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Empire State Building History and Its Place in New York Culture
December 27, 2022 By CityPASS
The Empire State Building is one of the most iconic structures in the New York City skyline. Designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1986, this iconic work of architecture is also one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. This building is easily one of the most recognizable in the United States, so it’s no wonder it has so many accolades.
But what about the Empire State Building’s history? Here are some fascinating facts about the Empire State Building that you might not know but which are sure to surprise and amaze you.
An Overview of the Empire State Building, New York's Historic Landmark
The history of the Empire State Building starts back in 1930 when architect William F. Lamb drew up the plans for the building in just two weeks. His drawings were based on designs from existing buildings in other cities. Interestingly, he started from the top and worked his way down instead of designing from the bottom up.
The site of the Empire State Building is on Fifth Avenue between 33rd Street and 34th Street. Until the 1820s it was a family farm, but then the wealthy Astor family purchased it to start developing it. Headed by the business magnate and real estate developer John Jacob Astor, the family went on to build the famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel on the land in the 1890s, where it stood until the 1920s.
The Astor family sold the building to the Bethlehem Engineering Company, which turned it into Empire State Inc. The business was led by a member of the wealthy du Pont family, John Jakub Raskob. He had plans to erect an even bigger building on this site: the Empire State Building.
Competing for the World's Tallest Building Title at 1,454 Feet Tall
Initially, the Empire State Building was to be a 50-story building that would house offices for a number of different companies. After several revisions, the final design was a building with 86 floors with an airship mast to crown it.
At the same time, the Chrysler Building and the 40 Wall Street Building were also under construction and were all competing to be the world’s tallest building. The final design of the Empire State Building proved to be the winner, so it became the world’s tallest building from 1931 until the North Tower of the World Trade Center was built in 1973.
The Empire State Building's Price Tag
Construction of the Empire State Building began in 1930. Despite the stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression looming, estimates put the cost of building this skyscraper at $41 million dollars in 1931 currency, which would be nearly a whopping $804 million in today’s money. The land to build on itself cost $6 million, and the materials and construction cost $24.7 million.
To build the Empire State Building, 3,500 workers from 60 different trades worked on a very precise schedule to create the framework. To maximize the budget and save money, all of the logistics had to be perfectly timed out. A miniature railroad was built to carry supplies since it could haul eight times the amount as a wheelbarrow in a faster time and go anywhere on site.
Despite these high costs, the project was finished under budget and three months ahead of schedule.
102nd and 86th Floor Observation Decks
Even though New York City has many observation decks, many will agree that their favorite building to view from is the Empire State Building. The observation decks in Midtown South are on the 86th floor, the top floor of the building, and the 102nd floor, inside the spire.
The observatory on the 86th floor takes about a minute to reach by elevator. This open-air deck lets you soak in a 360-degree view of New York City below, no matter the season. On clear days, you can see five different states: Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and Massachusetts.
The observation deck on the 102nd floor is comprised of floor-to-ceiling windows that let you see 80 miles into the distance. This is as high up as tourists can go, except for the 103rd floor, which is used for private events.
Iconic Architecture and Important Uses
The Empire State Tower, a massive building of more than 2.7 million square feet, has had several uses over the years. Floors 0 through 85 are used mostly for offices, while 86 and 102 are open to the public. The building also has a broadcast tower on top of the building that’s covered with antennas from various television and radio stations. Almost all TV and radio stations in NYC broadcast from here.
Today, the Empire State Building is home to many famous companies, including:
- Bank of America
Many of the most influential companies in the country and the world have used the Empire State Building because of its location, prestige, and remarkable architecture.
Becoming a National Historic Landmark and Preservation Efforts
In 1980, this building was so large and famous that it had its own ZIP code. To celebrate its 50th anniversary in 1981, the Empire State Building was declared by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to be an official city landmark. As the Empire State Building is a piece of iconic NYC history, it was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1986.
To keep the building up to date, nearly $50 million was invested in renovations in the 1990s. This includes renovations to the observation deck so that it could be more accessible for people with disabilities. Modern amenities, such as air conditioning, elevators, and alarms, were also added at this time.
How This Midtown Manhattan Skyscraper Has Shaped New York Culture
Of all the Empire State Building facts and history, this much is true: it is a true piece of the city’s identity. In pop culture, the building is featured in countless movies and TV shows. People who have never stepped foot in NYC can recognize its silhouette against the skyline. Nowadays, you can look up and see the windows lit up in different colors for special occasions, like celebrating the city’s sports teams or holidays.
From housing world-famous companies to opening up the city to the world, the Empire State Building is an undeniable piece of both New York and American history.
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Header Image Courtesy of Empire State Realty Trust