The Empire State Building: High ambitions


What’s feasible?

1929: „How high can you go so it won’t fall down?“ John Jakob Raskob (one of the executives representing the Empire State, Inc.) is said to have asked the architects of the prestigious new edifice, Shreve, Lamb & Harmon. The main objective being to devise the highest building not only of New York City, but of the entire world. Initially they had hoped that 80 daring storeys should suffice. Yet, there was a fierce mine-is-taller-than-yours competition going on in NYC in the first third of the 20th century and construction of the rivalrous Chrysler building was already in full swing when Raskob’s project just got started. Walter Chrysler’s building did become the tallest one, albeit temporarily. In the end, he was outraced by just a few meters of the finest Art Deco architecture shining brightly over 350, Fifth Avenue.

Mine is bigger than yours: 102 storeys and 1250 feet

Keeping a close eye on each other’s building progress, storey by competitive storey steadily grew into the New York skies. When Chrysler’s was completed at 77 floors in 1930, it briefly became the highest building on Earth (1048 feet to the top of the spire). Whereas the ESB kept rising four-and-a-half levels per week. When finalised in 1931 after only 14 months’ time, 102 storeys and a mooring mast for dirigibles (airships) crowning the top made the Empire State Building the tallest tower ever constructed. The antenna was added later in 1950. The record lasted some forty years, until the World Trade Center was inaugurated in the early 1970s. Of the 3,400 workers involved in the construction of the ESB, five had given their lives.

Be my Valentine – or my filming location

Ever since, the Empire State Building has lost nothing of its fascination. By 1976, it had welcomed its 50 millionth visitor, has later become an official iconic landmark, received its own zip-code 10118, is a registered Historic Place and its estimated value today is just short of 2 billion USD. The legendary edifice has co-starred in movies like King Kong, Sleepless in Seattle and – the classic!: An Affair to Remember (1957) – which is considered the most heartbreaking and – hankies out! – tear-inducing film of all times. Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr meet by chance on a steamer and promise to reunite at the top of the ESB on Valentine’s Day six months later. She gets run over by a car while hurrying to the ESB, he waits in vain … But there’s a happy ending!

Shine a light

The ESB is a much-favoured venue for wedding parties or romantic meetings on Valentine’s Day and it offers the popular Lighting Partners programme. In 2012, a new LED lighting system was unveiled, driven by high-speed computers and capable of 16,000,000 different colours. The ESB is the recipient of the Green Power Leadership Award issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Floors 86 and 102: The legendary Empire State Building Observatory

A trip to NYC is incomplete without a visit to the top of the Empire State Building! Not only because of the 360° views over a stunning – and unique – skyline offered from its highest open-air observatory on the 102nd floor. Additionally, a visit may include the newly restored lobby; the historical Dare To Dream Exhibit; the Sustainability Exhibit, using an interactive audio device. Learning in detail about the exciting history of the building’s construction, restoration and sustainability retrofit, is a must.

An online tool makes visits – and waits – more calculable: It displays the time required to travel through the Empire State Building Experience and is updated every two minutes.
Befitting a city that (almost) never sleeps, the ESB observatory is opened from 8 am to 2 am.

Last elevator: 1:15 am!

Be there! :-)

Header image: A creative commons downloaded from

Credit: Javier Gil [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons