|Empire State Building|
|Tallest in the world from 1931 to 1970[I]|
|Preceded by||Chrysler Building|
|Surpassed by||World Trade Center (North Tower)|
|Type||Office building; observation decks|
|Architectural style||Art Deco|
|Location||350 Fifth Avenue[a]|
Manhattan, New York 10118[b]
|Construction started||March 17, 1930|
|Completed||April 11, 1931|
|Opening||May 1, 1931|
($564 million in 2019 dollars)
|Owner||Empire State Realty Trust|
|Tip||1,454 ft (443.2 m)|
|Roof||1,250 ft (381.0 m)|
|Top floor||1,224 ft (373.1 m)|
|Observatory||80th, 86th, and 102nd (top) floors|
|Other dimensions||424 ft (129.2 m) east–west by 187 ft (57.0 m) north–south|
|Floor area||2,248,355 sq ft (208,879 m2)|
|Design and construction|
|Architect||Shreve, Lamb and Harmon|
|Developer||Empire State Inc., including John J. Raskob and Al Smith|
|Structural engineer||Homer Gage Balcom|
|Main contractor||Starrett Brothers and Eken|
Empire State Building
NYC Landmark No. 2000, 2001
|NRHP reference No.||82001192|
|NYCL No.||2000, 2001|
|Added to NRHP||November 17, 1982|
|Designated NHL||June 24, 1986|
|Designated NYCL||May 19, 1981|
|I. ^ Empire State Building at Emporis|
The Empire State Building is a 102-story[c] Art Deco skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan in New York City, United States. It was designed by Shreve, Lamb & Harmon and built from 1930 to 1931. Its name is derived from "Empire State", the nickname of the state of New York. The building has a roof height of 1,250 feet (380 m) and stands a total of 1,454 feet (443.2 m) tall, including its antenna. The Empire State Building stood as the world's tallest building until the construction of the World Trade Center in 1970; following the latter's collapse in 2001, the Empire State Building was again the city's tallest skyscraper until 2012. As of 2020[update], the building is the seventh-tallest building in New York City, the ninth-tallest completed skyscraper in the United States, the 49th-tallest in the world, and the sixth-tallest freestanding structure in the Americas.
The site of the Empire State Building, in Midtown South on the west side of Fifth Avenue between West 33rd and 34th Streets, was developed in 1893 as the Waldorf–Astoria Hotel. In 1929, Empire State Inc. acquired the site and devised plans for a skyscraper there. The design for the Empire State Building was changed fifteen times until it was ensured to be the world's tallest building. Construction started on March 17, 1930, and the building opened thirteen and a half months afterward on May 1, 1931. Despite favorable publicity related to the building's construction, because of the Great Depression and World War II, its owners did not make a profit until the early 1950s.
The building's Art Deco architecture, height, and observation decks have made it a popular attraction. Around four million tourists from around the world annually visit the building's 86th- and 102nd-floor observatories; an additional indoor observatory on the 80th floor opened in 2019. The Empire State Building is an American cultural icon: it has been featured in more than 250 TV shows and movies since the film King Kong was released in 1933. The building's size has become the global standard of reference to describe the height and length of other structures. A symbol of New York City, the building has been named as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers. It was ranked first on the American Institute of Architects' List of America's Favorite Architecture in 2007. Additionally, the Empire State Building and its ground-floor interior were designated city landmarks by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1980, and were added to the National Register of Historic Places as a National Historic Landmark in 1986.
The Empire State Building is located on the west side of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, between 33rd Street to the south and 34th Street to the north. Tenants enter the building through the Art Deco lobby located at 350 Fifth Avenue. Visitors to the observatories use an entrance at 20 West 34th Street; prior to August 2018, visitors entered through the Fifth Avenue lobby. Although physically located in South Midtown, a mixed residential and commercial area, the building is so large that it was assigned its own ZIP Code, 10118; as of 2012[update], it is one of 43 buildings in New York City that have their own ZIP codes.[b]
The areas surrounding the Empire State Building are home to other major points of interest, including Macy's at Herald Square on Sixth Avenue and 34th Street, Koreatown on 32nd Street between Madison and Sixth Avenues, Penn Station and Madison Square Garden on Seventh Avenue between 32nd and 34th Streets, and the Flower District on 28th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. The nearest New York City Subway stations are 34th Street–Penn Station at Seventh Avenue, two blocks west; 34th Street–Herald Square, one block west; and 33rd Street at Park Avenue, two blocks east.[d] There is also a PATH station at 33rd Street and Sixth Avenue.
To the east of the Empire State Building is Murray Hill, a neighborhood with a mix of residential, commercial, and entertainment activity. The block directly to the northeast contains the B. Altman and Company Building, which houses the City University of New York's Graduate Center, while the Demarest Building is directly across Fifth Avenue to the east.
The site was previously owned by John Jacob Astor of the prominent Astor family, who had owned the site since the mid-1820s. In 1893, John Jacob Astor Sr.'s grandson William Waldorf Astor opened the Waldorf Hotel on the site; four years later, his cousin, John Jacob Astor IV, opened the 16-story Astoria Hotel on an adjacent site. The two portions of the Waldorf–Astoria hotel had 1,300 bedrooms, making it the largest hotel in the world at the time. After the death of its founding proprietor, George Boldt, in early 1918, the hotel lease was purchased by Thomas Coleman du Pont. By the 1920s, the old Waldorf–Astoria was becoming dated and the elegant social life of New York had moved much farther north than 34th Street. The Astor family decided to build a replacement hotel further uptown, and sold the hotel to Bethlehem Engineering Corporation in 1928 for $14–16 million. The hotel closed shortly thereafter, on May 3, 1929.
Bethlehem Engineering Corporation originally intended to build a 25-story office building on the Waldorf–Astoria site. The company's president, Floyd De L. Brown, paid $100,000 of the $1 million down payment required to start construction on the building, with the promise that the difference would be paid later. Brown borrowed $900,000 from a bank, but then defaulted on the loan. After Brown was unable to secure additional funding, the land was resold to Empire State Inc., a group of wealthy investors that included Louis G. Kaufman, Ellis P. Earle, John J. Raskob, Coleman du Pont, and Pierre S. du Pont. The name came from the state nickname for New York. Alfred E. Smith, a former Governor of New York and U.S. presidential candidate whose 1928 campaign had been managed by Raskob, was appointed head of the company. The group also purchased nearby land so they would have the 2 acres (1 ha) needed for the base, with the combined plot measuring 425 feet (130 m) wide by 200 feet (61 m) long.
The Empire State Inc. consortium was announced to the public in August 1929. Concurrently, Smith announced the construction of an 80-story building on the site, to be taller than any other buildings in existence. Empire State Inc. contracted William F. Lamb, of architectural firm Shreve, Lamb and Harmon, to create the building design. Lamb produced the building drawings in just two weeks using the firm's earlier designs for the Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem, North Carolina as the basis. Concurrently, Lamb's partner Richmond Shreve created "bug diagrams" of the project requirements. The 1916 Zoning Act forced Lamb to design a structure that incorporated setbacks resulting in the lower floors being larger than the upper floors.[e] Consequently, the building was designed from the top down, giving it a "pencil"-like shape. The plans were devised within a budget of $50 million and a stipulation that the building be ready for occupancy within 18 months of the start of construction.
The original plan of the building was 50 stories, but was later increased to 60 and then 80 stories. Height restrictions were placed on nearby buildings to ensure that the top fifty floors of the planned 80-story, 1,000-foot-tall (300 m) building would have unobstructed views of the city. The New York Times lauded the site's proximity to mass transit, with the Brooklyn–Manhattan Transit's 34th Street station and the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad's 33rd Street terminal one block away, as well as Penn Station two blocks away and the Grand Central Terminal nine blocks away at its closest. It also praised the 3,000,000 square feet (280,000 m2) of proposed floor space near "one of the busiest sections in the world".
While plans for the Empire State Building were being finalized, an intense competition in New York for the title of "world's tallest building" was underway. 40 Wall Street (then the Bank of Manhattan Building) and the Chrysler Building in Manhattan both vied for this distinction and were already under construction when work began on the Empire State Building. The "Race into the Sky", as popular media called it at the time, was representative of the country's optimism in the 1920s, fueled by the building boom in major cities. The race was defined by at least five other proposals, although only the Empire State Building would survive the Wall Street Crash of 1929.[f] The 40 Wall Street tower was revised, in April 1929, from 840 feet (260 m) to 925 feet (282 m) making it the world's tallest. The Chrysler Building added its 185-foot (56 m) steel tip to its roof in October 1929, thus bringing it to a height of 1,046 feet (319 m) and greatly exceeding the height of 40 Wall Street. The Chrysler Building's developer, Walter Chrysler, realized that his tower's height would exceed the Empire State Building's as well, having instructed his architect, William Van Alen, to change the Chrysler's original roof from a stubby Romanesque dome to a narrow steel spire. Raskob, wishing to have the Empire State Building be the world's tallest, reviewed the plans and had five floors added as well as a spire; however, the new floors would need to be set back because of projected wind pressure on the extension. On November 18, 1929, Smith acquired a lot at 27–31 West 33rd Street, adding 75 feet (23 m) to the width of the proposed office building's site. Two days later, Smith announced the updated plans for the skyscraper. The plans included an observation deck on the 86th-floor roof at a height of 1,050 feet (320 m), higher than the Chrysler's 71st-floor observation deck.
The 1,050-foot Empire State Building would only be 4 feet (1.2 m) taller than the Chrysler Building, and Raskob was afraid that Chrysler might try to "pull a trick like hiding a rod in the spire and then sticking it up at the last minute." The plans were revised one last time in December 1929, to include a 16-story, 200-foot (61 m) metal "crown" and an additional 222-foot (68 m) mooring mast intended for dirigibles. The roof height was now 1,250 feet (380 m), making it the tallest building in the world by far, even without the antenna. The addition of the dirigible station meant that another floor, the now-enclosed 86th floor, would have to be built below the crown; however, unlike the Chrysler's spire, the Empire State's mast would serve a practical purpose. A revised plan was announced to the public in late December 1929, just before the start of construction. The final plan was sketched within two hours, the night before the plan was supposed to be presented to the site's owners in January 1930. The New York Times reported that the spire was facing some "technical problems", but they were "no greater than might be expected under such a novel plan." By this time the blueprints for the building had gone through up to fifteen versions before they were approved. Lamb described the other specifications he was given for the final, approved plan:
The program was short enough—a fixed budget, no space more than 28 feet from window to corridor, as many stories of such space as possible, an exterior of limestone, and completion date of [May 1], 1931, which meant a year and six months from the beginning of sketches.
The contractors were Starrett Brothers and Eken, Paul and William A. Starrett and Andrew J. Eken, who would later construct other New York City buildings such as Stuyvesant Town, Starrett City and Trump Tower. The project was financed primarily by Raskob and Pierre du Pont, while James Farley's General Builders Supply Corporation supplied the building materials. John W. Bowser was the construction superintendent of the project, and the structural engineer of the building was Homer G. Balcom. The tight completion schedule necessitated the commencement of construction even though the design had yet to be finalized.
Demolition of the old Waldorf–Astoria began on October 1, 1929. Stripping the building down was an arduous process, as the hotel had been constructed using more rigid material than earlier buildings had been. Furthermore, the old hotel's granite, wood chips, and "'precious' metals such as lead, brass, and zinc" were not in high demand resulting in issues with disposal. Most of the wood was deposited into a woodpile on nearby 30th Street or was burned in a swamp elsewhere. Much of the other materials that made up the old hotel, including the granite and bronze, were dumped into the Atlantic Ocean near Sandy Hook, New Jersey.
By the time the hotel's demolition started, Raskob had secured the required funding for the construction of the building. The plan was to start construction later that year but, on October 24, the New York Stock Exchange experienced the major and sudden Wall Street Crash, marking the beginning of the decade-long Great Depression. Despite the economic downturn, Raskob refused to cancel the project because of the progress that had been made up to that point. Neither Raskob, who had ceased speculation in the stock market the previous year, nor Smith, who had no stock investments, suffered financially in the crash. However, most of the investors were affected and as a result, in December 1929, Empire State Inc. obtained a $27.5 million loan from Metropolitan Life Insurance Company so construction could begin. The stock market crash resulted in no demand for new office space; Raskob and Smith nonetheless started construction, as canceling the project would have resulted in greater losses for the investors.
A structural steel contract was awarded on January 12, 1930, with excavation of the site beginning ten days later on January 22, before the old hotel had been completely demolished. Two twelve-hour shifts, consisting of 300 men each, worked continuously to dig the 55-foot (17 m) foundation. Small pier holes were sunk into the ground to house the concrete footings that would support the steelwork. Excavation was nearly complete by early March, and construction on the building itself started on March 17, with the builders placing the first steel columns on the completed footings before the rest of the footings had been finished. Around this time, Lamb held a press conference on the building plans. He described the reflective steel panels parallel to the windows, the large-block Indiana Limestone facade that was slightly more expensive than smaller bricks, and the building's vertical lines. Four colossal columns, intended for installation in the center of the building site, were delivered; they would support a combined 10,000,000 pounds (4,500,000 kg) when the building was finished.
The structural steel was pre-ordered and pre-fabricated in anticipation of a revision to the city's building code that would have allowed the Empire State Building's structural steel to carry 18,000 pounds per square inch (120,000 kPa), up from 16,000 pounds per square inch (110,000 kPa), thus reducing the amount of steel needed for the building. Although the 18,000-psi regulation had been safely enacted in other cities, Mayor Jimmy Walker did not sign the new codes into law until March 26, 1930, just before construction was due to commence. The first steel framework was installed on April 1, 1930. From there, construction proceeded at a rapid pace; during one stretch of 10 working days, the builders erected fourteen floors. This was made possible through precise coordination of the building's planning, as well as the mass production of common materials such as windows and spandrels. On one occasion, when a supplier could not provide timely delivery of dark Hauteville marble, Starrett switched to using Rose Famosa marble from a German quarry that was purchased specifically to provide the project with sufficient marble.
The scale of the project was massive, with trucks carrying "16,000 partition tiles, 5,000 bags of cement, 450 cubic yards [340 m3] of sand and 300 bags of lime" arriving at the construction site every day. There were also cafes and concession stands on five of the incomplete floors so workers did not have to descend to the ground level to eat lunch. Temporary water taps were also built so workers did not waste time buying water bottles from the ground level. Additionally, carts running on a small railway system transported materials from the basement storage to elevators that brought the carts to the desired floors where they would then be distributed throughout that level using another set of tracks. The 57,480 short tons (51,320 long tons) of steel ordered for the project was the largest-ever single order of steel at the time, comprising more steel than was ordered for the Chrysler Building and 40 Wall Street combined. According to historian John Tauranac, building materials were sourced from numerous, and distant, sources with "limestone from Indiana, steel girders from Pittsburgh, cement and mortar from upper New York State, marble from Italy, France, and England, wood from northern and Pacific Coast forests, [and] hardware from New England." The facade, too, used a variety of material, most prominently Indiana limestone but also Swedish black granite, terracotta, and brick.
By June 20, the skyscraper's supporting steel structure had risen to the 26th floor, and by July 27, half of the steel structure had been completed. Starrett Bros. and Eken endeavored to build one floor a day in order to speed up construction, a goal that they almost reached with their pace of 4+1⁄2 stories per week; prior to this, the fastest pace of construction for a building of similar height had been 3+1⁄2 stories per week. While construction progressed, the final designs for the floors were being designed from the ground up (as opposed to the general design, which had been from the roof down). Some of the levels were still undergoing final approval, with several orders placed within an hour of a plan being finalized. On September 10, as steelwork was nearing completion, Smith laid the building's cornerstone during a ceremony attended by thousands. The stone contained a box with contemporary artifacts including the previous day's New York Times, a U.S. currency set containing all denominations of notes and coins minted in 1930, a history of the site and building, and photographs of the people involved in construction. The steel structure was topped out at 1,048 feet (319 m) on September 19, twelve days ahead of schedule and 23 weeks after the start of construction. Workers raised a flag atop the 86th floor to signify this milestone.
Afterward, work on the building's interior and crowning mast commenced. The mooring mast topped out on November 21, two months after the steelwork had been completed. Meanwhile, work on the walls and interior was progressing at a quick pace, with exterior walls built up to the 75th floor by the time steelwork had been built to the 95th floor. The majority of the facade was already finished by the middle of November. Because of the building's height, it was deemed infeasible to have many elevators or large elevator cabins, so the builders contracted with the Otis Elevator Company to make 66 cars that could speed at 1,200 feet per minute (366 m/min), which represented the largest-ever elevator order at the time.
In addition to the time constraint builders had, there were also space limitations because construction materials had to be delivered quickly, and trucks needed to drop off these materials without congesting traffic. This was solved by creating a temporary driveway for the trucks between 33rd and 34th Streets, and then storing the materials in the building's first floor and basements. Concrete mixers, brick hoppers, and stone hoists inside the building ensured that materials would be able to ascend quickly and without endangering or inconveniencing the public. At one point, over 200 trucks made material deliveries at the building site every day. A series of relay and erection derricks, placed on platforms erected near the building, lifted the steel from the trucks below and installed the beams at the appropriate locations. The Empire State Building was structurally completed on April 11, 1931, twelve days ahead of schedule and 410 days after construction commenced. Al Smith shot the final rivet, which was made of solid gold.
The project involved more than 3,500 workers at its peak, including 3,439 on a single day, August 14, 1930. Many of the workers were Irish and Italian immigrants, with a sizable minority of Mohawk ironworkers from the Kahnawake reserve near Montreal. According to official accounts, five workers died during the construction, although the New York Daily News gave reports of 14 deaths and a headline in the socialist magazine The New Masses spread unfounded rumors of up to 42 deaths. The Empire State Building cost $40,948,900 to build (equivalent to $564,491,900 in 2019), including demolition of the Waldorf–Astoria. This was lower than the $60 million budgeted for construction.
Lewis Hine captured many photographs of the construction, documenting not only the work itself but also providing insight into the daily life of workers in that era. Hine's images were used extensively by the media to publish daily press releases. According to the writer Jim Rasenberger, Hine "climbed out onto the steel with the ironworkers and dangled from a derrick cable hundreds of feet above the city to capture, as no one ever had before (or has since), the dizzy work of building skyscrapers". In Rasenberger's words, Hine turned what might have been an assignment of "corporate flak" into "exhilarating art". These images were later organized into their own collection. Onlookers were enraptured by the sheer height at which the steelworkers operated. New York magazine wrote of the steelworkers: "Like little spiders they toiled, spinning a fabric of steel against the sky".
The Empire State Building officially opened on May 1, 1931, forty-five days ahead of its projected opening date, and eighteen months from the start of construction. The opening was marked with an event featuring United States President Herbert Hoover, who turned on the building's lights with the ceremonial button push from Washington, D.C. Over 350 guests attended the opening ceremony, and following luncheon, at the 86th floor including Jimmy Walker, Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Al Smith. An account from that day stated that the view from the luncheon was obscured by a fog, with other landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty being "lost in the mist" enveloping New York City. The Empire State Building officially opened the next day. Advertisements for the building's observatories were placed in local newspapers, while nearby hotels also capitalized on the events by releasing advertisements that lauded their proximity to the newly opened building.
According to The New York Times, builders and real estate speculators predicted that the 1,250-foot-tall (380 m) Empire State Building would be the world's tallest building "for many years", thus ending the great New York City skyscraper rivalry. At the time, most engineers agreed that it would be difficult to build a building taller than 1,200 feet (370 m), even with the hardy Manhattan bedrock as a foundation. Technically, it was believed possible to build a tower of up to 2,000 feet (610 m), but it was deemed uneconomical to do so, especially during the Great Depression. As the tallest building in the world, at that time, and the first one to exceed 100 floors, the Empire State Building became an icon of the city and, ultimately, of the nation.
In 1932, the Fifth Avenue Association gave the building its 1931 "gold medal" for architectural excellence, signifying that the Empire State had been the best-designed building on Fifth Avenue to open in 1931. A year later, on March 2, 1933, the movie King Kong was released. The movie, which depicted a large stop motion ape named Kong climbing the Empire State Building, made the still-new building into a cinematic icon.
The Empire State Building's opening coincided with the Great Depression in the United States, and as a result much of its office space was vacant from its opening. In the first year, only 23% of the available space was rented, as compared to the early 1920s, where the average building would have occupancy of 52% upon opening and 90% rented within five years. The lack of renters led New Yorkers to deride the building as the "Empty State Building. or "Smith's Folly".
The earliest tenants in the Empire State Building were large companies, banks, and garment industries. Jack Brod, one of the building's longest resident tenants, co-established the Empire Diamond Corporation with his father in the building in mid-1931 and rented space in the building until he died in 2008. Brod recalled that there were only about 20 tenants at the time of opening, including him, and that Al Smith was the only real tenant in the space above his seventh-floor offices. Generally, during the early 1930s, it was rare for more than a single office space to be rented in the building, despite Smith's and Raskob's aggressive marketing efforts in the newspapers and to anyone they knew. The building's lights were continuously left on, even in the unrented spaces, to give the impression of occupancy. This was exacerbated by competition from Rockefeller Center as well as from buildings on 42nd Street, which, when combined with the Empire State Building, resulted in surplus of office space in a slow market during the 1930s.
Aggressive marketing efforts served to reinforce the Empire State Building's status as the world's tallest. The observatory was advertised in local newspapers as well as on railroad tickets. The building became a popular tourist attraction, with one million people each paying one dollar to ride elevators to the observation decks in 1931. In its first year of operation, the observation deck made approximately $2 million in revenue, as much as its owners made in rent that year. By 1936, the observation deck was crowded on a daily basis, with food and drink available for purchase at the top, and by 1944 the building had received its five-millionth visitor. In 1931, NBC took up tenancy, leasing space on the 85th floor for radio broadcasts. From the outset the building was in debt, losing $1 million per year by 1935. Real estate developer Seymour Durst recalled that the building was so underused in 1936 that there was no elevator service above the 45th floor, as the building above the 41st floor was empty except for the NBC offices and the Raskob/Du Pont offices on the 81st floor.
Per the original plans, the Empire State Building's spire was intended to be an airship docking station. Raskob and Smith had proposed dirigible ticketing offices and passenger waiting rooms on the 86th floor, while the airships themselves would be tied to the spire at the equivalent of the building's 106th floor. An elevator would ferry passengers from the 86th to the 101st floor[g] after they had checked in on the 86th floor, after which passengers would have climbed steep ladders to board the airship. The idea, however, was impractical and dangerous due to powerful updrafts caused by the building itself, the wind currents across Manhattan, and the spires of nearby skyscrapers. Furthermore, even if the airship were to successfully navigate all these obstacles, its crew would have to jettison some ballast by releasing water onto the streets below in order to maintain stability, and then tie the craft's nose to the spire with no mooring lines securing the tail end of the craft. On September 15, 1931, a small commercial United States Navy airship circled 25 times in 45-mile-per-hour (72 km/h) winds. The airship then attempted to dock at the mast, but its ballast spilled and the craft was rocked by unpredictable eddies. The near-disaster scuttled plans to turn the building's spire into an airship terminal, although one blimp did manage to make a single newspaper delivery afterward.
On July 28, 1945, a B-25 Mitchell bomber crashed into the north side of the Empire State Building, between the 79th and 80th floors. One engine completely penetrated the building and landed in a neighboring block, while the other engine and part of the landing gear plummeted down an elevator shaft. Fourteen people were killed in the incident, but the building escaped severe damage and was reopened two days later.
The Empire State Building only started becoming profitable in the 1950s, when it was finally able to break even for the first time. At the time, mass transit options in the building's vicinity were limited compared to the present day. Despite this challenge, the Empire State Building began to attract renters due to its reputation. A 222-foot (68 m) radio antenna was erected on top of the towers starting in 1950, allowing the area's television stations to be broadcast from the building.
However, despite the turnaround in the building's fortunes, Raskob listed it for sale in 1951, with a minimum asking price of $50 million. The property was purchased by business partners Roger L. Stevens, Henry Crown, Alfred R. Glancy and Ben Tobin. The sale was brokered by the Charles F. Noyes Company, a prominent real estate firm in upper Manhattan, for $51 million, the highest price paid for a single structure at the time. By this time, the Empire State had been fully leased for several years with a waiting list of parties looking to lease space in the building, according to the Cortland Standard. That same year, six news companies formed a partnership to pay a combined annual fee of $600,000 to use the building's antenna, which was completed in 1953. Crown bought out his partners' ownership stakes in 1954, becoming the sole owner. The following year, the American Society of Civil Engineers named the building one of the "Seven Modern Civil Engineering Wonders".
In 1961, Lawrence A. Wien signed a contract to purchase the Empire State Building for $65 million, with Harry B. Helmsley acting as partners in the building's operating lease. This became the new highest price for a single structure. Over 3,000 people paid $10,000 for one share each in a company called Empire State Building Associates. The company in turn subleased the building to another company headed by Helmsley and Wien, raising $33 million of the funds needed to pay the purchase price. In a separate transaction, the land underneath the building was sold to Prudential Insurance for $29 million. Helmsley, Wien, and Peter Malkin quickly started a program of minor improvement projects, including the first-ever full-building facade refurbishment and window-washing in 1962, the installation of new flood lights on the 72nd floor in 1964, and replacement of the manually operated elevators with automatic units in 1966. The little-used western end of the second floor was used as a storage space until 1964, at which point it received escalators to the first floor as part of its conversion into a highly sought retail area.
In 1961, the same year that Helmsley, Wien, and Malkin had purchased the Empire State Building, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey formally backed plans for a new World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. The plan originally included 66-story twin towers with column-free open spaces. The Empire State's owners and real estate speculators were worried that the twin towers' 7.6 million square feet (710,000 m2) of office space would create a glut of rentable space in Manhattan as well as take away the Empire State Building's profits from lessees. A revision in the World Trade Center's plan brought the twin towers to 1,370 feet (420 m) each or 110 stories, taller than the Empire State. Opponents of the new project included prominent real-estate developer Robert Tishman, as well as Wien's Committee for a Reasonable World Trade Center. In response to Wien's opposition, Port Authority executive director Austin J. Tobin said that Wien was only opposing the project because it would overshadow his Empire State Building as the world's tallest building.
The World Trade Center's twin towers started construction in 1966. The following year, the Ostankino Tower succeeded the Empire State Building as the tallest freestanding structure in the world. In 1970, the Empire State surrendered its position as the world's tallest building, when the World Trade Center's still-under-construction North Tower surpassed it, on October 19; the North Tower was topped out on December 23, 1970.
In December 1975, the observation deck was opened on the 110th floor of the Twin Towers, significantly higher than the 86th floor observatory on the Empire State Building. The latter was also losing revenue during this period, particularly as a number of broadcast stations had moved to the World Trade Center in 1971; although the Port Authority continued to pay the broadcasting leases for the Empire State until 1984. The Empire State Building was still seen as prestigious, having seen its forty-millionth visitor in March 1971.
By 1980, there were nearly two million annual visitors, although a building official had previously estimated between 1.5 million and 1.75 million annual visitors. The building received its own ZIP code in May 1980 in a roll out of 63 new postal codes in Manhattan. At the time, its tenants collectively received 35,000 pieces of mail daily. The Empire State Building celebrated its 50th anniversary on May 1, 1981, with a much-publicized, but poorly received, laser light show, as well as an "Empire State Building Week" that ran through to May 8.
The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to make the lobby a city landmark on May 19, 1981, citing the historic nature of the first and second floors, as well as "the fixtures and interior components" of the upper floors. The building became a National Historic Landmark in 1986 in close alignment to the New York City Landmarks report. The Empire State Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places the following year due to its architectural significance.
Capital improvements were made to the Empire State Building during the early to mid-1990s at a cost of $55 million. These improvements entailed replacing alarm systems, elevators, windows, and air conditioning; making the observation deck compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA); and refurbishing the limestone facade. The observatory renovation was added after disability rights groups and the United States Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the building in 1992, in what was the first lawsuit filed by an organization under the new law. A settlement was reached in 1994, in which the Empire State Building Associates agreed to add ADA-compliant elements, such as new elevators, ramps, and automatic doors, during its ongoing renovation.
Prudential sold the land under the building in 1991 for $42 million to a buyer representing hotelier Hideki Yokoi, who was imprisoned at the time in connection with the deadly Hotel New Japan Fire at the Hotel New Japan in Tokyo. In 1994, Donald Trump entered into a joint-venture agreement with Yokoi, with a shared goal of breaking the Empire State Building's lease on the land in an effort to gain total ownership of the building so that, if successful, the two could reap the potential profits of merging the ownership of the building with the land beneath it. Having secured a half-ownership of the land, Trump devised plans to take ownership of the building itself so he could renovate it, even though Helmsley and Malkin had already started their refurbishment project. He sued Empire State Building Associates in February 1995, claiming that the latter had caused the building to become a "high-rise slum" and a "second-rate, rodent-infested" office tower. Trump had intended to have Empire State Building Associates evicted for violating the terms of their lease, but was denied. This led to Helmsley's companies countersuing Trump in May. This sparked a series of lawsuits and countersuits that lasted several years, partly arising from Trump's desire to obtain the building's master lease by taking it from Empire State Building Associates. Upon Harry Helmsley's death in 1997, the Malkins sued Helmsley's widow, Leona Helmsley, for control of the building.
Following the destruction of the World Trade Center during the September 11 attacks in 2001, the Empire State Building again became the tallest building in New York City, but was only the second-tallest building in the Americas after the Sears (later Willis) Tower in Chicago. As a result of the attacks, transmissions from nearly all of the city's commercial television and FM radio stations were again broadcast from the Empire State Building. The attacks also led to an increase in security due to persistent terror threats against prominent sites in New York City.
In 2002, Trump and Yokoi sold their land claim to the Empire State Building Associates, now headed by Malkin, in a $57.5 million sale. This action merged the building's title and lease for the first time in half a century. Despite the lingering threat posed by the 9/11 attacks, the Empire State Building remained popular with 3.5 million visitors to the observatories in 2004, compared to about 2.8 million in 2003.
Even though she maintained her ownership stake in the building until the post-consolidation IPO in October 2013, Leona Helmsley handed over day-to-day operations of the building in 2006 to Peter Malkin's company. In 2008, the building was temporarily "stolen" by the New York Daily News to show how easy it was to transfer the deed on a property, since city clerks were not required to validate the submitted information, as well as to help demonstrate how fraudulent deeds could be used to obtain large mortgages and then have individuals disappear with the money. The paperwork submitted to the city included the names of Fay Wray, the famous star of King Kong, and Willie Sutton, a notorious New York bank robber. The newspaper then transferred the deed back over to the legitimate owners, who at that time were Empire State Land Associates.
Starting in 2009, the building's public areas received a $550 million renovation, with improvements to the air conditioning and waterproofing, renovations to the observation deck and main lobby, and relocation of the gift shop to the 80th floor. About $120 million was spent on improving the energy efficiency of the building, with the goal of reducing energy emissions by 38% within five years. For example, all of the windows were refurbished onsite into film-coated "superwindows" which block heat but pass light. Air conditioning operating costs on hot days were reduced, saving $17 million of the project's capital cost immediately and partially funding some of the other retrofits. The Empire State Building won the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold for Existing Buildings rating in September 2011, as well as the World Federation of Great Towers' Excellence in Environment Award for 2010. For the LEED Gold certification, the building's energy reduction was considered, as was a large purchase of carbon offsets. Other factors included low-flow bathroom fixtures, green cleaning supplies, and use of recycled paper products.
On April 30, 2012, One World Trade Center topped out, taking the Empire State Building's record of tallest in the city. By 2014, the building was owned by the Empire State Realty Trust (ESRT), with Anthony Malkin as chairman, CEO, and president. The ESRT was a public company, having begun trading publicly on the New York Stock Exchange the previous year. In August 2016, the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) was issued new fully diluted shares equivalent to 9.9% of the trust; this investment gave them partial ownership of the entirety of the ESRT's portfolio, and as a result, partial ownership of the Empire State Building. The trust's president John Kessler called it an "endorsement of the company's irreplaceable assets". The investment has been described by the real-estate magazine The Real Deal as "an unusual move for a sovereign wealth fund", as these funds typically buy direct stakes in buildings rather than real estate companies. Other foreign entities that have a stake in the ESRT include investors from Norway, Japan, and Australia.
A renovation of the Empire State Building was commenced in the 2010s to further improve energy efficiency, public areas, and amenities. In August 2018, to improve the flow of visitor traffic, the main visitor's entrance was shifted to 20 West 34th Street as part of a major renovation of the observatory lobby. The new lobby includes several technological features, including large LED panels, digital ticket kiosks in nine languages, and a two-story architectural model of the building surrounded by two metal staircases. The first phase of the renovation, completed in 2019, features an updated exterior lighting system and digital hosts. The new lobby also features free Wi-Fi provided for those waiting. A 10,000-square-foot (930 m2) exhibit with nine galleries, opened in July 2019. The 102nd floor observatory, the third phase of the redesign, re-opened to the public on October 12, 2019. That portion of the project included outfitting the space with floor-to-ceiling glass windows and a brand-new glass elevator. The final portion of the renovations to be completed was a new observatory on the 80th floor, which opened on December 2, 2019. In total, the renovation had cost $165 million and taken four years to finish.
The Empire State Building is 1,250 ft (381 m) tall to its 102nd floor, or 1,453 feet 8+9⁄16 inches (443.092 m) including its 203-foot (61.9 m) pinnacle. The building has 86 usable stories; the first through 85th floors contain 2.158 million square feet (200,500 m2) of commercial and office space, while the 86th story contains an observatory. The remaining 16 stories are part of the Art Deco spire, which is capped by an observatory on the 102nd floor; the spire does not contain any intermediate levels and is used mostly for mechanical purposes. Atop the 102nd story is the 203 ft (61.9 m) pinnacle, much of which is covered by broadcast antennas, and surmounted with a lightning rod. It was the first building to have more than 100 floors.
The building has been named one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers. 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 first on the AIA's List of America's Favorite Architecture.
The Empire State Building has a symmetrical massing, or shape, because of its large lot and relatively short base. The five-story base occupies the entire lot, while the 81-story tower above it is set back sharply from the base. There are smaller setbacks on the upper stories, allowing sunlight to illuminate the interiors of the top floors, and positioning these floors away from the noisy streets below. The setbacks are located at the 21st, 25th, 30th, 72nd, 81st, and 85th stories.
The setbacks were mandated per the 1916 Zoning Resolution, which was intended to allow sunlight to reach the streets as well.[e] Normally, a building of the Empire State's dimensions would be permitted to build up to 12 stories on the Fifth Avenue side, and up to 17 stories on the 33rd/34th Streets side, before it would have to utilize setbacks. However, with the largest setback being located above the base, the tower stories could contain a uniform shape. According to architectural writer Robert A. M. Stern, the building's form contrasted with the nearly contemporary, similarly designed 500 Fifth Avenue eight blocks north, which had an asymmetrical massing on a smaller lot.
The Empire State Building's art deco design is typical of pre–World War II architecture in New York. The facade is clad in Indiana limestone panels sourced from the Empire Mill in Sanders, Indiana, which give the building its signature blonde color. According to official fact sheets, the facade uses 200,000 cubic feet (5,700 m3) of limestone and granite, ten million bricks, and 730 short tons (650 long tons) of aluminum and stainless steel. The building also contains 6,514 windows.
The main entrance, composed of three sets of metal doors, is at the center of the Fifth Avenue facade's elevation, flanked by molded piers that are topped with eagles. Above the main entrance is a transom, a triple-height transom window with geometric patterns, and the golden letters empire state above the fifth-floor windows. There are two entrances each on 33rd and 34th Streets, with modernistic, stainless steel canopies projecting from the entrances on 33rd and 34th Streets there. Above the secondary entrances are triple windows, less elaborate in design than those on Fifth Avenue. The storefronts on the first floor contain aluminum-framed doors and windows within a black granite cladding. The second through fourth stories consist of windows alternating with wide stone piers and narrower stone mullions. The fifth story contains windows alternating with wide and narrow mullions, and is topped by a horizontal stone sill.
The facade of the tower stories is split into several vertical bays on each side, with windows projecting slightly from the limestone cladding. The bays are arranged into sets of one, two, or three windows on each floor. The windows in each bay are separated by vertical nickel-chrome steel mullions and connected by horizontal aluminum spandrels on each floor.
The riveted steel frame of the building was originally designed to handle all of the building's gravitational stresses and wind loads. The amount of material used in the building's construction resulted in a very stiff structure when compared to other skyscrapers, with a structural stiffness of 42 pounds per square foot (2.0 kPa) versus the Willis Tower's 33 pounds per square foot (1.6 kPa) and the John Hancock Center's 26 pounds per square foot (1.2 kPa). A December 1930 feature in Popular Mechanics estimated that a building with the Empire State's dimensions would still stand even if hit with an impact of 50 short tons (45 long tons).
Utilities are grouped in a central shaft. On the 6th through 86th stories, the central shaft is surrounded by a main corridor on all four sides. Per the final specifications of the building, the corridor is surrounded in turn by office space 28 feet (8.5 m) deep, maximizing office space at a time before air conditioning became commonplace. Each of the floors has 210 structural columns that pass through it, which provide structural stability, but limits the amount of open space on these floors. However, the relative dearth of stone in the building allows for more space overall, with a 1:200 stone-to-building ratio in the Empire State compared to a 1:50 ratio in similar buildings.
According to official fact sheets, the Empire State Building weighs 365,000 short tons (331,122 t) and has an internal volume of 37 million cubic feet (1,000,000 m3). The interior required 1,172 miles (1,886 km) of elevator cable and 2 million feet (609,600 m) of electrical wires. It has a total floor area of 2,768,591 sq ft (257,211 m2), and each of the floors in the base cover 2 acres (1 ha). This gives the building capacity for 20,000 tenants and 15,000 visitors.
The building contains 73 elevators. Its original 64 elevators, built by the Otis Elevator Company, are located in a central core and are of varying heights, with the longest of these elevators reaching from the lobby to the 80th floor. As originally built, there were four "express" elevators that connected the lobby, 80th floor, and several landings in between; the other 60 "local" elevators connected the landings with the floors above these intermediate landings. Of the 64 total elevators, 58 were for passenger use (comprising the four express elevators and 54 local elevators), and eight were for freight deliveries. The elevators were designed to move at 1,200 feet per minute (366 m/min). At the time of the skyscraper's construction, their practical speed was limited to 700 feet per minute (213 m/min) per city law, but this limit was removed shortly after the building opened. Additional elevators connect the 80th floor to the six floors above it, as the six extra floors were built after the original 80 stories were approved. The elevators were mechanically operated until 2011, when they were replaced with automatic elevators during the $550 million renovation of the building. An additional elevator connects the 86th and 102nd floor observatories, which allows visitors access the 102nd floor observatory after having their tickets scanned. It also allows employees to access the mechanical floors located between the 87th and 101st floors. The Empire State Building has 73 elevators in all, including service elevators.
The original main lobby is accessed from Fifth Avenue, on the building's east side, and contains an entrance with one set of double doors between a pair of revolving doors. At the top of each doorway is a bronze motif depicting one of three "crafts or industries" used in the building's construction—Electricity, Masonry, and Heating. The lobby contains two tiers of marble, a lighter marble on the top, above the storefronts, and a darker marble on the bottom, flush with the storefronts. There is a pattern of zigzagging terrazzo tiles on the lobby floor, which leads from the entrance on the east to the aluminum relief on the west. The chapel-like three-story-high lobby, which runs parallel to 33rd and 34th Streets, contains storefronts on both its northern and southern sides. These storefronts are framed on each side by tubes of dark "modernistically rounded marble", according to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, and above by a vertical band of grooves set into the marble. Immediately inside the lobby is an airport-style security checkpoint. The side entrances from 33rd and 34th Street lead to two-story-high corridors around the elevator core, crossed by stainless steel and glass-enclosed bridges at the second floor.
The walls on both the northern and southern sides of the lobby house storefronts and escalators to a mezzanine level.[h] At the west end of the lobby is an aluminum relief of the skyscraper as it was originally built (i.e. without the antenna). The relief, which was intended to provide a welcoming effect, contains an embossing of the building's outline, accompanied by what the Landmarks Preservation Commission describes as "the rays of an aluminum sun shining out behind [the building] and mingling with aluminum rays emanating from the spire of the Empire State Building". In the background is a state map of New York with the building's location marked by a "medallion" in the very southeast portion of the outline. A compass is located in the bottom right and a plaque to the building's major developers is on the bottom left.
The plaque at the western end of the lobby is located on the eastern interior wall of a one-story tall rectangular-shaped corridor that surrounds the banks of escalators, with a similar design to the lobby. The rectangular-shaped corridor actually consists of two long hallways on the northern and southern sides of the rectangle, as well as a shorter hallway on the eastern side and another long hallway on the western side. At both ends of the northern and southern corridors, there is a bank of four low-rise elevators in between the corridors. The western side of the rectangular elevator-bank corridor extends north to the 34th Street entrance and south to the 33rd Street entrance. It borders three large storefronts and leads to escalators that go both to the second floor and to the basement. Going from west to east, there are secondary entrances to 34th and 33rd Streets from both the northern and southern corridors, respectively, at approximately the two-thirds point of each corridor.[h]
Until the 1960s, an art deco mural, inspired by both the sky and the Machine Age, was installed in the lobby ceilings. Subsequent damage to these murals, designed by artist Leif Neandross, resulted in reproductions being installed. Renovations to the lobby in 2009, such as replacing the clock over the information desk in the Fifth Avenue lobby with an anemometer and installing two chandeliers intended to be part of the building when it originally opened, revived much of its original grandeur. The north corridor contained eight illuminated panels created in 1963 by Roy Sparkia and Renée Nemorov, in time for the 1964 World's Fair, depicting the building as the Eighth Wonder of the World alongside the traditional seven. The building's owners installed a series of paintings by the New York artist Kysa Johnson in the concourse level. Johnson later filed a federal lawsuit, in January 2014, under the Visual Artists Rights Act alleging the negligent destruction of the paintings and damage to her reputation as an artist. As part of the building's 2010 renovation, Denise Amses commissioned a work consisting of 15,000 stars and 5,000 circles, superimposed on a 13-by-5-foot (4.0 by 1.5 m) etched-glass installation, in the lobby.
The final stage of the building was the installation of a hollow mast, a 158-foot (48 m) steel shaft fitted with elevators and utilities, above the 86th floor. At the top would be a conical roof and the 102nd-floor docking station. Inside, the elevators would ascend 167 feet (51 m) from the 86th floor ticket offices to a 33-foot-wide (10 m) 101st-floor[g] waiting room. From there, stairs would lead to the 102nd floor,[g] where passengers would enter the airships. The airships would have been moored to the spire at the equivalent of the building's 106th floor.
As constructed, the mast contains four rectangular tiers topped by a cylindrical shaft with a conical pinnacle. On the 102nd floor (formerly the 101st floor), there is a door with stairs ascending to the 103rd floor (formerly the 102nd).[g] This was built as a disembarkation floor for airships tethered to the building's spire, and has a circular balcony outside. It is now an access point to reach the spire for maintenance. The room now contains electrical equipment, but celebrities and dignitaries may also be given permission to take pictures there. Above the 103rd floor, there is a set of stairs and a ladder to reach the spire for maintenance work. The mast's 480 windows were all replaced in 2015. The mast serves as the base of the building's broadcasting antenna.
Broadcasting began at the Empire State Building on December 22, 1931, when NBC and RCA began transmitting experimental television broadcasts from a small antenna erected atop the mast, with two separate transmitters for the visual and audio data. They leased the 85th floor and built a laboratory there. In 1934, RCA was joined by Edwin Howard Armstrong in a cooperative venture to test his FM system from the building's antenna. This setup, which entailed the installation of the world's first FM transmitter, continued only until October of the next year due to disputes between RCA and Armstrong. Specifically, NBC wanted to install more TV equipment in the room where Armstrong's transmitter was located.
After some time, the 85th floor became home to RCA's New York television operations initially as experimental station W2XBS channel 1 then, from 1941, as commercial station WNBT channel 1 (now WNBC channel 4). NBC's FM station, W2XDG, began transmitting from the antenna in 1940. NBC retained exclusive use of the top of the building until 1950 when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ordered the exclusive deal be terminated. The FCC directive was based on consumer complaints that a common location was necessary for the seven extant New York-area television stations to transmit from so that receiving antennas would not have to be constantly adjusted. Other television broadcasters would later join RCA at the building on the 81st through 83rd floors, often along with sister FM stations. Construction of a dedicated broadcast tower began on July 27, 1950, with TV, and FM, transmissions starting in 1951. The 200-foot (61 m) broadcast tower was completed in 1953. From 1951, six broadcasters agreed to pay a combined $600,000 per year for the use of the antenna. In 1965, a separate set of FM antennae was constructed ringing the 103rd floor observation area to act as a master antenna.
The placement of the stations in the Empire State Building became a major issue with the construction of the World Trade Center's Twin Towers in the late 1960s, and early 1970s. The greater height of the Twin Towers would reflect radio waves broadcast from the Empire State Building, eventually resulting in some broadcasters relocating to the newer towers instead of suing the developer, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Even though the nine stations who were broadcasting from the Empire State Building were leasing their broadcast space until 1984, most of these stations moved to the World Trade Center as soon as it was completed in 1971. The broadcasters obtained a court order stipulating that the Port Authority had to build a mast and transmission equipment in the North Tower, as well as pay the broadcasters' leases in the Empire State Building until 1984. Only a few broadcasters renewed their leases in the Empire State Building.
The September 11 attacks in 2001 destroyed the World Trade Center and the broadcast centers atop it, leaving most of the city's stations without a station for ten days until a temporary tower was built in Alpine, New Jersey. By October 2001, nearly all of the city's commercial broadcast stations (both television and FM radio) were again transmitting from the top of the Empire State Building. In a report that Congress commissioned about the transition from analog television to digital television, it was stated that the placement of broadcast stations in the Empire State Building was considered "problematic" due to interference from nearby buildings. In comparison, the congressional report stated that the former Twin Towers had very few buildings of comparable height nearby thus signals suffered little interference. In 2003, a few FM stations were relocated to the nearby Condé Nast Building to reduce the number of broadcast stations using the Empire State Building. Eleven television stations and twenty-two FM stations had signed 15-year leases in the building by May 2003. It was expected that a taller broadcast tower in Bayonne, New Jersey, or Governors Island, would be built in the meantime with the Empire State Building being used as a "backup" since signal transmissions from the building were generally of poorer quality. Following the construction of One World Trade Center in the late 2000s and early 2010s, some TV stations began moving their transmitting facilities there.
As of 2021[update], the Empire State Building is home to the following stations:
The 80th, 86th, and 102nd floors contain observatories. The latter two observatories saw a combined average of four million visitors per year in 2010. Since opening, the observatories have been more popular than similar observatories at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the Chrysler Building, the first One World Trade Center, or the Woolworth Building, despite being more expensive. There are variable charges to enter the observatories; one ticket allows visitors to go as high as the 86th floor, and there is an additional charge to visit the 102nd floor. Other ticket options for visitors include scheduled access to view the sunrise from the observatory, a "premium" guided tour with VIP access, and the "AM/PM" package which allows for two visits in the same day.
The 86th floor observatory contains both an enclosed viewing gallery and an open-air outdoor viewing area, allowing for it to remain open 365 days a year regardless of the weather. The 102nd floor observatory is completely enclosed and much smaller in size. The 102nd floor observatory was closed to the public from the late 1990s to 2005 due to limited viewing capacity and long lines. The observation decks were redesigned in mid-1979. The 102nd floor was again redesigned in a project that was completed in 2019, allowing the windows to be extended from floor to ceiling and widening the space in the observatory overall. An observatory on the 80th floor, opened in 2019, includes various exhibits as well as a mural of the skyline drawn by British artist Stephen Wiltshire.
According to a 2010 report by Concierge.com, the five lines to enter the observation decks are "as legendary as the building itself". Concierge.com stated that there are five lines: 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. However, in 2016, New York City's official tourism website, NYCgo.com, made note of only three lines: the security check line, the ticket purchase line, and the second elevator line. Following renovations completed in 2019, designed to streamline queuing and reduce wait times, guests enter from a single entrance on 34th Street, where they make their way through 10,000-square-foot (930 m2) exhibits on their way up to the observatories. Guests were offered a variety of ticket packages, including a package that enables them to skip the lines throughout the duration of their stay. The Empire State Building garners significant revenue from ticket sales for its observation decks, making more money from ticket sales than it does from renting office space during some years.
In early 1994, a motion simulator attraction was built on the 2nd floor, as a complement to the observation deck. The original cinematic presentation lasted approximately 25 minutes, while the simulation was about eight minutes.
The ride had 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. After the World Trade Center terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the ride was closed. An updated version debuted in mid-2002, featuring actor Kevin Bacon as the pilot, with the new flight also going haywire. This new version served a more informative goal, as opposed to the old version's main purpose of entertainment, and contained details about the 9/11 attacks. The simulator received mixed reviews, with assessments of the ride ranging from "great" to "satisfactory" to "corny".
The building was originally equipped with white searchlights at the top. They were first used in November 1932 when they lit up to signal Roosevelt's victory over Hoover in the presidential election of that year. These were later swapped for four "Freedom Lights" in 1956. In February 1964, flood lights were added on the 72nd floor to illuminate the top of the building at night so that the building could be seen from the World Fair later that year. The lights were shut off from November 1973 to July 1974 because of the energy crisis at the time. In 1976, the businessman Douglas Leigh suggested that Wien and Helmsley install 204 metal-halide lights, which were four times as bright as the 1,000 incandescent lights they were to replace. New red, white, and blue metal-halide lights were installed in time for the country's bicentennial that July. After the bicentennial, Helmsley retained the new lights due to the reduced maintenance cost, about $116 a year.
Since 1976, the spire has been lit in colors chosen to match seasonal events and holidays. Organizations are allowed to make requests through the building's website. The building is also lit in the colors of New York-based sports teams on nights when they host games: for example, orange, blue, and white for the New York Knicks; red, white, and blue for the New York Rangers. It was twice lit in scarlet to support New Jersey's Rutgers University, once for a football game against the University of Louisville on November 9, 2006, and again on April 3, 2007, when the women's basketball team played in the national championship game. The spire can also be lit to commemorate occasions such as disasters, anniversaries, or deaths. For instance, in 1998, the building was lit in blue after the death of singer Frank Sinatra, who was nicknamed "Ol' Blue Eyes". The structure was lit in red, white, and blue for several months after the destruction of the World Trade Center in September 2001. On January 13, 2012, the building was lit in red, orange, and yellow to honor the 60th anniversary of NBC program The Today Show. After retired basketball player Kobe Bryant's January 2020 death, the building was lit in purple and gold, signifying the colors of his former team, the Los Angeles Lakers.
In 2012, the building's four hundred metal halide lamps and floodlights were replaced with 1,200 LED fixtures, increasing the available colors from nine to over 16 million. The computer-controlled system allows the building to be illuminated in ways that were unable to be done previously with plastic gels. For instance, on November 6, 2012, CNN used the top of the Empire State Building as a scoreboard for the 2012 United States presidential election. When incumbent president Barack Obama had reached the 270 electoral votes necessary to win re-election, the lights turned blue, representing the color of Obama's Democratic Party. Had Republican challenger Mitt Romney won, the building would have been lit red, the color of the Republican Party. Also, on November 26, 2012, the building had its first synchronized light show, using music from recording artist Alicia Keys. Artists such as Eminem and OneRepublic have been featured in later shows, including the building's annual Holiday Music-to-Lights Show. The building's owners adhere to strict standards in using the lights; for instance, they do not use the lights to play advertisements.
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 October 1970. The Empire State Building was also the tallest man-made structure in the world before it was surpassed by the Griffin Television Tower Oklahoma (KWTV Mast) in 1954, and the tallest freestanding structure in the world until the completion of 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 1,494 feet (455 m) and made it once again the world's tallest at the time, was considered but ultimately rejected.
With the destruction of the World Trade Center in the September 11 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. The Empire State Building remained the tallest building in New York until the new One World Trade Center reached a greater height in April 2012. As of September 2021[update], it is the seventh-tallest building in New York City after One World Trade Center, 111 West 57th Street, Central Park Tower, One Vanderbilt, 432 Park Avenue, and 30 Hudson Yards. It is the fifth-tallest completed skyscraper in the United States behind the two other tallest buildings in New York City, as well as the Willis Tower and Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago. The Empire State Building is the 49th-tallest in the world as of February 2021[update]. It is also the sixth-tallest freestanding structure in the Americas behind the five tallest buildings and the CN Tower.
As of 2013[update], the building houses around 1,000 businesses. Current tenants include:
Former tenants include:
Main article: B-25 Empire State Building crash
At 9:40 am 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. One engine completely penetrated the building, landing on the roof of a nearby building where it started a fire that destroyed a penthouse. The other engine and part of the landing gear plummeted down an elevator shaft causing a fire, which was extinguished in 40 minutes. Fourteen people were killed in the incident. Elevator operator Betty Lou Oliver survived a plunge of 75 stories inside an elevator, which still stands as the Guinness World Record for the longest survived elevator 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 incident. Also as a result of the crash, the Civil Aeronautics Administration enacted strict regulations regarding flying over New York City, setting a minimum flying altitude of 2,500 feet (760 m) above sea level regardless of the weather conditions.
A year later, on July 24, 1946, another aircraft narrowly missed striking the building. The unidentified twin-engine plane scraped past the observation deck, scaring the tourists there.
On January 24, 2000, an elevator in the building suddenly descended 40 stories after a cable that controlled the cabin's maximum speed was severed. The elevator fell from the 44th floor to the fourth floor, where a narrowed elevator shaft provided a second safety system. Despite the 40-floor fall, both of the passengers in the cabin at the time were only slightly injured. Since that elevator had no fourth-floor doors, the passengers were rescued by an adjacent elevator. After the fall, building inspectors reviewed all of the building's elevators.
Because of the building's iconic status, it and other Midtown landmarks are popular locations for suicide attempts. More than 30 people have attempted suicide over the years by jumping from the upper parts of the building, with most attempts being successful.
The first suicide from the building occurred on April 7, 1931, before it was even completed, when a carpenter who had been laid-off went to the 58th floor and jumped. The first suicide after the building's opening occurred from the 86th floor observatory in February 1935, when Irma P. Eberhardt fell 1,029 feet (314 m) onto a marquee sign. On December 16, 1943, William Lloyd Rambo jumped to his death from the 86th floor, landing amidst Christmas shoppers on the street below. In the early morning of September 27, 1946, shell-shocked Marine Douglas W. Brashear Jr. jumped from the 76th-floor window of the Grant Advertising Agency; police found his shoes 50 feet (15 m) from his body.
On May 1, 1947, Evelyn McHale leapt to her death from the 86th floor observation deck and landed on a 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 that 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 prints entitled Suicide (Fallen Body). A 7-foot (2.1 m) mesh fence was put up around the 86th floor terrace in December 1947 after five people tried to jump during a three-week span in October and November of that year. By then, sixteen people had died from suicide jumps.
Only one person has jumped from the upper observatory. Frederick Eckert of Astoria ran past a guard in the enclosed 102nd-floor gallery on November 3, 1932, and jumped a gate leading to an outdoor catwalk intended for dirigible passengers. He landed and died on the roof of the 86th floor observation promenade.
Two people have survived falls by not falling more than a floor. On December 2, 1979, Elvita Adams jumped from the 86th floor, only to be blown back onto a ledge on the 85th floor by a gust of wind and left with a broken hip. On April 25, 2013, a man fell from the 86th floor observation deck, but he landed alive with minor injuries on an 85th-floor ledge where security guards brought him inside and paramedics transferred him to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation.
Two fatal shootings have occurred in the direct vicinity of the Empire State Building. Abu Kamal, a 69-year-old Palestinian teacher, shot seven people on the 86th floor observation deck during the afternoon of February 23, 1997. He killed one person and wounded six others before committing suicide. Kamal reportedly committed the shooting in response to events happening in Palestine and Israel.
On the morning of August 24, 2012, 58-year-old Jeffrey T. Johnson shot and killed a former co-worker on the building's Fifth Avenue sidewalk. He had been laid off from his job in 2011. Two police officers confronted the gunman, and he aimed his firearm at them. They responded by firing 16 shots, killing him but also wounding nine bystanders. Most of the injured were hit by bullet fragments, although three took direct hits from bullets.
As the tallest building in the world and the first one to exceed 100 floors, the Empire State Building immediately became an icon of the city and of the nation. In 2013, Time magazine noted that the Empire State Building "seems to completely embody the city it has become synonymous with". The historian John Tauranac called it "'the' twentieth-century New York building", despite the existence of taller and more modernist buildings.
Early architectural critics also focused on the Empire State Building's exterior ornamentation. Architectural critic Talbot Hamlin wrote in 1931, "That it is the world's tallest building is purely incidental." George Shepard Chappell, writing in The New Yorker under the pseudonym "T-Square", wrote the same year that the Empire State Building had a "palpably enormous" appeal to the general public, and that "its difference and distinction [lay] in the extreme sensitiveness of its entire design". However, architectural critics also wrote negatively of the mast, especially in light of its failure to become a real air terminal. Chappell called the mast "a silly gesture" and Lewis Mumford called it "a public comfort station for migratory birds". Nevertheless, architecture critic Douglas Haskell said the Empire State Building's appeal came from the fact that it was "caught at the exact moment of transition—caught between metal and stone, between the idea of 'monumental mass' and that of airy volume, between handicraft and machine design, and in the swing from what was essentially handicraft to what will be essentially industrial methods of fabrication."
Early in the building's history, travel companies such as Short Line Motor Coach Service and New York Central Railroad used the building as an icon to symbolize the city. After the construction of the first World Trade Center, architect Paul Goldberger noted that the Empire State Building "is famous for being tall, but it is good enough to be famous for being good."
As an icon of the United States, it is also very popular among Americans. In a 2007 survey, the American Institute of Architects found that the Empire State Building was "America's favorite building". The building was originally a symbol of hope in a country devastated by the Depression, as well as a work of accomplishment by newer immigrants. The writer Benjamin Flowers states that the Empire State was "a building intended to celebrate a new America, built by men (both clients and construction workers) who were themselves new Americans." The architectural critic Jonathan Glancey refers to the building as an "icon of American design".
The Empire State Building has been hailed as an example of a "wonder of the world" due to the massive effort expended during construction. The Washington Star listed it as part of one of the "seven wonders of the modern world" in 1931, while Holiday magazine wrote in 1958 that the Empire State's height would be taller than the combined heights of the Eiffel Tower and the Great Pyramid of Giza. The American Society of Civil Engineers also declared the building "A Modern Civil Engineering Wonder of the United States" in 1958, and one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World in 1994. Ron Miller, in a 2010 book, also described the Empire State Building as one of the "seven wonders of engineering". It has often been called the Eighth Wonder of the World as well, an appellation that it has held since shortly after opening. The panels installed in the lobby in 1963 reflected this, showing the seven original wonders alongside the Empire State Building. The Empire State Building also became the standard of reference to describe the height and length of other structures globally, both natural and man-made.
Main article: Empire State Building in popular culture
As an icon of New York City, the Empire State Building has been featured in various films, books, TV shows, and video games. According to the building's official website, more than 250 movies contain depictions of the Empire State Building. In his book about the building, John Tauranac writes that its first documented appearance in popular culture was Swiss Family Manhattan, a 1932 children's story by Christopher Morley. A year later, the film King Kong depicted Kong, a large stop motion ape that climbs the Empire State Building, bringing the building into the popular imagination. Later movies such as An Affair to Remember (1957), Sleepless in Seattle (1993), and Independence Day (1996) also prominently featured the building. The building has also been featured in other works, such as "Daleks in Manhattan", a 2007 episode of the TV series Doctor Who; and Empire, an eight-hour black-and-white silent film by Andy Warhol, which was later added to the Library of Congress's National Film Registry.
The Empire State Building Run-Up, a foot race from ground level to the 86th-floor observation deck, has been held annually since 1978. Its participants are referred to both as runners and as climbers, and are often tower running enthusiasts. The race covers a vertical distance of 1,050 ft (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 6,593 ft (2,010 m) per hour.
The 103-floor Empire State Building draws
According to details prepared for the proposed initial public offering of Empire State Realty Trust, the skyscraper earned $62.9 million from its observation deck in nine months last year, compared with $62.6 million from the rental of office space.
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Eight months after the crash, the U.S. government offered money to families of the victims. Some accepted, but others initiated a lawsuit that resulted in landmark legislation. The Federal Tort Claims Act of 1946, for the first time, gave American citizens the right to sue the federal government.
A container ship, almost as long as the Empire State Building is high, is blocking transit in both directions through the Suez Canal, one of the world's busiest shipping channels for oil and grain and other trade linking Asia and Europe.