The Empire State Buidling in New York

Photo of The Empire State Buidling in New York, New York
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of The Empire State Buidling in New York, New York
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
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Photo of The Empire State Buidling in New York, New York
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
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The Empire State Buidling

350 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York, Midtown 10118
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The most famous building in a city famous for its buildings, to this day the ESB is a cherished symbol of New York held in high esteem by the city's millions of residents, and has become an icon to the world. This present state of grandeur has roots that run deep. The Empire State Building was begun amid unlikely circumstances. During the American depression of the early 20th century, most large construction projects were canceled. This one moved forward thanks to the momentum of its principal backer, John Jakob Raskob, founder of General Motors because of his rivalry with Walter Chrysler's Chrysler Building. Strangely, the poor economic times actually helped the building's progress. Jobs were hard to find, and workers were eager to earn their wage, so construction continued through weekends and holidays, allowing the building to be finished ahead of schedule. The depression also made building materials much cheaper. The building, itself, cost $24,718,000.00 -- about half of its original anticipated price.

One depression-era scheme didn't work out -- the plan to make the Empire State Building a blimp port in the sky. A dirigible mooring was built on what is now the base of the television tower. The idea was that passengers could fly directly into Manhattan, getting off at the ESB, rather than landing in one of the boroughs or New Jersey. Only one blimp ever successfully docked with the Empire State, and that was only for three minutes. Near disasters, unpredictable winds, and the thought of passengers walking a catwalk 1,350 feet above the ground scuttled the plan.

The Empire State Building is 1,453 feet 8 and 9/16th inches tall from street level to its highest point -- a lightning rod. This is on top of the foundation which rests 55 feet below ground. From the lobby level it is possible to ascend to the 80th floor in just 45 seconds thanks to a system of 73 elevators. With all this technology and strength, it's important to note that the ESB didn't have air conditioning for its first few decades. The first air conditioning system was installed in 1950, and has been expanded several times.

Beyond the mere facts and figures are the ways this building has been embraced by the city. There are annual races up the building's 1,860 stairs. When the World Trade Center was bombed by terrorists, only those television stations with antennae on the ESB remained on the air. And most importantly -- the daily festival of lights that transform this skyscraper from a cultural beacon to a literal beacon.

The Empire State Building is famous for the illumination of its upper floors. It's not fancy neon like buildings in Dallas or Houston, just basic floodlights. But their colors are changed regularly in significant ways giving people a reason to look at the building one more time, and not simply take it for granted as another monolith in the sky. The first special-purpose illumination on the Empire State Building was a simple searchlight. It was used to spread the word that Franklin Delano Roosevelt won the presidential race in 1932. This was supplanted in 1956 by a system of four rotating searchlights known as the "Freedom Lights" that symbolically welcomed people to America. And in 1964 the top 30 floors of the building were illuminated for the World's Fair. By 1976 the building's lighting scheme took a more artistic turn. In that year red, white, and blue lights celebrated the nation's bicentennial. Blue and white were used when the Yankees won baseball's World Series in 1977. The tradition has intensified and diversified. Sometimes the lights change on a daily basis to reflect current events and holidays. Orange for Halloween; green on Saint Patrick's Day. But in the spring and autumn, when birds migrate, the lights are turned off to keep from disturbing their route.

Turning the lights out wouldn't have saved the building from King Kong. The world's most famous movie ape teamed with one of the world's most famous buildings in the R.K.O. film in 1933. This movie helped spread the image of the Empire State Building around the world. In 1983 a 3,000 pound inflatable King Kong adorned the building to mark the film's 50th anniversary.

Many buildings tout themselves as the "Eighth Wonder of the World." Only the Empire State Building says it in art. In the 34th street lobby is a series of stained glass panels by Roy Sparkia and Renee Nemerov showing the building comfortably next to the Seven Wonders of the ancient world.

Quick Facts
  • Height to top floor: 1,224 feet
  • Height to roof: 1,250 feet
  • Height to the tip of the spire: 1,472 feet
  • Weight: 365,000 tons.
  • Floor space: 2,768,591 square feet
  • September 17, 1930: The cornerstone is cemented into place by Alfred E. Smith with a silver trowel.
  • May 1, 1931: The Empire State Building opens to the public.
  • 1932: The Empire State Building activates its first light display. A searchlight was illuminated to signal that Franklin Delano Roosevelt won the presidential election.
  • 1945: A U.S. Army B-25 bomber crashed into the 79th floor of the Empire State building causing $1,000,000.00 damage.
  • 1976: The Empire State Building's decorative lights are colored for the first time. They are changed to red, white, and blue for the nation's bicentennial.
  • May, 1981: The cornerstone is expanded in a ceremony marking the building's 50th anniversary.
  • February 7, 2001: 24-year-old Paul Crake of Australia wins the 24th Annual Fleet Empire State Building Run-up by sprinting up the building's 1,576 stairs in nine minutes, 37 seconds beating the other 123 contestants. The oldest runner is an 89-year-old man from Italy who makes it in 35 minutes, five seconds.
  • May 1, 2001: To celebrate its 70th birthday, the skyscraper is illuminated in white lights as it was on May 1, 1931.
  • June, 2001: The American Society of Civil Engineers has named several structures "Monuments of the Millennium." Included on the list are the Panama Canal, the Empire State Building, and the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • September 11, 2001: The Empire State Building once again becomes the tallest building in New York City.
  • March, 2002: The Empire State Building is sold for US$57,000,000.00.
  • May, 2008: Empire State Building guards are given formal uniforms designed by Jennifer L. Busch. The suits are inspired by the art deco motifs of the building. The jackets are officially "Empire State burgundy." Previously they just wore pants and polo shirts.
  • June, 2010: The Empire State Building becomes embroiled in a controversy over its policy of not lighting up its spire for certain groups. According to a spokesman, "We do not accommodate requests for religious figures or requests by religions and religious organizations. The controversy started when the Catholic League requested the building be illuminated in blue and white on August 26, 2010 to honor the 100th anniversary of the birth of Mother Theresa. The ESB refused to honor the Nobel Peace Prize-winning humanitarian, however it had no problem lighting the building to celebrate the Communist Revolution in China, which started with the slaughter of 77,000,000 innocent men, women, and children.
  • Architect: Gregory Johnson
  • Under certain circumstances, sticking your hand outside the observation level fence will cause a buildup of static electricity known as "Saint Elmo's Fire" to stream from your fingertips. This same phenomenon sometimes causes a shock when lovers kiss on the observatory level.
  • Empty, the Empire State Building can hold 37,000,000 cubic feet of water.
  • The building is illuminated with 204 floodlights on the 72nd and 81st floors, plus fluorescent lights on the spire.
  • It can take up to six hours for four electricians to change the lighting scheme that illuminates the top of the building by hand. The electricians don't have to change the fluorescent portion of lights by hand unless the desired color is orange.
  • The lighting on the Empire State Building can change every few days for hundreds of reasons, including Christmas, Hanukkah, Autumn, Independence Day, cold weather, Betty Boop's birthday, the release of a Pink Floyd album, circuses, the sale of Microsoft Windows 95, local sporting championships, and Olympic victories.
  • The building has 6,500 windows, 50 miles of radiator pipe, 1,060 miles of telephone lines, and 2,500,000 feet of electrical conduit. The exterior is faced with 200,000 cubic feet of Indiana limestone, and 10,000 square feet of Rose Famosa and Estrallante marble.
  • The following have admired the view from the Empire State Building's observation deck: Queen Elizabeth, Fidel Castro, Nikita Krushchev, and Lassie. Not all on the same occasion.
Did You Know?
  • This was the world's tallest building from 1931 to 1972.
Tourist Tips
  • If you don't ant to wait in line, there is a much better view from the observation deck at the G.E. Building in Rockefeller Center.
  • The building opened during the Great Depression and then suffered through World War II before making a profit because it had trouble attracting tenants during hard times. It was ridiculed as the "Empty State Building."
Rate This Skyscraper
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Your Thoughts

There are six comments.

   Simple: greatest building in the World.

ken - Thursday, December 23rd, 2010 @ 1:54pm  

  i have worked in the empire state building for almost nine years as an outside contractor and this building never loses its beauty and grace

Craig - Tuesday, July 8th, 2008 @ 9:09pm  

  i think that the Empire state building is a great tourist attraction. It was the center of a competition but now it is a complete star of Manhattan and it makes New Yorkers proud to say that they live in NEW YORK FO`SURE

Andria - Thursday, April 12th, 2007 @ 5:22pm  

  The granddaddy of them all. Bold, bodacious and beautiful, all three in the same building. Pure and exquisite architectural perfection.

Michael - Thursday, February 8th, 2007 @ 4:13am  

  a true world landmark! this is the perfect example of skyscraper design. imagine, in a forest of skyscrapers it called the attention of a an ape!(King Kong)that shows you how attractive and beautiful this building is! No visit to New York is complete without visiting this wonder of the world.

Wilbert NYC - Wednesday, August 3rd, 2005 @ 2:50am  

  ESB has a character all of it's own and is great to visit, some building!

Mal Walker - Sunday, March 13th, 2005 @ 1:44am