The Empire State Building, described when it opened in 1931 as “the eighth wonder of the world”, epitomises Manhattan. Perhaps the most elegant of all the New York skyscrapers, faced in Indiana limestone and granite, with stainless steel mullions running from the six-storey base to the Art Deco pinnacle, its setbacks make light of its vast bulk.
Nowadays it wouldn’t get built, because it occupies the site of the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Waldorf-Astoria_1904-1908b.jpg. This grand Victorian pile, originally two hotels of 1893 and 1897, was pulled down in 1930 and the business transferred to its current address at 301 Park Avenue.
The Empire State Building was extended during construction from its planned 86 storeys to 102 storeys to be sure of the accolade of the World’s Tallest Building. It was completed in advance of schedule and below budget, yet initial rentals were so few that it was dubbed the “Empty State Building”. Once again the tallest building in New York City after the destruction of the World Trade Center towers, its height to the top of the TV mast is 1,454 feet.
There are comfortable open promenades as well as a glass-enclosed viewing-area at the 86th floor. The view from the 102nd-floor observatory stretches up to eighty miles, reaching into the states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
The mast was originally intended as a mooring for dirigibles, but only one landing was ever attempted. This hair-raising procedure failed because it was impossible to stabilise the end of the airship that wasn’t anchored to the tower.
In 1946 a B-25 bomber collided with the 79th floor in thick fog, killing fourteen and causing only localised damage.
The Empire State lives in New York legend. It starred notably in the film King Kong (1933) where the giant gorilla ends its life clinging to the top of the building.
When the film director Peter Jackson consulted primatologists while planning his 2005 version of King Kong, he was told that a real giant ape would fling excreta at the attacking aircraft, and offer what was discreetly described as a “display-challenge” [John Harlow, ‘Hollywood agenda,’ The Sunday Times, November 2nd 2003].
The Empire State Building is open to the public until midnight, which makes it an admirable and popular place from which to watch the city lights, carpeting the view in all directions.
The official website is http://www.esbnyc.com, and the smart tourist information is at http://www.nycinsiderguide.com/Empire-State-Building.html#axzz1ilC4n9Jg.
For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture ‘The Big Apple: the architecture of New York City’, please click here.