At 103 stories and 1,250 feet (381 metres) tall, the Empire State building was once the tallest building in the world. It held the title for over forty years (the longest any building has held the title) until the completion of the North Tower of the World Trade Centre in 1972. Now over twenty buildings surpass the Empire State building in height but it has remained a world-famous architectural icon. It is also one of the largest office spaces in the world with 2,850,000 rentable square feet.
The construction of the Eiffel Tower in 1889 spurred a skyscraper race amongst American architects. In 1909 the Metropolitan Life Tower was completed at 700 feet tall, in 1913 the Woolworth building beat it at 792 feet, then the Bank of Manhattan building took the lead at 927 feet. Walter Chrysler joined the race but kept the height of the project a secret until the building’s completion and it was during the construction of the Chrysler building that John Jakob Raskob, the vice president of General Motors began the construction of his own building with an aim to make it taller than the unfinished Chrysler Building. The competition between Chrysler and Raskob was on.
The initial plan was for the Empire State Building to be the tallest at 80 stories but then the Chrysler Building went higher and so the Empire State was extended to 85 stories. Seeing they were being surpassed, Chrysler and his architect decided to add a surprise 186 foot spire which they secretly hoisted to the top in four parts and riveted them together in 90 minutes. The Chrysler Building was now the tallest building in the world and would remain as such for the next 11 months.
Not one to give up, Raskob came up with a solution that would close the competition. He decided that the Empire State building needed a ‘hat’, which would be used as a docking station for dirigibles. The new design with the dirigible mooring mast made the finished building 1,250 feet tall while the Chrysler Building was completed at 1,046 feet.
When we arrive at the Empire State building we are very pleased that we have purchased ‘VIP Express‘ tickets that mean we do not have to wait in the queue that is now trailing out the door, around the corner and along the street. We are whisked past the hundreds of waiting visitors to the elevator that will transport us to the Dare to Dream Exhibit on the 80th floor. The exhibit takes us through the building’s history, engineering and construction.
We continue in a second elevator to the 86th floor, home to the world’s most famous observatory that attracts around four million visitors every year. The open-air observation deck wraps around the building’s spire, providing 360 degree views of New York. We can see Central Park, Times Square, the Hudson River and East River, One World Trade Centre, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. The views are incredibly but it is extremely windy at the top! We follow the observation platform around to the north side and are almost blown right off our feet. We decide to continue to the 102nd floor.
We board the manually operated Otis elevator and climb another sixteen floors to the Top Deck. The views are even more breathtaking from here and we can see skyscrapers up to 80 miles away into New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts. We watch as a helicopter soars above the Hudson river, taking passengers on the same route we took yesterday.
A few thousand photographs later we are ready to board the Otis elevator again and head back to ground level. Soon we are back in the street looking up at the world famous landmark that is towering over us.