Empire State Building – USA, North America
The Empire State Building is a 102-story landmark skyscraper and American cultural icon in New York City at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and West 34th Street. It has a roof height of 1,250 feet (381 meters), and with its antenna spire included, it stands a total of 1,454 ft (443.2 m) high. Its name is derived from the nickname for New York, the Empire State. It stood as the world’s tallest building for 40 years, from its completion in 1931 until construction of the World Trade Center’s North Tower was completed in 1972. Following the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001, the Empire State Building once again became the tallest building in New York.
The Empire State Building is designed in the distinctive Art Deco style, and has been named by the American Society of Civil Engineers as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. The building and its street floor interior are designated landmarks of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, and confirmed by the New York City Board of Estimate. It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1986. In 2007, it was ranked number one on the List of America’s Favorite Architecture according to the AIA. The building is owned and managed by W&H Properties. The Empire State Building is currently the third tallest skyscraper in the United States (after the Willis Tower and Trump International Hotel and Tower, both in Chicago), and the 15th tallest in the world. It is also the fourth-tallest freestanding structure in the Americas. The Empire State Building is currently undergoing a $550 million renovation, with $120 million spent in an effort to transform the building into a more energy efficient and eco-friendly structure. Receiving a gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating in September 2011, the Empire State Building is the tallest LEED certified building in the United States.
The site of the Empire State Building was first developed as the John Thompson Farm in the late 18th century. At the time, a stream ran across the site, emptying into Sunfish Pond, located a block away. Beginning in the late 19th century the block was occupied by the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, frequented by The Four Hundred, the social elite of New York.
The Empire State Building was designed by William F. Lamb from the architectural firm Shreve, Lamb and Harmon, which produced the building drawings in just two weeks, using its earlier designs for the Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and the Carew Tower in Cincinnati, Ohio (designed by the architectural firm W.W. Ahlschlager & Associates) as a basis. Every year the staff of the Empire State Building sends a Father’s Day card to the staff at the Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem to pay homage to its role as predecessor to the Empire State Building. The building was designed from the top down. The general contractors were The Starrett Brothers and Eken, and the project was financed primarily by John J. Raskob and Pierre S. du Pont. The construction company was chaired by Alfred E. Smith, a former Governor of New York and James Farley’s General Builders Supply Corporation supplied the building materials. John W. Bowser was project construction superintendent. Excavation of the site began on January 21, 1930, and construction on the building itself started symbolically on March 17—St. Patrick’s Day—per Al Smith’s influence as Empire State, Inc. president. The project involved 3,400 workers, mostly immigrants from Europe, along with hundreds of Mohawk iron workers, many from the Kahnawake reserve near Montreal. According to official accounts, five workers died during the construction. Governor Smith’s grandchildren cut the ribbon on May 1, 1931. Lewis Wickes Hine’s photography of the construction provides not only invaluable documentation of the construction, but also a glimpse into common day life of workers in that era.
The construction was part of an intense competition in New York for the title of “world’s tallest building”. Two other projects fighting for the title, 40 Wall Street and the Chrysler Building, were still under construction when work began on the Empire State Building. Each held the title for less than a year, as the Empire State Building surpassed them upon its completion, just 410 days after construction commenced. The building was officially opened on May 1, 1931 in dramatic fashion, when United States President Herbert Hoover turned on the building’s lights with the push of a button from Washington, D.C. Coincidentally, the first use of tower lights atop the Empire State Building, the following year, was for the purpose of signaling the victory of Franklin D. Roosevelt over Hoover in the presidential election of November 1932.
The building’s opening coincided with the Great Depression in the United States, and as a result much of its office space went without being rented. The building’s vacancy was exacerbated by its poor location on 34th Street, which placed it relatively far from public transportation, as Grand Central Terminal, the Port Authority Bus Terminal, and Penn Station are all several blocks away. Other more successful skyscrapers, such as the Chrysler Building, did not have this problem. In its first year of operation, the observation deck took in approximately 2 million dollars, as much money as its owners made in rent that year. The lack of renters led New Yorkers to deride the building as the “Empty State Building”.The building would not become profitable until 1950. The famous 1951 sale of The Empire State Building to Roger L. Stevens and his business partners was brokered by the prominent upper Manhattan real-estate firm Charles F. Noyes & Company for a record $51 million. At the time, that was the highest price ever paid for a single structure in real-estate history.
Over the years, more than thirty people have committed suicide from the top 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 May 1, 1947, 23-year-old Evelyn McHale leapt to her death from the 86th floor observation deck and landed on a United Nations limousine parked at the curb. Photography student Robert Wiles took a photo of McHale’s oddly intact corpse a few minutes after her death. The police found a suicide note among possessions she left on the observation deck: “He is much better off without me … I wouldn’t make a good wife for anybody”. The photo ran in the May 12, 1947 edition of LIFE Magazine and is often referred to as “The Most Beautiful Suicide”. It was later used by visual artist Andy Warhol in one of his paintings entitled Suicide (Fallen Body).
On December 2, 1979, Elvita Adams jumped from the 86th floor, only to be blown back onto the 85th floor and left with a broken hip.
Only one suicide has jumped from the upper observatory. On November 3, 1932, Frederick Eckert of Astoria, Queens, ran past a guard in the enclosed 102nd floor gallery and jumped a gate leading to an outdoor catwalk intended for dirigible passengers. Eckert’s body landed on the roof of the 86th floor observation promenade.