Empire State Building

The Empire State Building is a 102-story Art Deco skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. The building was designed by Shreve, Lamb & Harmon and built from 1930 to 1931. Its name is derived from "Empire State", the nickname of the state of New York. The building has a roof height of 1,250 feet (380 m) and stands a total of 1,454 feet (443.2 m) tall, including its antenna. The Empire State Building was the world's tallest building until the first tower of the World Trade Center was topped out in 1970; following the September 11 attacks in 2001, the Empire State Building was New York City's tallest building until it was surpassed in 2012 by One World Trade Center. As of 2022, the building is the seventh-tallest building in New York City, the ninth-tallest completed skyscraper in the United States, and the 54th-tallest in the world.

The site of the Empire State Building, in Midtown South on the west side of Fifth Avenue between...Read more

The Empire State Building is a 102-story Art Deco skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. The building was designed by Shreve, Lamb & Harmon and built from 1930 to 1931. Its name is derived from "Empire State", the nickname of the state of New York. The building has a roof height of 1,250 feet (380 m) and stands a total of 1,454 feet (443.2 m) tall, including its antenna. The Empire State Building was the world's tallest building until the first tower of the World Trade Center was topped out in 1970; following the September 11 attacks in 2001, the Empire State Building was New York City's tallest building until it was surpassed in 2012 by One World Trade Center. As of 2022, the building is the seventh-tallest building in New York City, the ninth-tallest completed skyscraper in the United States, and the 54th-tallest in the world.

The site of the Empire State Building, in Midtown South on the west side of Fifth Avenue between West 33rd and 34th Streets, was developed in 1893 as the Waldorf–Astoria Hotel. In 1929, Empire State Inc. acquired the site and devised plans for a skyscraper there. The design for the Empire State Building was changed fifteen times until it was ensured to be the world's tallest building. Construction started on March 17, 1930, and the building opened thirteen and a half months afterward on May 1, 1931. Despite favorable publicity related to the building's construction, because of the Great Depression and World War II, its owners did not make a profit until the early 1950s.

The building's Art Deco architecture, height, and observation decks have made it a popular attraction. Around four million tourists from around the world annually visit the building's 86th- and 102nd-floor observatories; an additional indoor observatory on the 80th floor opened in 2019. The Empire State Building is an international cultural icon: it has been featured in more than 250 television series and films since the film King Kong was released in 1933. The building's size has become the global standard of reference to describe the height and length of other structures. A symbol of New York City, the building has been named as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers. It was ranked first on the American Institute of Architects' List of America's Favorite Architecture in 2007. Additionally, the Empire State Building and its ground-floor interior were designated city landmarks by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1980, and were added to the National Register of Historic Places as a National Historic Landmark in 1986.

The site was previously owned by John Jacob Astor of the prominent Astor family, who had owned the site since the mid-1820s.[1][2] In 1893, John Jacob Astor Sr.'s grandson William Waldorf Astor opened the Waldorf Hotel on the site.[3][4] Four years later, his cousin, John Jacob Astor IV, opened the 16-story Astoria Hotel on an adjacent site.[5][3][6] The two portions of the Waldorf–Astoria hotel had 1,300 bedrooms, making it the largest hotel in the world at the time.[7] After the death of its founding proprietor, George Boldt, in early 1918, the hotel lease was purchased by Thomas Coleman du Pont.[8][9] By the 1920s, the old Waldorf–Astoria was becoming dated and the elegant social life of New York had moved much farther north.[10][11][12] Additionally, many stores had opened on Fifth Avenue north of 34th Street.[13][14] The Astor family decided to build a replacement hotel on Park Avenue[3][15] and sold the hotel to Bethlehem Engineering Corporation in 1928 for $14–16 million.[10] The hotel closed shortly thereafter on May 3, 1929.[5]

Planning Early plans  The Waldorf-Astoria in 1901

Bethlehem Engineering Corporation originally intended to build a 25-story office building on the Waldorf–Astoria site. The company's president, Floyd De L. Brown, paid $100,000 of the $1 million down payment required to start construction on the building, with the promise that the difference would be paid later.[3] Brown borrowed $900,000 from a bank but defaulted on the loan.[16][17]

After Brown was unable to secure additional funding,[11] the land was resold to Empire State Inc., a group of wealthy investors that included Louis G. Kaufman, Ellis P. Earle, John J. Raskob, Coleman du Pont, and Pierre S. du Pont.[16][17][18] The name came from the state nickname for New York.[19][20] Alfred E. Smith, a former Governor of New York and U.S. presidential candidate whose 1928 campaign had been managed by Raskob,[15][21] was appointed head of the company.[11][16][17] The group also purchased nearby land so they would have the 2 acres (1 ha) needed for the base, with the combined plot measuring 425 feet (130 m) wide by 200 feet (61 m) long.[20][22] The Empire State Inc. consortium was announced to the public in August 1929.[23][24][22] Concurrently, Smith announced the construction of an 80-story building on the site, to be taller than any other buildings in existence.[22][25]

Empire State Inc. contracted William F. Lamb, of architectural firm Shreve, Lamb and Harmon, to create the building design.[26][20][27] Lamb produced the building design in just two weeks using the firm's earlier designs for the Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, as the basis.[19] He had also been inspired by Raymond Hood's design for the Daily News Building, which was being constructed at the same time.[20] Concurrently, Lamb's partner Richmond Shreve created "bug diagrams" of the project requirements.[28] The 1916 Zoning Act forced Lamb to design a structure that incorporated setbacks resulting in the lower floors being larger than the upper floors.[a] Consequently, the building was designed from the top down,[29] giving it a pencil-like shape.[30] The plans were devised within a budget of $50 million and a stipulation that the building be ready for occupancy within 18 months of the start of construction.[11]

Design changes  Architectural sketch of heights and allowed building areas

The original plan of the building was 50 stories,[31] but was later increased to 60 and then 80 stories.[22] Height restrictions were placed on nearby buildings[22] to ensure that the top fifty floors of the planned 80-story, 1,000-foot-tall (300 m) building[32][33] would have unobstructed views of the city.[22] The New York Times lauded the site's proximity to mass transit, with the Brooklyn–Manhattan Transit's 34th Street station and the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad's 33rd Street terminal one block away, as well as Penn Station two blocks away and Grand Central Terminal nine blocks away at its closest. It also praised the 3,000,000 square feet (280,000 m2) of proposed floor space near "one of the busiest sections in the world".[22] The Empire State Building was to be a typical office building, but Raskob intended to build it "better and in a bigger way", according to architectural writer Donald J. Reynolds.[15]

While plans for the Empire State Building were being finalized, an intense competition in New York for the title of "world's tallest building" was underway. 40 Wall Street (then the Bank of Manhattan Building) and the Chrysler Building in Manhattan both vied for this distinction and were already under construction when work began on the Empire State Building.[32] The "Race into the Sky", as popular media called it at the time, was representative of the country's optimism in the 1920s, fueled by the building boom in major cities.[34] The race was defined by at least five other proposals, although only the Empire State Building would survive the Wall Street Crash of 1929.[11][b] The 40 Wall Street tower was revised, in April 1929, from 840 feet (260 m) to 925 feet (282 m) making it the world's tallest.[36] The Chrysler Building added its 185-foot (56 m) steel tip to its roof in October 1929, thus bringing it to a height of 1,046 feet (319 m) and greatly exceeding the height of 40 Wall Street.[32] The Chrysler Building's developer, Walter Chrysler, realized that his tower's height would exceed the Empire State Building's as well, having instructed his architect, William Van Alen, to change the Chrysler's original roof from a stubby Romanesque dome to a narrow steel spire.[36] Raskob, wishing to have the Empire State Building be the world's tallest, reviewed the plans and had five floors added as well as a spire; however, the new floors would need to be set back because of projected wind pressure on the extension.[37] On November 18, 1929, Smith acquired a lot at 27–31 West 33rd Street, adding 75 feet (23 m) to the width of the proposed office building's site.[38][39] Two days later, Smith announced the updated plans for the skyscraper. The plans included an observation deck on the 86th-floor roof at a height of 1,050 feet (320 m), higher than the Chrysler's 71st-floor observation deck.[37][40]

The 1,050-foot Empire State Building would only be 4 feet (1.2 m) taller than the Chrysler Building,[37][41][42] and Raskob was afraid that Chrysler might try to "pull a trick like hiding a rod in the spire and then sticking it up at the last minute."[31][43][41] The plans were revised one last time in December 1929, to include a 16-story, 200-foot (61 m) metal "crown" and an additional 222-foot (68 m) mooring mast intended for dirigibles. The roof height was now 1,250 feet (380 m), making it the tallest building in the world by far, even without the antenna.[44][31][45] The addition of the dirigible station meant that another floor, the now-enclosed 86th floor, would have to be built below the crown;[45] however, unlike the Chrysler's spire, the Empire State's mast would serve a practical purpose.[43] A revised plan was announced to the public in late December 1929, just before the start of construction.[11][12] The final plan was sketched within two hours, the night before the plan was supposed to be presented to the site's owners in January 1930.[11] The New York Times reported that the spire was facing some "technical problems", but they were "no greater than might be expected under such a novel plan."[46] By this time the blueprints for the building had gone through up to fifteen versions before they were approved.[31][47][48] Lamb described the other specifications he was given for the final, approved plan:

The program was short enough—a fixed budget, no space more than 28 feet from window to corridor, as many stories of such space as possible, an exterior of limestone, and completion date of [May 1], 1931, which meant a year and six months from the beginning of sketches.[49][31]

Construction

The contractors were Starrett Brothers and Eken, which were composed of Paul and William A. Starrett and Andrew J. Eken.[50] The project was financed primarily by Raskob and Pierre du Pont,[51] while James Farley's General Builders Supply Corporation supplied the building materials.[26] John W. Bowser was the construction superintendent of the project,[52] and the structural engineer of the building was Homer G. Balcom.[27][53] The tight completion schedule necessitated the commencement of construction even though the design had yet to be finalized.[54]

Hotel demolition

Demolition of the old Waldorf–Astoria began on October 1, 1929.[55] Stripping the building down was an arduous process, as the hotel had been constructed using more rigid material than earlier buildings had been. Furthermore, the old hotel's granite, wood chips, and "'precious' metals such as lead, brass, and zinc" were not in high demand, resulting in issues with disposal.[56] Most of the wood was deposited into a woodpile on nearby 30th Street or was burned in a swamp elsewhere. Much of the other materials that made up the old hotel, including the granite and bronze, were dumped into the Atlantic Ocean near Sandy Hook, New Jersey.[57][58]

By the time the hotel's demolition started, Raskob had secured the required funding for the construction of the building.[59] The plan was to start construction later that year but, on October 24, the New York Stock Exchange experienced the major and sudden Wall Street Crash, marking the beginning of the decade-long Great Depression. Despite the economic downturn, Raskob refused to cancel the project because of the progress that had been made up to that point.[23] Neither Raskob, who had ceased speculation in the stock market the previous year, nor Smith, who had no stock investments, suffered financially in the crash.[59] However, most of the investors were affected and as a result, in December 1929, Empire State Inc. obtained a $27.5 million loan from Metropolitan Life Insurance Company so construction could begin.[60] The stock market crash resulted in no demand for new office space; Raskob and Smith nonetheless started construction,[61] as canceling the project would have resulted in greater losses for the investors.[23]

Steel structure  A worker bolts beams in 1930 during construction; the Chrysler Building can be seen in the background.

A structural steel contract was awarded on January 12, 1930,[62] with excavation of the site beginning ten days later on January 22,[63] before the old hotel had been completely demolished.[64] Two twelve-hour shifts, consisting of 300 men each, worked continuously to dig the 55-foot (17 m) deep foundation.[63] Small pier holes were sunk into the ground to house the concrete footings that would support the steelwork.[65] Excavation was nearly complete by early March,[66] and construction on the building itself started on March 17,[67][26] with the builders placing the first steel columns on the completed footings before the rest of the footings had been finished.[68] Around this time, Lamb held a press conference on the building plans. He described the reflective steel panels parallel to the windows, the large-block Indiana Limestone facade that was slightly more expensive than smaller bricks, and the building's vertical lines.[44] Four colossal columns, intended for installation in the center of the building site, were delivered; they would support a combined 10,000,000 pounds (4,500,000 kg) when the building was finished.[69]

The structural steel was pre-ordered and pre-fabricated in anticipation of a revision to the city's building code that would have allowed the Empire State Building's structural steel to carry 18,000 pounds per square inch (120,000 kPa), up from 16,000 pounds per square inch (110,000 kPa), thus reducing the amount of steel needed for the building. Although the 18,000-psi regulation had been safely enacted in other cities, Mayor Jimmy Walker did not sign the new codes into law until March 26, 1930, just before construction was due to commence.[67][70] The first steel framework was installed on April 1, 1930.[71] From there, construction proceeded at a rapid pace; during one stretch of 10 working days, the builders erected fourteen floors.[72][26] This was made possible through precise coordination of the building's planning, as well as the mass production of common materials such as windows and spandrels.[73] On one occasion, when a supplier could not provide timely delivery of dark Hauteville marble, Starrett switched to using Rose Famosa marble from a German quarry that was purchased specifically to provide the project with sufficient marble.[65]

The scale of the project was massive, with trucks carrying "16,000 partition tiles, 5,000 bags of cement, 450 cubic yards [340 m3] of sand and 300 bags of lime" arriving at the construction site every day.[74] There were also cafes and concession stands on five of the incomplete floors so workers did not have to descend to the ground level to eat lunch.[75][76] Temporary water taps were also built so workers did not waste time buying water bottles from the ground level.[75][77] Additionally, carts running on a small railway system transported materials from the basement storage[75] to elevators that brought the carts to the desired floors where they would then be distributed throughout that level using another set of tracks.[74][78][76] The 57,480 short tons (51,320 long tons) of steel ordered for the project was the largest-ever single order of steel at the time, comprising more steel than was ordered for the Chrysler Building and 40 Wall Street combined.[79][80] According to historian John Tauranac, building materials were sourced from numerous, and distant, sources with "limestone from Indiana, steel girders from Pittsburgh, cement and mortar from upper New York State, marble from Italy, France, and England, wood from northern and Pacific Coast forests, [and] hardware from New England."[72] The facade, too, used a variety of material, most prominently Indiana limestone but also Swedish black granite, terracotta, and brick.[81]

By June 20, the skyscraper's supporting steel structure had risen to the 26th floor, and by July 27, half of the steel structure had been completed.[74] Starrett Bros. and Eken endeavored to build one floor a day in order to speed up construction, achieving a pace of four and a half stories per week;[82][83] prior to this, the fastest pace of construction for a building of similar height had been three and a half stories per week.[82] While construction progressed, the final designs for the floors were being designed from the ground up (as opposed to the general design, which had been from the roof down). Some of the levels were still undergoing final approval, with several orders placed within an hour of a plan being finalized.[82] On September 10, as steelwork was nearing completion, Smith laid the building's cornerstone during a ceremony attended by thousands. The stone contained a box with contemporary artifacts including the previous day's New York Times, a U.S. currency set containing all denominations of notes and coins minted in 1930, a history of the site and building, and photographs of the people involved in construction.[84][85] The steel structure was topped out at 1,048 feet (319 m) on September 19, twelve days ahead of schedule and 23 weeks after the start of construction.[86] Workers raised a flag atop the 86th floor to signify this milestone.[82][87]

Completion and scale  During construction in October 1930; the USS Los Angeles, ZMC-2 and a J-class blimp seen overhead

Work on the building's interior and crowning mast commenced after the topping out.[87] The mooring mast topped out on November 21, two months after the steelwork had been completed.[85][88] Meanwhile, work on the walls and interior was progressing at a quick pace, with exterior walls built up to the 75th floor by the time steelwork had been built to the 95th floor.[89] The majority of the facade was already finished by the middle of November.[75] Because of the building's height, it was deemed infeasible to have many elevators or large elevator cabins, so the builders contracted with the Otis Elevator Company to make 66 cars that could speed at 1,200 feet per minute (366 m/min), which represented the largest-ever elevator order at the time.[90]

In addition to the time constraint builders had, there were also space limitations because construction materials had to be delivered quickly, and trucks needed to drop off these materials without congesting traffic. This was solved by creating a temporary driveway for the trucks between 33rd and 34th Streets, and then storing the materials in the building's first floor and basements. Concrete mixers, brick hoppers, and stone hoists inside the building ensured that materials would be able to ascend quickly and without endangering or inconveniencing the public.[89] At one point, over 200 trucks made material deliveries at the building site every day.[75] A series of relay and erection derricks, placed on platforms erected near the building, lifted the steel from the trucks below and installed the beams at the appropriate locations.[91] The Empire State Building was structurally completed on April 11, 1931, twelve days ahead of schedule and 410 days after construction commenced.[75] Al Smith shot the final rivet, which was made of solid gold.[92]

A photograph of a cable worker, taken by Lewis Hine as part of his project to document the Empire State Building's construction Photograph of a cable worker taken by Lewis Hine

The project involved more than 3,500 workers at its peak,[26] including 3,439 on a single day, August 14, 1930.[93] Many of the workers were Irish and Italian immigrants,[94] with a sizable minority of Mohawk ironworkers from the Kahnawake reserve near Montreal.[94][95][96] According to official accounts, five workers died during the construction,[97][98] although the New York Daily News gave reports of 14 deaths[75] and a headline in the socialist magazine The New Masses spread unfounded rumors of up to 42 deaths.[99][98] The Empire State Building cost $40,948,900 to build (equivalent to $637 million in 2022[100]), including demolition of the Waldorf–Astoria. This was lower than the $60 million budgeted for construction.[101]

Lewis Hine captured many photographs of the construction, documenting not only the work itself but also providing insight into the daily life of workers in that era.[63][102][103] Hine's images were used extensively by the media to publish daily press releases.[104] According to the writer Jim Rasenberger, Hine "climbed out onto the steel with the ironworkers and dangled from a derrick cable hundreds of feet above the city to capture, as no one ever had before (or has since), the dizzy work of building skyscrapers". In Rasenberger's words, Hine turned what might have been an assignment of "corporate flak" into "exhilarating art".[105] These images were later organized into their own collection.[106] Onlookers were enraptured by the sheer height at which the steelworkers operated. New York magazine wrote of the steelworkers: "Like little spiders they toiled, spinning a fabric of steel against the sky".[91]

Opening and early years Aerial view of the Empire State Building in 1932 The Empire State Building in 1932. The building's antenna was installed 21 years later, in 1953.

The Empire State Building officially opened on May 1, 1931, forty-five days ahead of its projected opening date, and eighteen months from the start of construction.[107][26][108] The opening was marked with an event featuring United States President Herbert Hoover, who turned on the building's lights with the ceremonial button push from Washington, D.C.[109][110][111] Over 350 guests attended the opening ceremony, and following luncheon, at the 86th floor including Jimmy Walker, Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Al Smith.[111] An account from that day stated that the view from the luncheon was obscured by a fog, with other landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty being "lost in the mist" enveloping New York City.[112] The Empire State Building officially opened the next day.[112][52] Advertisements for the building's observatories were placed in local newspapers, while nearby hotels also capitalized on the events by releasing advertisements that lauded their proximity to the newly opened building.[113]

According to The New York Times, builders and real estate speculators predicted that the 1,250-foot-tall (380 m) Empire State Building would be the world's tallest building "for many years", thus ending the great New York City skyscraper rivalry. At the time, most engineers agreed that it would be difficult to build a building taller than 1,200 feet (370 m), even with the hardy Manhattan bedrock as a foundation.[114] Technically, it was believed possible to build a tower of up to 2,000 feet (610 m), but it was deemed uneconomical to do so, especially during the Great Depression.[78][115] As the tallest building in the world, at that time, and the first one to exceed 100 floors, the Empire State Building became an icon of the city and, ultimately, of the nation.[116]

In 1932, the Fifth Avenue Association gave the building its 1931 "gold medal" for architectural excellence, signifying that the Empire State had been the best-designed building on Fifth Avenue to open in 1931.[117] A year later, on March 2, 1933, the movie King Kong was released. The movie, which depicted a large stop motion ape named Kong climbing the Empire State Building, made the still-new building into a cinematic icon.[118][119]

Tenants and tourism

At the beginning of 1931, Fifth Avenue was experiencing high demand for storefront space, with only 12 of 224 stores being unoccupied. The Empire State Building, along with 500 Fifth Avenue and 608 Fifth Avenue, were expected to add a combined 11 stores.[120][121] The office space was less successful, as the Empire State Building's opening had coincided with the Great Depression in the United States.[106] In the first year, only 23 percent of the available space was rented,[122][123] as compared to the early 1920s, where the average building would be 52 percent occupied upon opening and 90 percent occupied within five years.[124] The lack of renters led New Yorkers to deride the building as the "Empty State Building"[106][125] or "Smith's Folly".[126]

The earliest tenants in the Empire State Building were large companies, banks, and garment industries.[126] Jack Brod, one of the building's longest resident tenants,[127][128] co-established the Empire Diamond Corporation with his father in the building in mid-1931[129] and rented space in the building until he died in 2008.[129] Brod recalled that there were only about 20 tenants at the time of opening, including him,[128] and that Al Smith was the only real tenant in the space above his seventh-floor offices.[127] Generally, during the early 1930s, it was rare for more than a single office space to be rented in the building, despite Smith's and Raskob's aggressive marketing efforts in the newspapers and to anyone they knew.[130] The building's lights were continuously left on, even in the unrented spaces, to give the impression of occupancy. This was exacerbated by competition from Rockefeller Center[122] as well as from buildings on 42nd Street, which, when combined with the Empire State Building, resulted in surplus of office space in a slow market during the 1930s.[131]

Aggressive marketing efforts served to reinforce the Empire State Building's status as the world's tallest.[132] The observatory was advertised in local newspapers as well as on railroad tickets.[133] The building became a popular tourist attraction, with one million people each paying one dollar to ride elevators to the observation decks in 1931.[134] In its first year of operation, the observation deck made approximately $2 million in revenue, as much as its owners made in rent that year.[122][106] By 1936, the observation deck was crowded on a daily basis, with food and drink available for purchase at the top,[135] and by 1944 the building had received its five-millionth visitor.[136] In 1931, NBC took up tenancy, leasing space on the 85th floor for radio broadcasts.[137][138] From the outset the building was in debt, losing $1 million per year by 1935. Real estate developer Seymour Durst recalled that the building was so underused in 1936 that there was no elevator service above the 45th floor, as the building above the 41st floor was empty except for the NBC offices and the Raskob/Du Pont offices on the 81st floor.[139]

Other events

Per the original plans, the Empire State Building's spire was intended to be an airship docking station. Raskob and Smith had proposed dirigible ticketing offices and passenger waiting rooms on the 86th floor, while the airships themselves would be tied to the spire at the equivalent of the building's 106th floor.[140][141] An elevator would ferry passengers from the 86th to the 101st floor[c] after they had checked in on the 86th floor,[143] after which passengers would have climbed steep ladders to board the airship.[140] The idea, however, was impractical and dangerous due to powerful updrafts caused by the building itself,[144] the wind currents across Manhattan,[140] and the spires of nearby skyscrapers.[145] Furthermore, even if the airship were to successfully navigate all these obstacles, its crew would have to jettison some ballast by releasing water onto the streets below in order to maintain stability, and then tie the craft's nose to the spire with no mooring lines securing the tail end of the craft.[146][140][145] On September 15, 1931, a small commercial United States Navy airship circled 25 times in 45-mile-per-hour (72 km/h) winds.[147] The airship then attempted to dock at the mast, but its ballast spilled and the craft was rocked by unpredictable eddies.[148][149] The near-disaster scuttled plans to turn the building's spire into an airship terminal, although one blimp did manage to make a single newspaper delivery afterward.[11][140]

On July 28, 1945, a B-25 Mitchell bomber crashed into the north side of the Empire State Building, between the 79th and 80th floors.[150] One engine completely penetrated the building and landed in a neighboring block, while the other engine and part of the landing gear plummeted down an elevator shaft. Fourteen people were killed in the incident,[151][48] but the building escaped severe damage and was reopened two days later.[151][152]

Profitability  A series of setbacks causes the building to taper with height.

By the 1940s, the Empire State Building was 98 percent occupied.[153] The structure broke even for the first time in the 1950s.[106][154] At the time, mass transit options in the building's vicinity were limited compared to the present day. Despite this challenge, the Empire State Building began to attract renters due to its reputation.[155] A 222-foot (68 m) radio antenna was erected on top of the towers starting in 1950,[156] allowing the area's television stations to be broadcast from the building.[157]

Despite the turnaround in the building's fortunes, Raskob listed it for sale in 1951,[158] with a minimum asking price of $50 million.[159] The property was purchased by business partners Roger L. Stevens, Henry Crown, Alfred R. Glancy and Ben Tobin.[160][161][162] The sale was brokered by the Charles F. Noyes Company, a prominent real estate firm in upper Manhattan,[159] for $51 million, the highest price paid for a single structure at the time.[163] By this time, the Empire State had been fully leased for several years with a waiting list of parties looking to lease space in the building, according to the Cortland Standard.[164] That same year, six news companies formed a partnership to pay a combined annual fee of $600,000 to use the building's antenna,[159] which was completed in 1953.[157] Crown bought out his partners' ownership stakes in 1954, becoming the sole owner.[165] The following year, the American Society of Civil Engineers named the building one of the "Seven Modern Civil Engineering Wonders".[166][167]

In 1961, Lawrence A. Wien signed a contract to purchase the Empire State Building for $65 million, with Harry B. Helmsley acting as partners in the building's operating lease.[160][168] This became the new highest price for a single structure.[168] Over 3,000 people paid $10,000 for one share each in a company called Empire State Building Associates. The company in turn subleased the building to another company headed by Helmsley and Wien, raising $33 million of the funds needed to pay the purchase price.[160][168] In a separate transaction,[168] the land underneath the building was sold to Prudential Insurance for $29 million.[160][169] Helmsley, Wien, and Peter Malkin quickly started a program of minor improvement projects, including the first-ever full-building facade refurbishment and window-washing in 1962,[170][171] the installation of new flood lights on the 72nd floor in 1964,[172][173] and replacement of the manually operated elevators with automatic units in 1966.[174] The little-used western end of the second floor was used as a storage space until 1964, at which point it received escalators to the first floor as part of its conversion into a highly sought retail area.[175][176]

Loss of "tallest building" title The World Trade Center as seen from the air The World Trade Center's North Tower surpassed the Empire State Building in height by 1970.[177][178]

In 1961, the same year that Helmsley, Wien, and Malkin had purchased the Empire State Building, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey formally backed plans for a new World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan.[179] The plan originally included 66-story twin towers with column-free open spaces. The Empire State's owners and real estate speculators were worried that the twin towers' 7.6 million square feet (710,000 m2) of office space would create a glut of rentable space in Manhattan as well as take away the Empire State Building's profits from lessees.[180] A revision in the World Trade Center's plan brought the twin towers to 1,370 feet (420 m) each or 110 stories, taller than the Empire State.[181] Opponents of the new project included prominent real-estate developer Robert Tishman, as well as Wien's Committee for a Reasonable World Trade Center.[181] In response to Wien's opposition, Port Authority executive director Austin J. Tobin said that Wien was only opposing the project because it would overshadow his Empire State Building as the world's tallest building.[182]

The World Trade Center's twin towers started construction in 1966.[183] The following year, the Ostankino Tower succeeded the Empire State Building as the tallest freestanding structure in the world.[184] In 1970, the Empire State surrendered its position as the world's tallest building,[185] when the World Trade Center's still-under-construction North Tower surpassed it, on October 19;[177][178] the North Tower was topped out on December 23, 1970.[178][186]

In December 1975, the observation deck was opened on the 110th floor of the Twin Towers, significantly higher than the 86th floor observatory on the Empire State Building.[48] The latter was also losing revenue during this period, particularly as a number of broadcast stations had moved to the World Trade Center in 1971; although the Port Authority continued to pay the broadcasting leases for the Empire State until 1984.[187] The Empire State Building was still seen as prestigious, having seen its forty-millionth visitor in March 1971.[188]

1980s and 1990s

By 1980, there were nearly two million annual visitors,[134] although a building official had previously estimated between 1.5 million and 1.75 million annual visitors.[189] The building received its own ZIP code in May 1980 in a roll out of 63 new postal codes in Manhattan. At the time, its tenants collectively received 35,000 pieces of mail daily.[190] The Empire State Building celebrated its 50th anniversary on May 1, 1981, with a much-publicized, but poorly received, laser light show,[191] as well as an "Empire State Building Week" that ran through to May 8.[192][193] The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted to designate the building and its lobby as city landmarks on May 19, 1981,[194][195]

Capital improvements were made to the Empire State Building during the early to mid-1990s at a cost of $55 million.[196] Because all of the building's windows were being replaced at the same time, the LPC mandated a paint-color test for the windows; the test revealed that the Empire State Building's original windows were actually red.[197] The improvements also entailed replacing alarm systems, elevators, windows, and air conditioning; making the observation deck compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA); and refurbishing the limestone facade.[198] The observation deck renovation was added after disability rights groups and the United States Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the building in 1992, in what was the first lawsuit filed by an organization under the new law.[199][200] A settlement was reached in 1994, in which Empire State Building Associates agreed to add ADA-compliant elements, such as new elevators, ramps, and automatic doors, during the renovation.[200][201]

Prudential sold the land under the building in 1991 for $42 million to a buyer representing hotelier Hideki Yokoi [ja], who was imprisoned at the time in connection with the deadly Hotel New Japan Fire [ja] at the Hotel New Japan [ja] in Tokyo.[202] In 1994, Donald Trump entered into a joint-venture agreement with Yokoi, with a shared goal of breaking the Empire State Building's lease on the land in an effort to gain total ownership of the building so that, if successful, the two could reap the potential profits of merging the ownership of the building with the land beneath it.[203] Having secured a half-ownership of the land, Trump devised plans to take ownership of the building itself so he could renovate it, even though Helmsley and Malkin had already started their refurbishment project.[196] He sued Empire State Building Associates in February 1995, claiming that the latter had caused the building to become a "high-rise slum"[160] and a "second-rate, rodent-infested" office tower.[204] Trump had intended to have Empire State Building Associates evicted for violating the terms of their lease,[204] but was denied.[205] This led to Helmsley's companies countersuing Trump in May.[206] This sparked a series of lawsuits and countersuits that lasted several years,[160] partly arising from Trump's desire to obtain the building's master lease by taking it from Empire State Building Associates.[198] Upon Harry Helmsley's death in 1997, the Malkins sued Helmsley's widow, Leona Helmsley, for control of the building.[207]

21st century 2000s

Following the destruction of the World Trade Center during the September 11 attacks in 2001, the Empire State Building again became the tallest building in New York City, but was only the second-tallest building in the Americas after the Sears (later Willis) Tower in Chicago.[184][208][209] As a result of the attacks, transmissions from nearly all of the city's commercial television and FM radio stations were again broadcast from the Empire State Building.[210] The attacks also led to an increase in security due to persistent terror threats against prominent sites in New York City.[211]

In 2002, Trump and Yokoi sold their land claim to the Empire State Building Associates, now headed by Malkin, in a $57.5 million sale.[160][212] This action merged the building's title and lease for the first time in half a century.[212] Despite the lingering threat posed by the 9/11 attacks, the Empire State Building remained popular with 3.5 million visitors to the observatories in 2004, compared to about 2.8 million in 2003.[213]

Even though she maintained her ownership stake in the building until the post-consolidation IPO in October 2013, Leona Helmsley handed over day-to-day operations of the building in 2006 to Peter Malkin's company.[160][214] In 2008, the building was temporarily "stolen" by the New York Daily News to show how easy it was to transfer the deed on a property, since city clerks were not required to validate the submitted information, as well as to help demonstrate how fraudulent deeds could be used to obtain large mortgages and then have individuals disappear with the money. The paperwork submitted to the city included the names of Fay Wray, the famous star of King Kong, and Willie Sutton, a notorious New York bank robber. The newspaper then transferred the deed back over to the legitimate owners, who at that time were Empire State Land Associates.[215]

2010s to present  Since 2009, the Empire State Building has been lit blue and white annually for commencement at Columbia University. The current One World Trade Center (seen in the distance) surpassed the Empire State Building's height on April 30, 2012.

Starting in 2009, the building's public areas received a $550 million renovation, with improvements to the air conditioning and waterproofing, renovations to the observation deck and main lobby,[216] and relocation of the gift shop to the 80th floor.[217][218] About $120 million was spent on improving the energy efficiency of the building, with the goal of reducing energy emissions by 38% within five years.[218][219] For example, all of the windows were refurbished onsite into film-coated "superwindows" which block heat but pass light.[219][220][221] Air conditioning operating costs on hot days were reduced, saving $17 million of the project's capital cost immediately and partially funding some of the other retrofits.[220] The Empire State Building won the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold for Existing Buildings rating in September 2011, as well as the World Federation of Great Towers' Excellence in Environment Award for 2010.[221] For the LEED Gold certification, the building's energy reduction was considered, as was a large purchase of carbon offsets. Other factors included low-flow bathroom fixtures, green cleaning supplies, and use of recycled paper products.[222]

On April 30, 2012, One World Trade Center topped out, taking the Empire State Building's record of tallest in the city.[223] By 2014, the building was owned by the Empire State Realty Trust (ESRT), with Anthony Malkin as chairman, CEO, and president.[224] The ESRT was a public company, having begun trading publicly on the New York Stock Exchange the previous year.[225] In August 2016, the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) was issued new fully diluted shares equivalent to 9.9% of the trust; this investment gave them partial ownership of the entirety of the ESRT's portfolio, and as a result, partial ownership of the Empire State Building.[226] The trust's president John Kessler called it an "endorsement of the company's irreplaceable assets".[227] The investment has been described by the real-estate magazine The Real Deal as "an unusual move for a sovereign wealth fund", as these funds typically buy direct stakes in buildings rather than real estate companies.[228] Other foreign entities that have a stake in the ESRT include investors from Norway, Japan, and Australia.[227]

A renovation of the Empire State Building was commenced in the 2010s to further improve energy efficiency, public areas, and amenities.[229] In August 2018, to improve the flow of visitor traffic, the main visitor's entrance was shifted to 20 West 34th Street as part of a major renovation of the observatory lobby.[230] The new lobby includes several technological features, including large LED panels, digital ticket kiosks in nine languages, and a two-story architectural model of the building surrounded by two metal staircases.[229][230] The first phase of the renovation, completed in 2019, features an updated exterior lighting system and digital hosts.[230] The new lobby also features free Wi-Fi provided for those waiting.[229][231] A 10,000-square-foot (930 m2) exhibit with nine galleries opened in July 2019.[232][233] The 102nd floor observatory, the third phase of the redesign, reopened to the public on October 12, 2019.[234][235][236] That portion of the project included outfitting the space with floor-to-ceiling glass windows and a brand-new glass elevator.[237] The final portion of the renovations to be completed was a new observatory on the 80th floor, which opened on December 2, 2019.[238][239] In total, the renovation cost $160 million[236] or $165 million and took four years to finish.[238][239]

A comprehensive restoration of the building's mooring and antenna masts also began in June 2019. Antennas on the mooring mast were removed or relocated to the upper mast, while the aluminum panels were cleaned and coated with silver paint.[240][241][242] To minimize disruption to the observation decks, the restoration work took place at night. The project was completed by late 2020.[242]

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