The Empire State Building was dedicated on May 1, 1931. The star of more than 200 films, including An Affair To Remember (1957), Annie Hall (1977) and The Producers (1968). It has been scaled by a giant ape and blown to smithereens, and yet, The Empire State Building still looks great at 87-years-old.
The Empire State Building figures in the sexiest scene of my favorite novel of all-time, The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier And Clay (2000) by Michael Chabon. I have been to the observation deck at least 10 times and I was always thrilled by the architecture and the view. I am just crazy for big things.
On this day in 1931, President Herbert Hoover officially dedicated The Empire State Building, pressing a button from The White House that turned on the building’s lights. Hoover’s gesture was fake news; he was in Washington DC and someone else flicked the switches in NYC.
The idea for the Empire State Building came from a competition between Walter Chrysler of the Chrysler Corporation and John Jakob Raskob of General Motors, to see who could erect the taller building. You kids know how guys get about whose is bigger. Chrysler had already begun work on the stunning Art Deco Chrysler Building in midtown. Raskob gathered together a group of smart, famous investors, including former NY Governor Alfred E. Smith. They picked Shreve, Lamb & Harmon Architects to design the building. The group approved an Art Deco inspired plan, based in large part on the look of a pencil. The entire building went up in just over a year, under budget and well ahead of schedule, averaging an astonishing five stories a week.
When it was finished, The Empire State Building, at 102 stories and 1,250 feet high, was the world’s tallest skyscraper. The Depression-era project employed 3,400 workers on any single day, most of whom received excellent pay, especially considering the economy of the era. The new building gave NYC a deep sense of pride, bolstering spirits in The Great Depression when many New Yorkers were unemployed and prospects were bleak. Things were so bad that when it opened only 25 percent of the building’s offices were leased.
In 1945, a B-25 Bomber crashed into the 79th floor during heavy fog on a Saturday morning. The building’s construction limited the spread of fire, and despite a 20-foot tear, the Empire State Building opened for business-as-usual on Monday.
Elevator operator Betty Lou Oliver survived a plunge of 75 stories inside one of the elevators (a record that still holds).
Over the years, at least 30 people have committed suicide by jumping from the upper stories of the building. The first suicide occurred even before its completion, by a worker who had been laid off. The fence around the observatory terrace was put up in 1947 after five people tried to jump during a three-week span. On December 16, 1943, an ex-U.S. Navy sailor jumped from the 86th floor, landing among Christmas shoppers on the street below. In the early morning of September 27, 1946, a shell-shocked U.S. Marine jumped from a window at the Grant Advertising Agency on the 76th floor after phoning a co-worker: “I know now this is the end”. Police found his shoes 50 feet from his body.
On May 1, 1947, Evelyn McHale leapt to her death from the 86th floor observation deck and landed on a limousine parked at the curb. Photography student Robert Wiles took a photo of McHale’s oddly intact body right after it landed on the roof of the automobile. The police found a suicide note that she left on the observation deck: “He is much better off without me…. I wouldn’t make a good wife for anybody”. The photo was featured in Life Magazine. It was later used by Andy Warhol in one of his series of prints, Suicide (Fallen Body).
On December 2, 1979, Elvita Adams jumped from the 86th floor, but survived when she was blown back onto a ledge on the 85th floor by a gust of wind.
In 1964, Warhol released Empire, an 8-hour long film of a static shot of the building. That film is now owned by the Museum of Modern Art.
In 1972, the Empire State Building lost the title “World’s Tallest Structure” to the World Trade Center, which was the tallest building for just a year, displaced by The Sears Building in Chicago. Now the tallest building on the planet is not in the USA, because we failed to Make America Great Again. Now the honor belongs to The Burj Khalifa Tower in Dubai, which soars 2,717 feet into the sky.
In 2010, the Empire State Building underwent a $550 million renovation to transform the building into a more energy efficient and eco-friendly structure. It is now the tallest Leadership In Energy And Environmental Design (LEED)-certified building in the USA.
When New York State passed legislation for Marriage Equality, The Empire State Building was bathed in rainbow lights of red, orange, purple, blue and green. For Pride Week in NYC, the building is traditionally lit up in rainbow lights for the weekend. It got the rainbow treatment when SCOTUS struck down DOMA. But, the lights went dark in mourning for the victims of the Pulse Nightclub murders in Orlando on June 12, 2016.
I find the island of Manhattan to be the greatest of human accomplishments. The place is the home to some of my favorite structures. When I lived in NYC in those crazy 1970s, I never stopped feeling gobsmacked whenever I caught a glimpse of The Empire State Building while traveling around the island. From far away or standing on the same block, it always gave me a building boner, proving that size does matter.