‘Candlelit’ Empire State Building Celebrates 85 Years

New York’s Empire State Building had a quiet and rainy birthday May 1, with tourists trickling into the building that was built 85 years ago.

Doormen warned visitors there was little to be seen from the observation deck on the 102nd floor, though. The rain had washed away visibility.

Photo: Noreyana Fernando/NYCityLens (2016)

Photo: Noreyana Fernando/NYCityLens (2016)

Hundreds of tourists from around the world and the United States visit the landmark each year.  It is iconic and one of the first things people think of when they think about New York. It has been featured in popular movies, like “King Kong,” when the monster ape hung off of the top of it, and in “An Affair to Remember,” as the fateful romantic meeting spot for lovers Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr.  It also made an appearance in the film, “Sleepless in Seattle” that starred Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

A week after the building’s birthday, on a brighter afternoon, Ajay Menon —  a student in Los Angeles originally from India — thought the $32 ticket was money well spent.

“I was up there for four hours just taking in the view, watching the sunset,” Menon said, adding the observatory was the best way to see New York.

For Enrique Maria from Brazil, the building’s appeal goes back decades to its historical value.

“It’s one of the most ancient buildings in the city,” he said, with a tad of exaggeration if a building built in 1931 can be considered ancient.

For its birthday, amid a thick fog, the tower lit up in gold and red flickering like a candle, which was the most popular option as determined in a Facebook poll that asked fans how the structure should celebrate its birthday.


The building’s origins date back to a much-touted competition in the 1920s between John Jakob Raskob of General Motors and Walter Chrysler. 

Here are a few more facts and key moments in the history of this iconic giant.

1. It took 11 months to build. It was ahead of schedule and under-budget. Six construction workers died during that time, but photographs of these workers on the job high above were used heavily to advertise the building.

Photo by Lewis Hine/1930

Photo by Lewis Hine/1930

2. The building lights up each year in honor of Columbia University’s and New York University’s graduation ceremonies. However, no other universities in New York City are honored by such a lighting. There is no publicly available information about the cost of having the building light up this way, though the president of an affiliate of the entity that owns the building was quoted in 2012 saying that LED fixtures costing “a few million dollars” will pay for themselves in six years.

3. What we know today as the Observatory was initially planned to also be a check-in location for airships. One dirigible did manage to dock at the mast in 1931. It took half an hour to do this and stayed moored for just three minutes. The plan was soon dismissed as too dangerous and infeasible.

Photo: U.S. Naval Historical Center (1930)

Photo: U.S. Naval Historical Center (1930)

4. The 1933 movie “King Kong” put the Empire State Building in the spotlight, just a few years after it was declared open. The giant gorilla climbs to the top of the building before fighting off airplanes and falling to his death.

Photo: Paramount Pictures (1976)

Photo: Paramount Pictures (1976)

5. The site of the Empire State Building used to be part of a farm that was owned by John Thompson. In 1827, the farm was acquired by William B. Astor, whose wealthy father John Jacob Astor was killed in the Titanic.

6. In 1945, a U.S. Army Bomber crashed into the Empire State Building, killing 14 on yet another foggy night in the city.

Photo: Acme Newspictures (1945)

Photo: Acme Newspictures (1945)

 

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