Located on the west side of Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, between 33rd Street to the south and 34th Street to the north, the 102 storey Empire State Building, built from 1930 to 1931, was the tallest in the world until 1971. Considered one of the best examples of Modernist Art Deco design, it 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 name of the building is derived from the Empire State, the nickname of the US State of New York, which is believed to refer to the state's wealth and resources. The massive Empire State Building, an American cultural icon and a symbol of the City of New York, has been named as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Moreover, the interior of its ground floor was designated a city landmark by the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1980 and it was also added to the National Register of Historic Places as a National Historic Landmark in 1986.
The origin of the Empire State Building lies in the economic boom of New York in the late 1920s, when the builders were in a mad dash to erect the world’s largest skyscraper. However, the competitive zeal between John Jakob Raskob of General Motors and Walter Chrysler of the Chrysler Corporation, to see who could erect the taller building was instrumental to the colossal height of the building.
Nevertheless, the site of the building was previously owned by John Jacob Astor since the middle of the 1820s and in 1893, his grandson William Waldorf Astor opened the Waldorf Hotel on the site. Four years later, John Jacob Astor IV, a cousin of William Waldorf Astor, opened another 16-story, Astoria Hotel, on an adjacent site.
However, about a century later, in the early 1918, the hotel lease was purchased by Thomas Coleman du Pont and by the 1920s, the old Waldorf-Astoria had moved much further north than 34th Street. Finally, the hotel was closed and sold by the Astor family to Bethlehem Engineering Corporation in 1928. After that, Floyd De L. Brown, the president of the company, borrowed $900,000 from a bank to construct a 25-story office building on the site, but as he defaulted on the loan, the land was resold to the developers of the Empire State Building on 3 May 1929.
The Empire State Inc. consortium commissioned William F Lamb, of architectural firm Shreve, Lamb and Harmon, to create the building design, who produced the building drawings in just two weeks modelled after the Reynolds Building, an Art Deco skyscraper in North Carolina and the Carew Tower in the heart of downtown Cincinnati. However, the original plan of the building was revised later to increase the 50 storey to 60 and then 80 storey. By that time, there was an intense competition of Race into the Sky in New York for the title of the world’s tallest building between the Bank of Manhattan Building and the Chrysler Building in Manhattan. The race got further momentum in August 1929, when General Motors executive John J Raskob and former New York Governor Al Smith, the head of the Empire State Inc., announced plans for the construction of the Empire State Building. While the plan of the Bank of Manhattan Building was revised in April 1929, increasing its height from 840 feet (260 m) to 925 feet (282 m), the Chrysler Building increased its height to 1046 feet (319 m) by adding the 185-feet (56 m) steel tip to its roof in October 1929, exceeding the height of the 40 Wall Street building of Bank of Manhattan. But Raskob and Smith had other things in their minds and they intended the Empire State Building to be the world’s tallest.
Accordingly, after adding 75 feet (23 m) to the width of the proposed site of the building on 18 November 1929, Smith announced the updated plans for the building with the inclusion of an observation deck at a height of 1050 feet (320 m), which would make it 4 feet (1.2 m) taller than the Chrysler Building. However, even after that, the plans were revised again, for the last time, in December 1929, for the inclusion of a 16-storey, 200 feet (61 m) metal crown and an additional 222 feet (68 m) mooring mast intended for dirigibles or airships. Thus, the final roof height of the skyscraper, measuring 1,250 feet (380 m), made it the tallest building in the world by far during its time, even without the antenna.
After the demolition of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, construction of the skyscraper began on 17 March 1930 and using as many as 3400 men each day, the project was completed in a brisk 410 days, well ahead of the schedule and under budget. Despite the stock market crashed in October 1929 and the consequent Great Depression, the process of construction continued and proved an important source of employment in the City of New York. The Empire State Building was formally opened on the 1st day of May 1931, 45 days ahead of its projected opening date, and eighteen months from the start of construction. However, it was heavily affected by the impact of the coinciding Great Depression, due to which much of the office space remained unrented and vacant, earning it the nickname the Empty State Building. Despite becoming a popular tourist attraction, with one million people each paying one dollar to ride elevators to the observation decks in 1931, it took almost two decades for the building to become profitable.
According to the original plans, the spire of the Empire State Building was intended to be an airship docking station. It was planned that while the airships themselves would be tied to the spire at the equivalent of the building's 106th floor, an elevator would carry the fervent passengers assembled on the 86th to the 101st floor. However, even after that, passengers would have to climb an open-air steep ladder to board the airship. But the idea was abandoned, as it called for the airships to maneuver alongside the building and tether themselves to a winching apparatus, negotiating the wind currents across Manhattan and the spires of nearby skyscrapers. Apart from that, passengers would have to use an open-air gangplank, which is dangerous. The nearest to a landing came on 15 September 1931, when a small commercial United States Navy airship attempted in vain to dock at the mast. However, two weeks later, a barrage balloon dropped a stack of newspapers on the roof as a part of a publicity stunt. Unfortunately, on the morning of 28 July 1945, the pilot of an Army B-25 bomber became disoriented in heavy fog, drifted over Midtown Manhattan and crashed into the north side of the Empire State Building, between the 79th and 80th floors at 200 miles an hour. Fourteen people were killed in the incident, which included the pilot and two crewmen, but the building escaped severe damage and was reopened two days later.
The Empire State Building was the first building to have more than 100 floors, has 86 usable storey, while the remaining 16 are part of the Art Deco spire, capped by an observatory on the 102nd floor. The 203 feet (61.9 m) tall pinnacle, atop the 102nd storey of the skyscraper, is mostly covered by broadcast antennas and surmounted with a lightning rod. Unlike most of the modern skyscrapers, it features a classic façade and clad in Indiana limestone panels, it reflects its signature sombre blonde colour. The main entrance, composed of three sets of metal doors, is flanked by moulded piers, topped with majestic eagles. The sombre stainless steel canopies of the entrances lead to two-storey-high corridors around the elevator core containing 67 elevators. Apart from the regular elevators, an additional elevator connects the 86th and 102nd floor observatories. The three-storey high spruce lobby exhibits an aluminium relief of the skyscraper without the antenna, which was added later, in 1952. Moreover, the north corridor proudly exhibits eight illuminated panels depicting the building as the Eighth Wonder of the World alongside the traditional seven. There are observatories on the 80th, 86th, and 102nd floors. The 86th floor observatory contains both an enclosed viewing gallery and an open-air outdoor viewing area, offering a wonderful panoramic view of the entire city. However, the 102nd floor observatory, much smaller in size and completely enclosed, was reopened in October 2019, after renovation.
After the dusk, the 200-foot crowning spire of the colossal building captures the amazing gaze of the city, illuminated by tower lights with changing the combination of colours chosen to match seasonal and other events.
The Empire State Building is popular enough to be featured in various films, books, TV shows, and video games. Apart from King Kong (1933), its appearances in notable films include An Affair to Remember (1957), Sleepless in Seattle (1993) and Independence Day (1996).