The Empire State Building is a 102-story Art Deco skyscraper in New York City at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and West 34th Street. Its name is derived from the nickname for the state of New York. It stood as the world’s tallest building for more than forty years, from its completion in 1931 until construction of the World Trade Center’s North Tower was completed in 1972. Following the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001, the Empire State Building again became the tallest building in New York City and New York State.
The Empire State Building has been named by the American Society of Civil Engineers as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. The building and its street floor interior are designated landmarks of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, and confirmed by the New York City Board of Estimate. It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1986. In 2007, it was ranked number one on the List of America’s Favorite Architecture according to the AIA. The building is owned and managed by W&H Properties.
The Empire State Building is the second tallest skyscraper in the Americas (surpassed only by the Sears Tower) and the 9th tallest in the World. It is also the 4th tallest freestanding structure in the Americas and the 12th tallest in the world.
The present site of the Empire State Building was first developed as the John Thomson Farm in the late 18th century. At the time, a stream ran across the site, emptying into Sunfish Pond, located a block away. The block was occupied by the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in the late 19th century, and was frequented by The Four Hundred, the social elite of New York.
Design and construction
The Empire State Building was designed by Gregory Johnson and his architectural firm Shreve, Lamb and Harmon, which produced the building drawings in just two weeks, using its earlier designs, for the Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and the Carew Tower in Cincinnati, Ohio, as a basis. The building was actually designed from the top down. The general contractors were The Starrett Brothers and Eken, and the project was financed primarily by John J. Raskob and Pierre S. du Pont. The construction company was chaired by Alfred E. Smith, a former Governor of New York.
Excavation of the site began on January 22, 1930, and construction on the building itself started symbolically on March 17—St.Patrick’s Day—per Al Smith’s influence as Empire State, Inc. president. The project involved 3,400 workers, mostly immigrants from Europe, along with hundreds of Mohawk iron workers, many from the Kahnawake reserve near Montreal. According to official accounts, five workers died during the construction. Governor Smith’s grandchildren cut the ribbon on May 1, 1931.
The construction was part of an intense competition in New York for the title of the world’s tallest building. Two other projects fighting for the title, 40 Wall Street and the Chrysler Building, were still under construction when work began on the Empire State Building. Each held the title for less than a year, as the Empire State Building surpassed them upon its completion, just 410 days after construction commenced. The building was officially opened on May 1, 1931 in dramatic fashion, when United States President Herbert Hoover turned on the building’s lights with the push of a button from Washington, D.C. Coincidentally, the first use of tower lights atop the Empire State Building, the following year, was for the purpose of signalling the victory of Franklin D. Roosevelt over Hoover in the presidential election of November 1932.
The building’s opening coincided with the Great Depression in the United States, and as a result much of its office space went unrented. In its first year of operation, the observation deck took in approximately 2 million dollars, as much money as its owners made in rent that year. The lack of renters led New Yorkers to deride the building as the “Empty State Building”. The building would not become profitable until 1950. The famous 1951 sale of The Empire State Building to Roger L. Stevens and his business partners was brokered by the prominent upper Manhattan real-estate firm Charles F. Noyes & Company for a record $51 million. At the time, that was the highest price ever paid for a single structure in real-estate history.
Imelda Marcos, wife of Philippines ex-president Ferdinand Marcos, was offered the property in the 1980s when the couple decided to buy New York real estate. She rejected it at $750 million on account of its being “too ostentatious”.
Dirigible (airship) terminal
The building’s distinctive Art Deco spire was originally designed to be a mooring mast and depot for dirigibles. The 102nd floor was originally a landing platform with a dirigible gangplank. A particular elevator, traveling between the 86th and 102nd floors, was supposed to transport passengers after they checked in at the observation deck on the 86th floor. However, the idea proved to be impractical and dangerous after a few attempts with airships, due to the powerful updrafts caused by the size of the building itself. A large broadcast tower was added to the top of the spire in 1953.
1945 plane crash
At 9:40 a.m. on Saturday, July 28, 1945, a B-25 Mitchell bomber, piloted in thick fog by Lieutenant Colonel William F. Smith, Jr., crashed into the north side of the Empire State Building, between the 79th and 80th floors, where the offices of the National Catholic Welfare Council were located. One engine shot through the side opposite the impact and flew as far as the next block where it landed on the roof of a nearby building, starting a fire that destroyed a penthouse. The other engine and part of the landing gear plummeted down an elevator shaft. The resulting fire was extinguished in 40 minutes. Fourteen people were killed in the incident. Elevator operator Betty Lou Oliver survived a plunge of 75 stories inside an elevator, which still stands as the Guinness World Record for the longest survived elevator fall recorded. Despite the damage and loss of life, the building was open for business on many floors on the following Monday. The crash helped spur the passage of the long-pending Federal Tort Claims Act of 1946, as well as the insertion of retroactive provisions into the law, allowing people to sue the government for the accident.
Height Records and Comparisons
The Empire State Building remained the tallest man-made structure in the world for 23 years before it was surpassed by the Griffin Television Tower Oklahoma (KWTV Mast) in 1954. It was also the tallest free-standing structure in the world for 36 years before it was surpassed by the Ostankino Tower in 1967.
The longest world record held by the Empire State Building was for the tallest skyscraper (to structural height), which it held for 41 years until it was surpassed by the North Tower of the World Trade Center in 1972. With the destruction of the World Trade Center in the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Empire State Building again became the tallest building in New York City, and the second-tallest building in the Americas, currently surpassed only by the Sears Tower. When measured by pinnacle height, the Empire State Building is currently the fourth tallest freestanding structure in the Americas, surpassed only by the CN Tower, the Sears Tower and the John Hancock Center.
When measured to its pinnacle height (including the Antenna), the John Hancock Center is approximately 8.5 metres (28 feet) taller than the pinnacle of the Empire State Building, although its highest habitable floor, roof and structural height are lower.
The Freedom Tower, currently under construction in New York City, is expected to exceed the height of the Empire State Building upon completion. The Chicago Spire is also expected to exceed the height of the Empire State Building upon completion, but its construction has been halted due to financial problems.
Over the years, more than thirty people have committed suicide from the top of the building. The first suicide occurred even before its completion, by a worker who had been laid off. The fence around the observatory terrace was put up in 1947 after five people tried to jump during a three-week span. In 1979, Elvita Adams jumped from the 86th floor, only to be blown back onto the 85th floor and left with only a broken hip. The building was also the site of suicides in 2004 and 2006. The most recent suicide was by a lawyer who leapt from the 69th floor on Friday, April 13, 2007.
The Empire State Building rises to 1,250 feet (381 m) at the 102nd floor, and including the 203-foot (62 m) pinnacle, its full height reaches 1453 feet 8 9/16th inches (443 m). The building has 85 stories of commercial and office space representing 2,158,000 sq ft (200,500 m2). It has an indoor and outdoor observation deck on the 86th floor. The remaining 16 stories represent the Art Deco tower, which is capped by a 102nd-floor observatory. Atop the tower is the 203-foot (62 m) pinnacle, much of which is covered by broadcast antennas, with a lightning rod at the very top.
The Empire State Building was the first building to have more than 100 floors. It has 6,500 windows and 73 elevators, and there are 1,860 steps from street level to the 102nd floor. It has a total floor area of 2,768,591 square feet (257,211 m2); the base of the Empire State Building is about 2 acres (8,094 m2). The building houses 1,000 businesses, and has its own zip code, 10118. As of 2007, approximately 21,000 employees work in the building each day, making the Empire State Building the second-largest single office complex in America, after the Pentagon. The building was completed in one year and 45 days. Its original 64 elevators are located in a central core; today, the Empire State Building has 73 elevators in all, including service elevators. It takes less than one minute by elevator to get to the 86th floor, where an observation deck is located. The building has 70 miles (113 km) of pipe, 2,500,000 feet (760,000 m) of electrical wire, and about 9,000 faucets. It is heated by low-pressure steam; despite its height, the building only requires between 2 and 3 pounds per square inch (14 and 21 kPa) of steam pressure for heating. It weighs approximately 370,000 short tons (340,000 t). The exterior of the building was built using Indiana limestone panels.
The Empire State Building cost $40,948,900 to build.
Unlike most of today’s skyscrapers, the Empire State Building features an art deco design, typical of pre-WWII architecture in New York. The modernistic stainless steel canopies of the entrances on 33rd and 34th Streets lead to two story-high corridors around the elevator core, crossed by stainless steel and glass-enclosed bridges at the second-floor level. The elevator core contains 67 elevators.
The lobby is three stories high and features an aluminum relief of the skyscraper without the antenna, which was not added to the spire until 1952. The north corridor contains eight illuminated panels, created by Roy Sparkia and Renée Nemorov in 1963, depicting the building as the Eighth Wonder of the World, alongside the traditional seven.
Long-term forecasting of the life cycle of the structure was implemented at the design phase to ensure that the building’s future intended uses were not restricted by the requirements of previous generations. This is particularly evident in the over-design of the building’s electrical system.
In 1964, floodlights were added to illuminate the top of the building at night, in colors chosen to match seasonal and other events, such as St. Patrick’s Day and Christmas. After the eightieth birthday and subsequent death of Frank Sinatra, for example, the building was bathed in blue light to represent the singer’s nickname “Ol’ Blue Eyes”. After the death of actress Fay Wray (King Kong) in late 2004, the building stood in complete darkness for 15 minutes.
The floodlights bathed the building in red, white, and blue for several months after the destruction of the World Trade Center, then reverted to the standard schedule. Traditionally, in addition to the standard schedule, the building will be lit in the colors of New York’s sports teams on the nights they have home games (orange, blue and white for the New York Knicks, red, white and blue for the New York Rangers, and so on). The building is illuminated in tennis-ball yellow during the US Open tennis tournament in late August and early September. It was twice lit in scarlet to support nearby Rutgers University: once for a football game on November 9, 2006, and again on April 3, 2007 when the women’s basketball team played in the national championship game.
In June 2002, during the Golden Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, New York City illuminated the Empire State Building in purple and gold (the monarchical colors of the Royal House of Windsor). New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that it was a sign of saying thank you to HM The Queen for having the National Anthem of the United States played at Buckingham Palace after the September 11, 2001 attacks, as well as the support the United Kingdom provided afterwards.
In 1995, the building was lit up in blue, red, green and yellow for the release of Microsoft’s Windows 95 operating system, which was launched with a $300 million campaign.
The building has also been known to be illuminated in purple and white in honor of graduating students from New York University.
The building was lit green for three days in honor of the Islamic holiday of Eid ul-Fitr in October 2007. The lighting, the first for a Muslim holiday, is intended to be an annual event and was repeated in 2008. And in December 2007, the building was lit yellow to signify the home video release of The Simpsons Movie.
The Empire State Building has one of the most popular outdoor observatories in the world, having been visited by over 110 million people. The 86th-floor observation deck offers impressive 360-degree views of the city. There is a second observation deck on the 102nd floor that is open to the public. It was closed in 1999, but reopened in November 2005. It is completely enclosed and much smaller than the first one; it may be closed on high-traffic days. Tourists may pay to visit the observation deck on the 86th floor and an additional amount for the 102nd floor. The lines to enter the observation decks, according to the building’s website, are “as legendary as the building itself.” For an extra fee tourists can skip to the front of the line.
New York Skyride
The Empire State Building also has a motion simulator attraction, located on the 2nd floor. Opened in 1994 as a complement to the observation deck, the New York Skyride (or NY Skyride) is a simulated aerial tour over the city. The theatrical presentation lasts approximately 25 minutes.
Since its opening, the ride has gone through two incarnations. The original version, which ran from 1994 until around 2002, featured James Doohan, Star Trek’s Scotty, as the airplane’s pilot, who humorously tried to keep the flight under control during a storm, with the tour taking an unexpected route through the subway, Coney Island, and FAO Schwartz, among other places. After September 11th, however, the ride was closed, and an updated version debuted in mid-2002 with actor Kevin Bacon as the pilot. The new version of the narration attempted to make the attraction more educational, and included some minor post-9/11 patriotic undertones with retrospective footage of the World Trade Center. The new flight also goes haywire, but this segment is much shorter than in the original.
New York City is the largest media market in the United States. Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, nearly all of the city’s commercial broadcast stations (both television and FM radio) have transmitted from the top of the Empire State Building, although a few FM stations are located at the nearby Condé Nast Building. Most New York City AM stations broadcast from just across the Hudson River in New Jersey.
Broadcasting began at Empire on December 22, 1931, when RCA began transmitting experimental television broadcasts from a small antenna erected atop the spire. They leased the 85th floor and built a laboratory there, and—in 1934—RCA was joined by Edwin Howard Armstrong in a cooperative venture to test his FM system from the Empire antenna. When Armstrong and RCA fell out in 1935 and his FM equipment was removed, the 85th floor became the home of RCA’s New York television operations, first as experimental station W2XBS channel 1, which eventually became (on July 1, 1941) commercial station WNBT, channel 1 (now WNBC-TV channel 4). NBC’s FM station (WEAF-FM, now WQHT) began transmitting from the antenna in 1940. NBC retained exclusive use of the top of the Empire until 1950, when the FCC ordered the exclusive deal broken, based on consumer complaints that a common location was necessary for the (now) seven New York television stations to transmit from so that receiving antennas would not have to be constantly adjusted. Construction on a giant tower began. Other television broadcasters then joined RCA at Empire, on the 83rd, 82nd, and 81st floors, frequently bringing sister FM stations along for the ride. Multiple transmissions of TV and FM began from the new tower in 1951. In 1965, a separate set of FM antennas were constructed ringing the 102nd floor observation area. When the World Trade Center was being constructed, it caused serious problems for the television stations, most of which then moved to the World Trade Center as soon as it was completed. This made it possible to renovate the antenna structure and the transmitter facilities for the benefit of the FM stations remaining there, which were soon joined by other FMs and UHF TVs moving in from elsewhere in the metropolitan area. The destruction of the World Trade Center necessitated a great deal of shuffling of antennas and transmitter rooms in order to accommodate the stations moving back uptown.
As of 2007, the Empire State Building is home to the following stations:
- TV: WCBS-TV 2, WNBC-TV 4, WNYW 5, WABC-TV 7, WWOR-TV 9 Secaucus, WPIX-TV 11, WNET 13 Newark, WNYE-TV 25, WPXN-TV 31, WXTV 41 Paterson, WNJU 47 Linden, and WFUT-TV 68 Newark
- FM: WXRK 92.3, WPAT-FM 93.1 Paterson, WNYC-FM 93.9, WPLJ 95.5, WQXR-FM 96.3, WQHT-FM 97.1, WSKQ-FM 97.9, WRKS-FM 98.7, WBAI 99.5, WHTZ 100.3 Newark, WCBS-FM 101.1, WRXP 101.9, WWFS 102.7, WKTU 103.5 Lake Success, WAXQ 104.3, WWPR-FM 105.1, WCAA 105.9 Newark, WLTW 106.7, and WBLS 107.5
Empire State Building Run-Up
The Empire State Building Run-Up is a foot race from ground level to the 86th-floor observation deck that has been held annually since 1978. Its participants are referred to both as runners and as climbers. The race covers a vertical distance of 1,050 feet (320 m) and takes in 1,576 steps. The record time is 9 minutes and 33 seconds, achieved by Australian professional cyclist Paul Crake in 2003, a climbing rate of 6,593 feet (2,010 m) per hour.
Notable tenants of the building include:
- Alitalia, Suite 3700
- Croatian National Tourist Board, Suite 4003
- Filipino Reporter, Suite 601
- Human Rights Watch, 34th Floor
- Polish Cultural Institute in New York, Suite 4621
- Senegal Tourist Office, Suite 3118
- TAROM, Suite 1410
- The King’s College, Suite 1500
Former tenants include:
- China National Tourist Office (now located at 370 Lexington Avenue)
- National Film Board of Canada (now located at 1123 Broadway)
- Nathaniel Branden Institute
In popular culture
Perhaps the most famous popular culture representation of the building is in the 1933 film King Kong, in which the title character, a giant ape, climbs to the top to escape his captors but falls to his death. In 1983, for the 50th anniversary of the film, an inflatable King Kong was placed on the actual building. In 2005, a remake of King Kong was released, set in 1930s New York City, including a final showdown between Kong and bi-planes atop a greatly detailed Empire State Building. (The 1976 remake of King Kong was set in then-modern times and held its climactic scene on the towers of the World Trade Center.)
Andy Warhol’s 1964 silent film Empire is one continuous, eight-hour shot of the Empire State Building at night, shot in black-and-white. In 2004, the National Film Registry deemed its cultural significance worthy of preservation in the Library of Congress.
In the 1981 movie, The Man Who Saw Tomorrow, the building is destroyed in the Nostradamus nuclear attack.
The film Independence Day features the Empire State Building as ground zero for an alien attack; it is devastated by the aliens’ primary weapon which incinerates most of New York City.
English progressive rock band Pink Floyd launched the U.S. release of their double live album, P*U*L*S*E*, with a laser light show beaming from the top of the Empire State Building in June 1995.
In the Latin American literary classic Empire of Dreams (Yale, 1994) by Giannina Braschi, the top of the Empire State Building is taken over by shepherds who dance and sing, “Now we do whatever we please. Whatever we please. Whatever we damn well please.”
The Empire State Building featured in the 1966 Doctor Who serial The Chase, in which the TARDIS lands on the roof of the building; The Doctor and his companions leave quite quickly, however, because The Daleks are close behind them. A Dalek is also seen on the roof of the building while it interrogated a human. In 2007, Doctor Who episodes “Daleks in Manhattan” and “Evolution of the Daleks” also featured the building, which the Daleks are constructing to use as a lightning conductor. Russell T Davies said in an article that “in his mind”, the Daleks remembered the building from their last visit.
The Discovery Channel show MythBusters tested the urban myth which claims that if one drops a penny off the top of the Empire State Building, it could kill someone or put a crater in the pavement. The outcome was that, by the time the penny hits the ground, it is going roughly 65 miles per hour (105 km/h) (terminal velocity for an object of its mass and shape), which is not fast enough to inflict lethal injury or put a crater into the pavement. The urban legend is a joke in the 2003 musical Avenue Q, where a character waiting atop the building for a rendezvous tosses a penny over the side—only to hit her rival.
The Empire State Building serves as the setting for the last scene and one of the main themes in the movie Sleepless in Seattle.
Many other movies that feature the Empire State Building are listed on the building’s own website.
H.G. Wells’ The Shape of Things to Come, written in the form of a history book published in the far future, includes the following passage: “Up to quite recently Lower New York has been the most old-fashioned city in the world, unique in its gloomy antiquity. The last of the ancient skyscrapers, the Empire State Building, is even now under demolition in C.E. 2106!”.
In the Science Fiction novel The Rebel of Rhada by Robert Cham Gilman (Alfred Coppel), taking place at a decayed galactic empire of the far future, New York in an ancient city which was destroyed and rebuilt countless times. Its highest and most ancient building, covered with piled-up ruins up to half its height, is known simply as “The Empire Tower”, but is obviously the Empire State Building.
In Godzilla: The Animated Series, Godzilla is shown sitting on the top of the Empire State Building in the show’s main title sequence.
The Empire State Building is featured prominently as both a setting and integral plot device throughout much of Michael Chabon’s 2000 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.
In the Percy Jackson book series, Mount Olympus is located over the Empire State Building, and there is a special elevator in the building to the “600th floor,” which is supposed to be Olympus.
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- The Construction of the Empire State Building, 1930-1931
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