The Empire State Building is a 102-story landmark skyscraper and American cultural icon in New York City, United States, at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and West 34th Street. It has a roof height of 1,250 feet (381 meters), and with its antenna spire included, it stands a total of 1,454 ft (443.2 m) high. Its name is derived from the nickname for New York, the Empire State. It stood as the world’s tallest building for 40 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 once again became the tallest building in New York.
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 currently the third tallest skyscraper in the United States (after the Willis Tower and Trump International Hotel and Tower, both in Chicago), and the 15th tallest in the world. It is also the fourth-tallest freestanding structure in the Americas. The Empire State Building is currently undergoing a $550 million renovation, with $120 million utilized in an effort to transform the building into a more energy efficient and eco-friendly structure.
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, and the Carew Tower in Cincinnati, Ohio (designed by the architectural firm W.W. Ahlschlager & Associates) 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. The building was 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 and James Farley’s General Builders Supply Corporation supplied the building materials. John W. Bowser was project construction superintendent.
Excavation of the site began on January 21, 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. Lewis Wickes Hine’s photography of the construction provides not only invaluable documentation of the construction, but also a glimpse into common day life of workers in that era. 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 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 signaling the victory of Franklin D. Roosevelt over Hoover in the presidential election of November 1932.
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:” there are five of them: the sidewalk line, the lobby elevator line, the ticket purchase line, the second elevator line, and the line to get off the elevator and onto the observation deck. For an extra fee tourists can skip to the front of the line.
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. In the Latin American literary work Empire of Dreams by Giannina Braschi the observation deck is the site of a pastoral revolution; shepherds take over the City of New York. The deck was also the site of a Martian invasion in an old episode of I Love Lucy.
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 cinematic presentation lasts approximately 25 minutes and costs $52.
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 the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2011, 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.
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