The Empire State Building is the most recognized highrise building in New York thanks to King Kong, Fay Wray and a long list of movies that featured the Art Deco skyscraper. Described as “the nearest thing to heaven we have in New York.” by Deborah Kerr to Cary Grant in An affair to Remember, the Empire State Building in midtown Manhattan is once again the tallest building in New York.
For 31 years the Empire State Building was over shadowed by the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center, but that all changed on September 11, 2001 when suicide aircraft attacks caused both towers to collapse. The Freedom Tower, now on the site measure 1776 feet and is the tallest building in the US.
The Empire State Building was completed in 1931 — King Kong climbed it in 1933 — and, like the World Trade Towers, once had a plane fly into it. A B-25 bomber crashed into the 79th floor on a Saturday in July 1945, killing the crew and 14 people in the building but not seriously damaging the structure.
The Empire State Building Observatory on the 86th and 102nd floors provides incredible views of Manhattan.
One of the most popular tourist destination in New York City—on a clear day you can see up to 80 miles in any direction from here.
If you plan to visit the observatory I recommend you purchase your tickets in advance or take advantage of the New York CityPass which includes discounted admission to 5 other New York attractions in addition to the Empire State Building Observatory. The Empire State Building is one of the stops on the hop-on hop-off classic double-decker New York City bus tours and the observation deck and New York Sky Ride are just two of over 40 attractions included with the New York Pass.
The observatory is open daily from 9:30am to midnight. All visitors must enter through the Fifth Avenue entrance and security is strict so expect a wait. You’ll want to be sure to bring some quarters for the coin-operated telephoto viewers on the observation deck. A lucky balance of objectives, zoning laws and timing resulted in a building that is not just tall, but well designed for its height. John J. Raskob, the vice-president of General Motors, wanted a building to exceed the height of the rival car manufacturer’s Chrysler Building, still under construction when the Empire State Building plans were released on August 29, 1929.
If it had been built a few years later, after the International Style had become popular and with a different set of zoning laws, the architect, William F. Lamb, might have just designed a plain box. Instead the mass is broken by indentations running its full height and the top provides much greater visual interest than the apparent flat roofs of International Style buildings. The metal-plated tower on top of the building was planned as a zeppelin port but it was used for only one zeppelin landing because the winds were too strong at such heights making mooring dangerous. The golden age of zeppelins was also coming to an end.
The five story base of the Empire State Building is just the right height to provide safe visual and psychological distance between pedestrians on the street and the huge hulk of the tower above them. Indiana limestone, granite, aluminum and nickel on the facade with just the right hint of Art Deco ornament provide tone and appearance appropriate to its height.
Construction of the building—requiring 7 million man-hours, 60,000 tons of steel and 10 million bricks—proceeded at a record pace even though the stock market crash of 1928 happened just a few weeks after the massive project was begun. It was built in just 18 months and was one of the first to employ the then new fast-track construction technique. In 1985 a 22-story television antenna was attached to the top of the building and serves as a lightning rod to protect surrounding buildings. The rod absorbs around 100 lightning strikes each year.
Colored floodlights are now used to enhance the tower and commemorate events of significance. A searchlight beacon was the first light to shine from the top of the Empire State Building — November 1932 — to announce that Franklin D. Roosevelt had been elected president.
An upcoming tower lighting schedule and tower lights history can be found on the official Empire State Building web site.
If you hurried past it on the way up, you don’t want to miss the beautiful 3 story Art Deco Lobby on the way down. It’s lined in marble imported from Europe and decorated with a large metal mosaic featuring the building as the center of the universe.
The Empire State Building has a huge tenant roster of mostly small space-users, partially because of the timing of its completion during the depression. The structural design of the building itself imposes challenges to occupation by large tenants. Steel columns and beams form a stable 3-D grid throughout the entire structure. But since such closely spaced column grids obstruct open spaces there are virtually no open spans, or column-free spaces, on every floor of the Empire State Building.