The Empire State Building


The Empire State Building


Big Sil hearts the Empire State Building. It’s the heart of New York, standing out amidst a breathtaking skyline that cannot be compared to any other city. Like the energetic vibe of New York City today, it’s also a story about being the biggest, best, fastest, tallest. It’s a story about a race. A skyscraper race. And The Empire State Building won, holding the title of tallest building in the world for almost 40 years.


It started 87 years ago. The Chrysler Building was underway and a group lead by former General Motors executive John J. Raskob set out to compete. And they won the skyscraper race with The Empire State Building. Architect William F. Lamb made drawings in two weeks, working off designs he had made for the Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Building 4 stories a day with 3,439 workers, The Empire State Building went up in just over a year, 410 days to be exact. At 1,250 feet (1,454 feet with the antenna), it’s the 5th tallest in the U.S. today and after a $500M renovation, it’s also an example to the world of our modern-day ability to retrofit buildings for new energy efficiency.

Visit It:

350 5th Ave New York, NY 10118 (it’s own zip code)  – Between 33rd and 34th St.

Open every day, including holidays, 365 days a year rain or shine from 8am – 2am.

Costs for the standard 86th floor observation deck:

Adult Price: $34
Child Price: $27
Senior Price: $31

$60 for a VIP pass lets you skip the line. For extra, you can visit the second higher observation deck at the 102nd floor.

The Full Scoop

It’s hard to believe that where the Empire state Building stands now, there used to be a pond and a stream. There was! The pond had a name. Sunfish Pond. It was on the John Thompson Farm in the 1700’s. Fast forward to the 1920s, New York was already hustling and bustling and there was a competition to build the world’s largest skyscraper. Who was in the game? Successful car manufacturers of America.



The Chrysler Building was underway funded by founder, Walter Chrysler. He was successful and perhaps a little full of himself, calling it a “monument to me”. It became the tallest building in the world, but that didn’t last long. Some General Motor’s guys got in the skyscraper race with plans for the Empire State Building. Chrysler tried to change plans and even added the spire [that tall pointy thing] but the Empire State Building ended up coming it at 1,250 feet to Chrysler’s 1,046 feet. So how did this all come about?



Former General Motors’ financial leader John J. Raskob and former New York Governor Al Smith are the two main guys behind the Empire State Building. Why these two together? Al Smith ran for president in 1928. Raskob had left General Motors to be Chairman of the Democratic National Convention. They ran a strong campaign but lost to Herbert Hoover. So, hey why not build a really tall building.

There were a few other partners, Coleman du Pont, Pierre S. du Pont, (Raskob had actually started his career at DuPont as Mr. Pierre du Pont’s personal secretary in 1901). Raskob was in charge of finance for both GM and Du Pont who were linked up because Du Pont had bought 43% ownership in GM. There were two others, less talked about, Louis G. Kaufman (another GM board guy) and Ellis P. Earle. Together they were the partners of Empire State, Inc. and they purchased the property for $16 million. In August 1929, they announced their plans to build.   By then it was far from a pond and stream, NYC was already pretty built up and there was a Waldorf-Astoria Hotel standing on the ground.

Architect William F. Lamb made drawings quickly working off earlier designs for the Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and the Carew Tower in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Empire State Building even sent Happy Father’s Day cards to the Reynolds Building in honor of it’s heritage.


January 22, 1930

Excavation. Speed was essential. They were up against the real estate practices of the times. Annual leases started May 1 as standard practice. The building had to be ready by then or they would miss out on a year’s worth of rent because that’s when leases were up for tenants to be able to move. [link to Building of Empire State]

So the builders had to be smart to save time. They built a railway system with cars that moved building materials around quickly and efficiently including the limestone for the building which came from the Empire Mill in Sanders, Indiana.

There were 3,439 workers involved and they built 4 stories a day. Unfortunately it wasn’t without risk. For that, they were paid $4 a day, twice the typical wage at the time. Five people died in the construction. This was actually considered pretty good. Check out some of the pics showing the risks these amazing men took on a daily basis.


April 11, 1931

Completion. Twelve days ahead of schedule, in just 410 days.

The total floor area is 2,768,591 sq ft on about 2 acres.


It was the tallest building in the world when it was finished and stayed that way for almost 40 years until 1970 when the original World Trade Center was finished. Today at 1,250 feet (1,454 feet with the antenna) it’s the 5th tallest in the U.S. and 29th in the world. Currently the Burj Khalifa in Dubai is the tallest at 2,722 feet.


May 1, 1931

The Empire State Building was dedicated during a ceremony led by President Herbert Hoover. They had him press a button in Washington at the same time they lit up the building.

The Empire State Building cost $40,948,900 all in. The notes of “Building the Empire State” (a great read), indicate the cost of the building itself was just under $25 million. Builders Starrett Bros. & Eken were paid about $500,000 in that figure. The property cost $16 million to buy.

It was tough times though. Less than 25 percent of the building’s space was occupied upon its opening. Everyone had a nickname for the building, the “Empty State Building.” The 1929 stock market crash and the onset of the Great Depression were real tough times.



Even with the ability to generate around $6 million in rent annually, The Empire State Building did not become profitable until 1950!



In 1951, they sold the Empire State Building to Roger L. Stevens, theatrical producer, Alfred Glancy Jr. and Ben Tobin for $51 million. It was the highest price paid for a single structure in real-estate history.



About 3.5 million people visit The Empire State Building Observatory each year and in 1976 the building welcomed its 50 millionth visitor.



The Empire State Building even got its own zip code: 10118.



The Empire State building has 102 stories and 1,576 stairs. You can get to the top Observatory by elevator in less than a minute. But what if you too the stairs?   Fast runners can get up the 86 floors in about 10 minutes. People have actually been doing this for 40 years in an annual tower running event. Insane by the way! Check out this guy’s story. Hilarious.

The building is owned by the Empire State Realty Trust. Anthony Malkin is Chairman, CEO and President and makes about $3.5 million a year.   He is credited with the energy saving “retrofit” of the building which reduced energy by 38% and saves millions a year. It is said to be a new model for building retrofits that is now being rolled out nationwide. The retrofit was part of a total building renovation that cost over $500 million.

Check out “Building the Empire State”, an awesome read. Not to missed, also check out photographer Lewis Hine’s work who was commissioned to document the build. See some breathtaking pics here and here. He used a basket that swung out 1,000 feet above Fifth Avenue. He referred to the images as “work portraits”. Some are available at the New York Public Library. Or a beautiful coffee table book.