It towers a full one hundred and two storeys above the midtown Manhattan skyline, and it’s graceful, tapering spire is instantly recognised the whole world over. Sleek, serene, and strikingly simple, it’s hard to believe that the Empire State Building is now entering its ninth decade of life.
It was originally commissioned at the outset of the Great Depression. Standing at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 34th street, the steel frame was erected in an amazing six month stretch. It was meant to rival the nearby Chrysler Building, the world’s first skyscraper to exceed a thousand feet in height. Both buildings have become icons of both the city and, more specifically, of the Art Deco era that typified both buildings.
Opened in 1931, the building stood a full 1,250 feet in height. An additional, two hundred foot high radio mast is atop this. At one time, it was intended as a mooring mast for passenger airships, but the fiery demise of the Hindenburg at nearby Lakehurst in May of 1937 put an end to any such lofty notions.
Designed by the building form of Starrett and Eken, it was derisively nicknamed the ‘Empty State Building’ in its early years, when there was a glut of vacant office space across Manhattan as a whole. To create the illusion of full occupancy, all its lights were left on at night. This fooled few, but it did illuminate just how beautiful the building was, especially when seen from inbound liners arriving in the Hudson.
3,400 workers toiled to complete the project on time for it’s official opening on May 1st, 1931, when President Herbert Hoover inaugurated it via a button pressed in Washington, D.C. But it was not until 1950 would the giant complex even begin to earn a profit.
In a chilling presage of future events, the Empire State Building was rocked when a lost B25 Mitchell bomber slammed into it in thick fog on the morning of July 28th, 1945. The plane impacted on the north side, between the 79th and 80th floors. Despite the fourteen fatalities, the fire was extinguished within forty minutes, and the damage was subsequently repaired.
Ironically, all the lights on the upper level had been extinguished at the time; pilots approaching Manhattan had been warning about the dangers of just such a possible crash for months.
The Empire State Building remained the ‘queen’ of the famous Manhattan skyline until the 1973 debut of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre at the bottom of Battery Park. The destruction of 9/11 gave the building back it’s number one position by default; one it maintained until the new Freedom Tower came on the scene.
Today, the Empire State Building remains a must see in New York, and the views from the observation deck on the 84th floor are arguably the best across midtown Manhattan. It has become as much a symbol of New York as the Statue of Liberty, or even Broadway.