The Empire State Building is a 102-storey skyscraper located in Midtown Manhattan. Inaugurated in 1931, it is generally thought of as an American cultural icon. The building has a roof height of 381 metres, and with its antenna spire included, it stands a total of 443.2 metres high. The name derives from the nickname for New York, the Empire State.
The skyscraper’s observation deck plays host to several cinematic, television, and literary classics including “An Affair To Remember”, “On the Town”, “Love Affair” and “Sleepless in Seattle”.
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.
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 houses 1,000 businesses and has its own zip code, 10118.
The Empire State Building is currently undergoing a $550 million renovation, with $120 million spent in an effort to transform the building into a more energy efficient and eco-friendly structure.
The Empire State Building Run-Up is a foot race from ground level to the 86th-floor observation deck, held annually since 1978. The race covers a vertical distance of 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, at a climbing rate of 2,010 m per hour.
The Empire State Building stood as the world’s tallest building for 40 years, from its completion in 1931 until the completion of the World Trade Center’s North Tower in 1972. Following the September 11 attacks in 2001, the Empire State Building was again the tallest building in New York. However, it was no longer the tallest in the US or the world.
The site of the Empire State Building was first developed as the John Thompson Farm in the late 18th century. At the time, a stream ran across the site, emptying into Sunfish Pond, located a block away. Beginning in the late 19th century, the block was occupied by the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, frequented by The Four Hundred, the social elite of New York.
The construction was part of an intense competition in New York for the title of “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 project was completed ahead of schedule and under budget. Instead of taking 18 months as anticipated, the construction took just under 15. Due to reduced costs during the Depression, the final costs totalled only $24.7 million (372.8 million 2012 dollars) instead of the estimated $43 million.
The building was officially opened on May 1, 1931 in a dramatic fashion, when United States President Herbert Hoover turned on the building’s lights with the push of a button from Washington, DC. 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 was initially unrented. The building’s vacancy was exacerbated by its poor location on 34th Street, which placed it relatively far from public transportation, as Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station were (and are) several blocks away, as is the more recently built Port Authority Bus Terminal. Other more successful skyscrapers, such as the Chrysler Building, did not have this problem.
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 paid for a single structure in real-estate history.
The building was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1986.
Two major shooting incidents have occurred at or in front of the Empire State Building. On February 24, 1997, a gunman shot seven people on the observation deck, killing one, then fatally wounded himself. On August 24, 2012, on the sidewalk at the Fifth Avenue side of the building, a gunman shot and killed a former co-worker from a workplace that had laid him off in 2011. When two police officers confronted the gunman, he aimed his firearm at them. They responded by firing 16 shots at the assailant, killing him but also wounding nine bystanders, most of whom were hit by fragments, although three took direct hits from stray bullets.
The Empire State Building is currently the 3rd-tallest completed skyscraper in the US and the 15th-tallest in the world. It is also the 4th-tallest freestanding structure in the Americas. Designed in the distinctive Art Deco style, the building has been named as one of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
The Empire State Building rises to 381 metres at the 102nd floor, and including the 62-metre pinnacle, its full height reaches 443.09 metres. 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 62-metre 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 257,211 square metres; the base of the Empire State Building is about 8,094 square metres.
The building has 85 stories of commercial and office space representing 200,500 square metres. 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.
Its original 64 lifts are located in a central core; today, the Empire State Building has 73 lifts in all, including service lifts. It takes less than one minute by lift to get to the 80th floor, which contains a gift shop and an exhibit detailing the building’s construction. From there, visitors can take another lift or climb the stairs to the 86th floor, where an outdoor observation deck is located.
Unlike most of today’s skyscrapers, the Empire State Building features an Art Deco design, typical of pre-World War II architecture in New York. The building’s distinctive Art Deco spire was originally designed to be a mooring mast and depot for airships. The 102nd floor was originally a landing platform. A particular lift, travelling 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, as well as the lack of mooring lines tying the other end of the craft to the ground.
The modernistic stainless steel canopies of the entrances on 33rd and 34th Streets lead to 2-storey-high corridors around the elevator core, crossed by stainless steel and glass-enclosed bridges at the second-floor level. The lobby is three storeys high and features an aluminium relief of the skyscraper without the antenna, which was not added to the spire until 1952.
Up until the 1960s, the ceilings in the lobby had a shiny Art Deco mural inspired by both the sky and the Machine Age, until it was covered with ceiling tiles and fluorescent lighting. Because the original murals, designed by an artist named Leif Neandross, were damaged, reproductions were installed. Over 50 artists and workers used 15,000 square feet of aluminium and 1,300 square feet of 23-carat gold leaf to recreate the mural.
Renovations to the lobby alluded to the original plans for the building; replacing the clock over the information desk in the Fifth Avenue lobby with an Anemometer, as well as installing two chandeliers originally intended to be part of the building when it first opened.
In 1964, floodlights were added to illuminate the top of the building at night, in colours chosen to match seasonal and other events, such as St Patrick’s Day, Christmas, Independence Day and Bastille Day. 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 (the female lead in “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 colours 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 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.
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. An early-1970s proposal to dismantle the spire and replace it with an additional 11 floors, which would have brought the building’s height to 455 metres and made it once again the world’s tallest at the time, was considered but ultimately rejected.
The longest world record held by the Empire State Building was for the tallest skyscraper (to structural height), which it held for 42 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 terrorist attacks, the Empire State Building again became the tallest building in New York City, and the second-tallest building in the Americas, surpassed only by the Willis Tower in Chicago. It is currently the fourth-tallest, surpassed by the Willis Tower, the Trump International Hotel and Tower (Chicago) and the One World Trade Center. When measured by pinnacle height, the Empire State Building is the third-tallest building in the USA, surpassed only by the Willis Tower and Chicago’s John Hancock Center.
The Empire State Building was once again demoted to second-tallest building in New York on April 30, 2012, when the new One World Trade Center reached a greater height.
On clear days, the building can be seen from much of the New York Metropolitan Area, as far away as New Haven, Connecticut; Morristown, New Jersey; and from the roller coasters at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson Township, New Jersey, specifically Kingda Ka.
On July 28, 1945, a B-25 Mitchell bomber, piloted in thick fog by Lieutenant Colonel William Franklin 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. A year later, another aircraft narrowly missed striking the building.
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 a lift shaft. The resulting fire was extinguished in 40 minutes. 14 people were killed in the accident. Lift operator Betty Lou Oliver survived a plunge of 75 stories inside a lift, which still stands as the Guinness World Record for the longest survived lift fall recorded. Despite the damage and loss of life, the building was open for business on many floors two days later.
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.
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.
On May 1, 1947, 23-year-old Evelyn McHale leapt to her death from the 86th floor observation deck and landed on a United Nations limousine parked at the curb. Photography student Robert Wiles took a photo of McHale’s oddly intact corpse a few minutes after her death. The police found a suicide note among possessions she left on the observation deck: “He is much better off without me … I wouldn’t make a good wife for anybody”. The photo ran in the May 12, 1947 edition of Life magazine and is often referred to as “The Most Beautiful Suicide”. It was later used by visual artist Andy Warhol in one of his paintings entitled “Suicide (Fallen Body)”.
On December 2, 1979, Elvita Adams jumped from the 86th floor, only to be blown back onto the 85th floor by a gust of wind and left with a broken hip.
Only one person has jumped from the upper observatory. On November 3, 1932, Frederick Eckert of Astoria, Queens, ran past a guard in the enclosed 102nd-floor gallery and jumped a gate leading to an outdoor catwalk intended for dirigible passengers. Eckert’s body landed on the roof of the 86th-floor observation promenade.
The Empire State Building was designed by William F. Lamb from the 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 as a basis. Every year the staff of the Empire State Building sends a Father’s Day card to the staff at the Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem to pay homage to its role as predecessor to the Empire State Building.