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The Empire State Building to Celebrate 80th Anniversary

May 1, 2011


The Empire State Building (ESB), the world's most famous office building, is celebrating its 80th anniversary on Sunday, May 1, 2011.

The World's Most Famous Office Building to Commemorate Momentous Milestone

The Empire State Building (ESB), the world’s most famous office building, will celebrate its 80th anniversary on Sunday, May 1, 2011. Soaring 1,454 feet above Midtown Manhattan, ESB has served as one of the most recognizable and beloved attractions. The building has accomplished many milestones over the last 80 years, and today it stands tall as a 21st Century icon.

Anthony E. Malkin, Empire State Building Company, stated, "On this significant anniversary, the Empire State Building celebrates 80 years of being an international symbol of innovation and ingenuity." He added, "Through an award-winning renovations and modernization project, the world’s most famous office building offers unmatched experiences for both its tenants and the millions who visit the Observatories each year."

The World's Most Famous Office Building to Commemorate Momentous Milestone

The Empire State Building (ESB), the world’s most famous office building, will celebrate its 80th anniversary on Sunday, May 1, 2011. Soaring 1,454 feet above Midtown Manhattan, ESB has served as one of the most recognizable and beloved attractions. The building has accomplished many milestones over the last 80 years, and today it stands tall as a 21st Century icon.

Anthony E. Malkin, Empire State Building Company, stated, "On this significant anniversary, the Empire State Building celebrates 80 years of being an international symbol of innovation and ingenuity." He added, "Through an award-winning renovations and modernization project, the world’s most famous office building offers unmatched experiences for both its tenants and the millions who visit the Observatories each year."

The Empire State Building: Through the Years

    * January 2011: ESB became New York City’s largest commercial purchaser of 100% renewable energy.
    * December 2010: Launched a newly designed www.esbnyc.com to provide global, instant digital access, as well as new social media channels with the creation of ESB Facebook and Twitter pages.
    * July 2010: An interactive, multi-media Sustainability Exhibit was unveiled at the 2nd floor Visitor’s Center to educate visitors about ESB’s energy-efficiency program.
    * April 2009: Alongside President Bill Clinton and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, ESB announced details of a groundbreaking retrofit aimed at reducing the building’s carbon emissions by more than 38 percent while creating a replicable process for retrofitting existing commercial structures worldwide. It will save an estimated $4.4 million on energy costs per year. www.esbsustainability.com.
    * 2009: Completed a more than $550 million “Empire State ReBuilding” program to renovate, reinvent and modernize the iconic landmark by restoring its 1931 Art Deco grandeur and adding state-of-the-art enhancements to improve the tenant and visitor experiences.
    * February 1994: The first Valentine's Day wedding event was held. To date, over 230 couples have been officially married at ESB as part of this annual program.
    * May 1981: The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission declared ESB a landmark.
    * February 1978: The first ESB Run-Up took place. At this annual event, hundreds of athletes from around the world race a total of 1,576 steps to the 86th Floor Observatory.
    * 1966: The manually operated high-speed elevators on the first 80 floors of the building were replaced with automatic elevators.
    * June 1951: WNBT became the first media outlet to begin regular broadcasts from the new transmitting tower atop ESB.
    * May 1, 1931: President Herbert Hoover pressed a button in Washington, D.C. to officially open ESB.
    * March 1930: Construction of the building began. Framework rose at a rate of 4 ½ stories per week and was completed in an astounding 410 days.

empire state building opening in 1931
Empire State Building opening in 1931

Building Facts

empire state building view from observation deck at rockefeller plazaFrom the feat of its engineering, to the innumerable references in pop culture, beloved tower lights and countless celebrity visitors, the building has a multitude of interesting facts from 1931 onwards.

    * ESB took only one year and 45 days to build or 7 million man-hours, a record to this day for a skyscraper of its height.
    * ESB is the tallest building in New York at exactly 1,454 feet, 8 9/166 inches (443.2 meters) to the top of its lightening rod/antenna.
    * The exterior of the Empire State Building is composed of 200,000 cubic feet of Indiana limestone and granite, 10,000,000 bricks and 730 tons of aluminum and stainless steel.
    * The building is the center of New York City’s broadcasting operations; the skyscraper’s robust broadcasting technology supports all major television and FM radio stations in the New York metropolitan market.
    * On the clearest of days, visibility from the Observatory is 80 miles, with five states in view: Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.
    * ESB has been featured in some of the most famous movies, including “King Kong,” “An Affair to Remember,” “Sleepless in Seattle” and “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.”
    * ESB is one of the most celebrity-visited landmarks in the world, attracting the likes of Mariah Carey, Kylie Minogue, Justin Bieber, Roger Federer, Lauren Bacall, Rihanna, the cast of “Glee,” Penelope Cruz, Celine Dion, Mario Batali and the Victoria’s Secret Angels, to name just a few.
    * ESB is home to marquee, international tenants, including Skanska; Coty, Inc.; the FDIC; and Li & Fung.

About the Empire State Building

Soaring 1,454 feet above Midtown Manhattan, the Empire State Building is the “World’s Most Famous Office Building.” With new investments in infrastructure, public areas and amenities, the Empire State Building has attracted first-rate tenants in a diverse array of industries from around the world. The skyscraper’s robust broadcasting technology supports all major television and FM radio stations in the New York metropolitan market. The Empire State Building was named America’s favorite building in a poll conducted by the American Institute of Architects. The Empire State Building Observatory is one of the world’s most beloved attractions and is the region’s #1 tourist destination.


It is so obvious, so cliché and so visible that visiting the Empire State Building gets, ironically, overlooked. Like the single slice meal, blue Yankee cap and yellow cab, the skyscraper is in the city’s DNA, so familiar you feel as if you have been there even if you have never stepped foot on the observation deck. Or maybe you have written it off as an over-priced tourist trap, which is not entirely off-base. But as the gray monolith turns 80 years old on May 1, it is worth giving it a second — or first — try.

The Empire State Building inspires the imagination, its views are the highest and best in the city, its history revelatory, and makeovers to the lobby and observatories deserve a fresh look. All you need to do is avoid the headaches and traps of a visit so that nothing detracts from the marvel.

Avoiding the lines
There are four famously-lengthy lines (tickets, security, elevator up, elevator down) but there are just as many ways to avoid them. You can visit during more predictably crowd-free times, particularly between the 8 am opening and the pre-lunch rush, and after midnight until the 2 am close. For other times, call ahead. I scored a lineless visit on a Wednesday just before sunset by calling 212-736-3100 and asking for the wait time. If the estimate exceeds your patience you can purchase an Express Ticket for $24 extra and get the velvet rope treatment at the front of each line. Or, for only a $2 online fee, you can at least buy and print out the normal ticket in advance and avoid the ticket line, which is often the longest.

With those hurdles leapt you are free to enjoy the gleaming lobby, nearly half a block of prime Art Deco design. The illuminated celestial-meets-industrial scene of gold and aluminium leaf spheres and lines, modern by 1930s standards, had been obscured for decades by florescent lights that were modern by '60s standards. Its recreated glory, accomplished by historical architects and artisans, is classic Gotham. It left me feeling woefully underdressed without a fedora and pinstripe suit.

The bar
The Empire Room, an old-school-styled cocktail lounge of mohair, velvet, ebony and embossed leather that opened last year, extends that retro feel. The vibe is reminiscent of the early '60s-set television show Mad Men, though the soundtrack alternated between appropriate Harry Connick Jr tunes and mood-shattering Sade and Queen remixes. The cocktail menu includes classics such as the Ramon Gin Fizz, Waldorf and Martinique Daisy, all elaborately and proficiently executed.

The bar's signature drink is a sweet, bubbly variation on the Empire State Cocktail -- gin, vermouth, Royal Combier Liqueur, lemon juice and raspberry-orange marmalade crowned tableside in a chilled martini glass with Moet & Chandon champagne. As an aside to the bartender shaking mine out, one pearl-necklaced hostess characterized the concoction as "stupid". And while it is an admittedly convoluted, fruity concoction Don Draper would not be caught dead sipping, the champagne was a nice addition to the classic recipe. It gave me a fizzy rush that aped the ascent of the building's dizzying height.

History
When you are ready to head up the city's tallest building (and the world's tallest for about half of its 80 years), move quickly through the photo booth, past the Kevin Bacon-voiced virtual "Skyride", and hop into the marble elevators up, up and away. As you soar 1,050 feet to the observatory deck on the 86th floor, consider the giant office building's unlikely history.

"How high can you make so it won't fall down?" John Jacob Raskob, Empire's builder, asked its architect, William Lamb, as the story goes. This would have been around the peak  of the stock market in the late 1920s when everything must have seemed possible. But construction (on the site of what was once the fabled Waldorf-Astoria hotel) began just months after the 1929 crash. Counter-intuitively, this aided its construction. The lucky-to-be-employed workforce efficiently built it in a little more than a year (at times as rapidly as a floor a day), with steel girders still hot from Pennsylvania mills, riveted together 15 to 20 hours after they were forged.

Born in the roaring boom of Icarus-like speculation that soon crashed to earth, this phoenix of the Great Depression gave locals in the nation's crippled financial capital symbolic hope in the bleak year of 1930. Empire became a totem of the city in many ways: classic, resilient and ambitious, thriving on the confidence that it can survive the city's travails. And like the experience of so many New Yorkers, this lighthouse of commerce had rough times, especially in the beginning. Less than half occupied when the building opened, it was nicknamed "The Empty State Building" and took about two decades to become profitable. In its first year it managed to just cover expenses from the observatory's $2 million revenue.

Like falling in love
"This...is...amazing." "Oooh!" "Wow!" "Oh my god!" "Wee!" "Look at that!" "Crazy!" "¡Manifique!"

Those were some of the wide-eyed reactions of my fellow visitors as we stepped off the elevator at the 86th floor. We took in 360 degrees of unobstructed views - the five boroughs, the bridges and rivers, the ocean, even downtown (a sight denied at the top of Rockefeller Center, blocked by Empire). On a clear day you can see 80 miles and five states and on an overcast one you are floating in the clouds, detached from the world below. It is impossible to take a bad picture from up there.

On a visit in April the temperature was only a few degrees cooler than the ground and not windy on the lee side. I watched the sun set over New Jersey and then saw Manhattan twinkle to life as dusk settled.

You get lightheaded and floaty being outside at that height, a bit like falling in love, which is probably why Empire is the scene ender in classic love stories like An Affair to Remember, Sleepless in Seattle (in homage to Affair) and King Kong (yes, it is a love story). The observation desk is also witness to proposals of marriage almost daily, according to unofficial tallies. The building even hosts an annual essay contest for couples looking to get married on the 86th floor.

I must have been feeling something like love, because I shelled out another $15 for the more exclusive and slightly better view from the 102nd floor. The elevator up the spire is manually operated and represents its progression in feet, not floors. As we ascended, I thought again of the building's history - how the original intent of the 17-story high spire was as a dirigible anchor and passenger gate. The current top observation deck at 1,250 feet is enclosed, but in the original plans it was an outdoor platform where you loaded on and off trans-Atlantic dirigibles parked over midtown. The 86th floor was where you would have bought your blimp tickets, had the plan not been permanently scuttled by high winds.

From the top deck you take in the quiet, miniature city. New York is adorable from that height, and puzzling. It seemed far too small to encompass so many different lives, rising and falling fortunes, history and myths. The peaks and valleys of the southern tip put the grid in bas relief. Looking down on the nearby Chrysler Building and the nose of the Flatiron Building was unreal, like Google Earth or tilt-shift photography jumping into reality. I scanned for Brooklyn's tallest building, the old Williamsburg Savings Bank, which had towered over my old apartment, and it was a mere toothpick from that vantage point. Once you descend back to the surface of the city, you will never look at it quite the same again.

The lights of midtown's lighthouse
Even if you have never scaled the Empire State Building and witnessed the view, most visitors enjoy the reverse -- marvelling at its illuminated semaphore-ish calendar. Credit goes to real life Mad Man Douglas Leigh who gave us such classics as the Times Square smoking Camel sign. His idea was to make Empire a weather alert and talked Coca-Cola into sponsoring the endeavour by printing a guide to the colour system on their bottles, until post-Pearl Harbor blackouts interfered with the plan. In 1976 he tried again and the building was lit red, white and blue for the nation's bicentennial. After that success a colour scheme was devised for major holidays and now good causes (Japanese disaster relief and Parkinson's awareness, for example) and occasionally more esoteric and commercial honorifics like purple/purple/yellow for the Westminster Kennel Club.

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