at Radio City Music Hall on October 31, 1981 during their New Traditionalists tour. Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett also performed there as part of their Cheek to Cheek Tour on June 19-23, 2015. Britney Spears is set to perform there as part of her Britney: Live in Concert on July 23 and 24, 2018.
The Radio City Christmas Spectacular is an annual Christmas stage musical produced by MSG Entertainment, which operates the Music Hall. A New York Christmas tradition since 1933, it features the women's precision dance team known as the Rockettes. In addition, the program features appearances of Santa Claus.
The Radio City Music Hall also hosted the Cirque du Soleil show "Zarkana" from June 2011 to September 2012.
In November 1988, the theater played host to two weeks of Wheel of Fortune, which was taking its first road trip. Saturday Night Live announcer Don Pardo announced during the two weeks. The Mighty Wurlitzer organ (see above) was used to play the show's theme song, "Changing Keys", throughout each episode, except at the end. It played host to the show again in November 2003 for the nighttime show's 4,000th episode, and again in November 2007 for the nighttime show's 25th anniversary.
In March 1994, the Lyons Group (parent company of Barney & Friends at the time), taped a live stage show, called Barney Live in New York City at the theater. It was released on home video in August of the same year, and was aired on various PBS stations throughout the country during 1994's Summer and Holiday pledge drives. It was the largest Barney & Friends stage show of its time.
In October 2001, the concert Come Together: A Night for John Lennon's Words and Music was simulcast live from the theater on The WB and TNT.
The theater was also the site for Jeopardy!'s 4,000th episode as well as for its Million Dollar Masters invitational tournament in May 2002. It was used again in November 2006 for a 2-week Celebrity Jeopardy! event.
In 2013–2015, the NBC summer reality television talent show America's Got Talent broadcast the lives rounds of its competition from the stage of the Music Hall. It was announced that the move to Radio City Music Hall was because of Howard Stern, who wanted the live shows to take place in New York City.
The WNBA's New York Liberty played six home games while their regular home, Madison Square Garden, prepared to host the 2004 Republican National Convention. The Liberty played their first game in front of 5,945 fans against the Detroit Shock in July 2004. Courtside seats were stage left and stage right along the baseline and the Rockettes performed at half-time. These games marked the first time Radio City had hosted a professional sporting event since the Roy Jones Jr. boxing match held in 2000. Radio City Music Hall was the site of the NFL Draft between 2006 and 2014.
Lt. Gov. Mary Ann Krupsak, leading the fight to save Radio City Music Hall, said today she was "convinced there has been a policy by Rockefeller Center to let Radio City Music Hall go downhill." She said a study showed that the management over the past 10 years had stacked the deck against the theater, placing a "disproportionate tax burden, management costs and other expenses" on the 6500-seat theater to show it no longer was economically viable as a movie house.
...The Radio City Rockettes will be dancing at President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration next month but not everyone is kicking up their heels...
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