In March 1933, Diego Rivera started painting his iconic mural Man at the Crossroads in the main lobby of Rockefeller Center. This was a great achievement for the Mexican artist, who was chosen for this project from a pool that included artists like Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso.
Rivera’s work was moving forward until the newspaper World-Telegram published an article with the headline, “Rivera Paints Scenes of Communist Activity and John D. Jr. Foots Bill.”
Man at the Crossroads was criticized because it portrayed an image of Vladimir Lenin, but, according to Rivera, the portrayal represented an alliance between the US and the Soviet Union that would be necessary to the eradication of fascism.
This explanation did not convince the Rockefeller family and on May 4, 1933, Rivera received a letter from Nelson Rockefeller saying:
“As much as I dislike to do so, I am afraid we must ask you to substitute the face of some unknown man where Lenin’s face now appears…”
"I should like, as far as possible, to find an acceptable solution to the problem you raise, and suggest that I could change the sector which shows society people playing bridge and dancing, and put in its place in perfect balance with the Lenin portion, a figure of some great American historical leader, such as Lincoln, who symbolizes the unification of the country and the abolition of slavery."
Man at the Crossroad was eventually torn down on February 9, 1934. To replace it, the Rockefellers hired Jose Maria Sert, a muralist from Spain who painted America Progress, depicting Rockefeller Center rising up as a symbol that unites ideals and the industry.