For over 80 years the Empire State Building has been the most recognizable skyscraper in the world. Some 4 million people visit annually and past guests include Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Queen Elizabeth, President Clinton, Pierce Brosnan, Tom Cruise, Michael J. Fox, Chris Evertt, Roger Federer, and Cirque du Soleil.
An Icon Rises
Plans for the building began in the heady 1920s and almost came to an end with the Crash of ’29. But instead of canceling the project, investors decided to go full steam ahead and the rising structure quickly became the symbol of American optimism and enterprise.
It took more than 10 million bricks, 57,000 tons of steel and 7 million hours of human labor to create the Empire State Building. This was the age of great skyscrapers and three buildings under construction – 40 Wall Street, the Chrysler Building in midtown, and the Empire State Building on West 34th Street — all strove to emerge as the city’s tallest structure.
The Empire State Building was completed $5 million under budget over a period of just 14 months, at some points rising more than four floors a week. As the last of the competitors to finish, builders knew exactly how high they had to aim and the late addition of a mooring mast for dirigibles made the building the city’s undisputed tallest.
For New Yorkers, the building is part of daily life and culture. For people who fly in on many of the cheap direct flights to New York, it is a must-see site. The annual Run-Up from the ground floor to the outdoor observation deck draws applicants from all over the world. Competition is also stiff to be among the couples married there each Valentine’s Day, with only the most original and witty applications getting one of the limited slots available. Lights on the upper floors first communicated with the city below in 1932 when they signaled Roosevelt’s election to president. Today, colored lights welcome everything from the Christmas holidays to visiting dignitaries and commemorate tragedies like September 11.
Points of Interest
Located on the second floor of the building is the New York Skyride, where seats synchronized to a film of low-altitude flight over Manhattan give the sensation of flying. This is a great introduction to either of the two observatories. The most famous, on the 86th floor, includes a glass-enclosed observatory and the famous outdoor deck. On 102nd floor you’ll find another glassed-in observatory which, on clear days, has views of up to 80 miles.
One of the chief attractions of the building isn’t above but below, in the 3-story lobby. Following a recent $550 million renovation, the area has been restored according to original plans and blueprints. This includes installation of majestic art deco etched glass wall panels and chandeliers, a ceiling mural in gold and aluminum and mirroring marble wall and floor slabs.
Fitting for the city that never sleeps, the Empire State Building is open until 2 am, with the last elevator ascending at 1:15. While most people visit during the day, those who arrive from sunset on are rewarded with breathtaking views of lights sparkling from river to river, south to the battery and north as far as the eye can see.