Located in Midtown, Manhattan, New York City, the Empire State Building is a 102-story skyscraper that stands between West 33rd and 34th Streets on Fifth Avenue. Formerly holding the distinction of being the world’s tallest building, the skyscraper is known today as an American cultural icon.
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The Empire State Building site originally housed the John Thompson Farm during the late 18th century, with a stream running across the current location of the building. By the late 19th century, it was the site of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, a popular gathering place for New York’s elite. Local competition for the construction of the world’s tallest building prompted plans for a skyscraper at the site, an art deco tower designed by architect William F. Lamb. The building’s drawings were famously produced within two weeks, pulling major elements from the earlier design of Winston-Salem’s Reynolds Building, as well as Cincinnati’s Carew Tower. To pay homage to its predecessor, the building’s modern staff sends an annual Father’s Day card to the staff of the Reynolds Building.
Construction on the site began on March 17, 1930. More than 3,400 workers, mostly European immigrants, contributed to the completion of the building, which was finished on April 11, 1931. It was famously opened on May 1, 1931, with a button push by United States President Herbert Hoover turning on its now-iconic tower lights. At the time, two other buildings in the city were also vying for the world’s tallest building title, the Chrysler Building and 40 Wall Street, although each only held the title for less than a year prior to Empire State’s completion.
Upon its opening, it was named one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers, but as the opening occurred during the American Great Depression, it took until 1950 for the skyscraper to become a profitable enterprise. In its early years, most of its space remained vacant, a situation exacerbated by poor access to local public transportation, and as a result, it earned the colloquial nickname “the Empty State Building.” More money was earned by admissions to its observation deck than by rent collection in its first year of operation. In 1951, the building was purchased by Roger L. Stevens for a record-breaking $51 million, marking its upturn as a viable commercial venture. As a result of the number of businesses operating out of the building today, it encompasses its own zip code, 10118, designated in 1980.
Today, the building is owned by the Empire State Realty Trust and is recognized as a major American landmark and cultural icon. After holding the distinction of world’s tallest building for nearly 40 years after its opening, it briefly regained the title of New York’s tallest building following the 2001 destruction of the World Trade Center’s North Tower in the September 11 attacks. It is currently the fifth-tallest skyscraper in America and the 35th-tallest globally. In 1986, the building was designated as a National Historic Landmark, and in 2007, it ranked first on the American Institute of Architects’ List of America’s Favorite Architecture.
The famous art deco-style spire atop the building was originally designed to serve as a mooring mast and depot for airships, with an elevator carrying passengers from the building’s 86th-story check-in point to its 102nd-story disembarkation floor. Due to dangerous conditions produced by updrafts caused by the building’s design, the idea never panned out, and the 103rd-story spire space now serves as a maintenance room. A broadcast tower was added to the spire in the 1950s, increasing the building’s transmission of radio and television stations from its original RCA-NBC antennae. Today, 12 television stations and 19 FM stations broadcast from the spire. The spire also showcases the tower’s iconic lights, lit in colors designed to align with seasonal festivities and major city and world events.
The 86th Floor Observation Deck is the highest open-air observatory in the city, immortalized in many television and film scenes throughout media history. More than 110 million people have visited the observation deck since its opening in 1931, making it the most popular outdoor observatory in the world. 360° views of New York’s most famous sights are provided, including Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square, and the Statue of Liberty. A 16-floor ride in a manual Otis elevator takes visitors up to the 102nd-floor top deck, which offers views of up to 80 miles away.A second-floor visitor’s center features an exhibit showcasing the building’s sustainability initiatives, including its $120 million renovation in 2010, for which it received LEED certification. An 80th floor exhibit, Dare to Dream, chronicles the building’s construction and history, with photographs and archival content curated by the Skyscraper Museum. An official store offers a selection of Empire State-themed gifts. Several restaurants are also located inside the facility, including the State Grill and Bar and Heartland Brewery.
350 5th Ave, New York, NY 10118, Phone: 212-736-3100