More than any other building in the world, the Empire State Building embodies the ambition of humans to build towers that reach for the skies. The skyscraper is probably New York’s best known building and can be seen on many postcards.
The Empire State Building also features in many films, most notably the classic film ‘King Kong’ from 1933. Even today, though the building has been stripped from its title of the world’s tallest building, it is a symbol of New York itself, visited by more than three million people each year.
8th World Wonder
At the time when it was built in the early 1930s on Fifth Avenue, the Empire State Building broke all records and was dubbed ‘the 8th world wonder’.
The building had 64 elevators (now 73) and was constructed in only 1 year and 45 days. The skyscraper towered over the neighborhood with its height of 381 meters (1250 ft). As the Empire State Building was one of the last skyscrapers built before the Great Depression hit the real estate market, it wouldn’t be topped until 1972, when the twin World Trade Towers dethroned the Empire State Building as the world’s tallest building.
The Empire State Building is built on a full city block. Much of it was occupied by the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, which opened in November 1897 as the city’s largest hotel with 1050 rooms. It was one the most prestigious in New York and attracted an upper-class clientele. At the end of the 1920s however, the grand and plush design of the hotel had gone out of style and Waldorf-Astoria decided to build a new, larger hotel uptown.
After the site was cleared, construction started on March 17, 1930. Thanks to an efficient design and standardized work – similar to an assembly line – the building would rise at an average of about four and a half floors a week, faster than any other skyscraper at the time. The building was officially inaugurated on May 1, 1931 in the presence of governor Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The Empire State Building was designed by William Frederick Lamb of the architectural firm of Shreve, Lamb, and Harmon. Lamb, influenced by Raymond Hood’s Daily News building, came up with a fairly simple design, defined by requirements such as the budget, time limit and New York City’s 1916 zoning law. The building would have a classical composition of a five story base, a large tower with setbacks (required by the city’s zoning law) and a monumental spire. The limestone facade had little or no ornamentation. What makes the design so great is that for all its simplicity and sheer bulk it has a perfect composition and massing, giving the building a certain grandeur.
The building is topped by an enormous spire. It was designed as a mooring mast and would enable dirigibles such as zeppelins to anchor at the top of the building so that passengers could embark or disembark. This proved to be very unpractical however due to the instability of zeppelins and after the Hindenburg disaster in 1937 the idea was shelved.
The Empire State Building was one of the last skyscrapers completed in New York before the Great Depression hit the real estate market. Demolition of the existing building at the site started just weeks before the stock market crash of 1929. After 1933 – when Rockefeller Center was constructed – no tall skyscraper would be built in the city for almost two decades.
As a consequence the Empire State Building held its title of the world’s tallest building for more than forty years. But the Great Depression also caused a collapse in the demand for office space. The owners had such a difficult time leasing office space that the building became known as the ‘Empty State Building’. It would take until the end of the 1940s before the real estate market fully recovered and in the early 1950s the Empire State Building even became the most profitable building in New York City.
You can visit the Empire State Building’s observation deck on the 86th floor from where you have a magnificent view over the city of New York.
The Empire State Building is situated south of Midtown, away from the skyscraper clusters in midtown and in the financial district downtown, so this is one of the few places in Manhattan where you have an open 360 degree view.
If you’re looking for the best view of the Empire State Building itself, you better go to Rockefeller Center‘s observatory.