The Empire State Building is located on the west side of Fifth Avenue in the centre of Midtown Manhattan, and is one of the world’s most famous buildings. It was, at the time of its construction in 1930-1931, the world’s tallest building, consisting of 103 stories.
The site started its commercial life as farm land when, in 1799, the City of New York sold the land bounded by what is now Broadway, Sixth Avenue and Madison Avenue for $2,600 to John Thompson for farming.
By 1859, the property was owned by the Astors, one of the wealthiest families in America. John Jacob Astor III constructed a lavish mansion on what is now Fifth Avenue and, in 1862, William Backhouse Astor Jr., his brother, built one next door. In 1893, John Jacob’s son, William Waldorf, in the midst of a bitter feud with his aunt, William Backhouse’s widow, demolished his own house and erected the Waldorf Hotel on the site. In 1897, William’s son, John Jacob Astor IV (who later perished on the Titanic), after convincing his mother to move out of the house, demolished her property and erected the Astoria Hotel. The feuding sides of the family reconciled and the whole complex became known as the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The two separate buildings remained one hotel until 1928 when they were sold for $20 million with the purpose of becoming the site for a new skyscraper building. This resulted in the formation of Empire State, Inc. the following year.
The Empire State Building was designed by William Lamb, who produced the drawings in just two weeks, although he did use the drawings already produced for the Reynolds Buildings in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, as a basis. This is commemorated every year when the staff of the Empire State Building sends a Father’s Day card to the staff of the Reynolds Building to acknowledge its role as predecessor.
Construction on the skyscraper started in March of 1930 with excavations for the foundations which extended to fifty-five feet below ground level. The foundations were complete by April 24, 1930, allowing the building to start to rise. Constructed of steel frame, it progressed at a rapid rate and on October 16, 1930, the Empire State Building became the World’s Tallest Building, overtaking the Chrysler Building, the previous tallest, which is situated just a few blocks away.
On November 10, construction began on the building’s spire, which was originally intended to be a mooring mast for airships, although due to high winds, this idea was abandoned.
The building reached its full height architecturally of 1,250 feet above the street on November 18, 1930. It was officially opened on May 1, 1931, 45 days ahead of its planned opening date, when President Herbert Hoover turned on the building's lights with the push of a button from Washington, D.C.
Unfortunately, the building's opening coincided with the Great Depression and, as a result, much of its office space initially went unrented. In its first year of operation, money received from visitors to the observation deck (approximately $2 million) equalled the amount that its owners made in rent that year. The lack of renters led New Yorkers to deride the building as the "Empty State Building". It was not until 1950 that the building finally became profitable and in 1951 it was sold for $51 million, which at the time was the highest price paid for a single structure in real-estate history.
The Empire State Building is entered via a three-stories-high lobby which features an aluminium relief of the building without the antenna, which was not added to the spire until 1952. The antenna raised its height to 1,454 feet. This lobby is one of the few interiors in New York to be designated a historic landmark by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
The original lobby featured an ornate ceiling mural that was a tribute to the opportunity and spirit of the Machine Age. With its 23-karat gold and aluminium embellishments, the mural was an Art Deco representation of a celestial sky with sunbursts and stars drawing the eye upward. In homage to the Machine Age, the sunbursts and stars were represented by gears. The ceiling remained the focal point of the lobby until the 1960s, when it was covered with a dropped ceiling and fluorescent light fixtures.
Over the years, pieces of the lobby's original marble were removed or damaged, so in the 1960’s the walls were replace by plastic panels,
In 2010, the Empire State Building underwent a $550 million renovation, which included modernization and making the building more energy efficient. A part of this initiative was to recreate the original Art Deco design of the lobby. The original ceiling was exposed and the plastic panels on the walls were replaced with marble slabs matching the originals. It also included the hanging of chandeliers which were shown in the original drawings but had never been hung. These were made from the original designs and put into place.
From the lobby, visitors can take the elevator to the second floor where the Visitors’ Centre is located. From here, visitors’ must pass through security and purchase tickets. Immediately after the ticket office, there is a Sustainability Exhibition, where visitors can learn about the building’s energy-saving refit, which started in 2009. This refit resulted in a 38 percent reduction in energy costs which amounted to the savings of $4.4 million annually. The exhibition showcases this state-of-the-art technology and the processes that went into the overhaul.
On the 80th floor is the Dare to Dream Exhibition which chronicles the planning and construction of the building. The exhibits illustrate the building’s history, engineering, and construction, and contain many items related to the history of New York skyscrapers. It includes original documents, photographs, architectural sketches, construction notes, and daily bookkeeping documents. It also shows reproductions of photos and mementos from the more than 3,400 workers who helped construct the building.
On the 86th Floor is the Observation Deck which wraps around the building’s spire. It includes both indoor and outdoor areas, and provides a great view all over New York City, although visitors can go up a further sixteen floors to the Top Deck which provides the most spectacular views of the city and beyond.
To see more photographs and take a virtual tour of the site click on the photoshow below.