May 1, 1931- The star of more than 200 films, including An Affair To Remember (1957), Annie Hall (1977) & Auntie Mame (1958), scaled by a giant ape & blown to smithereens, The Empire State Building still looks great at 84 years old. A B-52 flew into it in 1945, elevator operator Betty Lou Oliver survived a plunge of 75 stories inside an elevator (a record that still holds), & dozens of people have jumped off of it, some survived. In 1964, Andy Warhol released an 8-hour long film of a static shot of the building, now owned by MOMA (the film, not the building).
I find the island of Manhattan to be the greatest of human accomplishments & the place is the home to some of my favorite structures. It figures in the sexiest scene of my favorite novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. I have been to the observation deck at least 10 times & I was always thrilled by the architecture & 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 symbolic; he was in DC & someone else flicked the switches in NYC. The building is still lit up with special LED colored lights in celebration of important events including marriage equality for NY State.
The idea for the Empire State Building came from a competition between Walter Chrysler of the Chrysler Corporation & John Jakob Raskob of General Motors, to see who could erect the taller building. You know how guys get about whose is bigger. Chrysler had already begun work on the stunning Chrysler Building in midtown. Raskob gathered 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 & well ahead of schedule, averaging an astonishing 5 stories a week.
When it was finished, the Empire State Building, at 102 stories & 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 with a deep sense of pride, bolstering spirits in The Great Depression, when many New Yorkers were unemployed & prospects were bleak. Things were so bad that when it opened only 25% of the building’s offices were leased.
In 1972, the Empire State Building lost the title World’s Tallest Structure to the World Trade Center, which was the tallest building for but a year, displaced by The Sears Building in Chicago.
When I lived in NYC in those crazy 1970s, I never stopped being agog when I ever 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.