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Empire State Building

To say that the Empire State Building soars majestically over the New York City landscape is an understatement.  It is the definitive skyscraper that won the race to the skies in the early 20th century.  Today, it is still one of the most important skyscrapers in existence and stands as a testament to the vision of its creators.


The time was ripe as John Jacob Raskob cashed in his stocks in General Motors to the tune of $20 million US in 1929.  He had just been forced to resign due to his conflict of interest as chairman of the Democratic National Committee.  Looking to invest his money elsewhere, he decided that real estate would be the wave of the future and he was dead on.

In a twist of fate, the owners of the Waldrof-Astoria Hotel were looking for a buyer.  They wanted to relocate somewhere else in New York City since their hotel sat on land that had since become extremely valuable.  For a cool $16 million, Raskob purchased the land and knocked down the hotel.  This was the beginning of the most famous skyscraper in history.

Raskob had his sights set high.  He wanted a building that would trump the imagination.  He hired Shreve, Lamb & Harmon as the architects for his lofty project.  At their first meeting with Raskob, the developer reportedly asked them to build the tallest building possible.  And so they went to the drawing boards and returned with an elegant plan that would influence every future skyscraper design.

One of the biggest challenges that Shreve, Lamb, & Harmon faced was their rival in the form of the Chrysler Building.  In his own personal bid for the tallest skyscraper, Walter Chrysler kept the height of his building a secret.  Another major challenge would be a tight construction schedule of just under two years.  The ball began rolling in 1929 with the incorporation of Empire State Inc.  Soon afterwards, the tender was awarded to Starret Bros. & Eken, who promised to complete the project two months ahead of schedule.  Their unusual claim was backed by the fact that they didn’t have any equipment on hand.  They knew that such a spectacular building would require new kinds of equipment so they planned to buy everything new and custom-made for the job, then they’d sell it and charge Empire State Inc. the difference.

Throughout the building’s swift production, some 60 different trades, hundreds of suppliers, and thousands of workers would take part.  Many new innovations in construction methods and scheduling were developed during the process.

In a bid to ensure Empire State’s advantage over the Chrysler Building, Raskob asked for a large mooring mast to be added for airships (though it was never used practically).  When the dust settled, the Empire State Building was the clear winner at 1,250 feet (including mast) and 85 stories.  The Chrysler Building finished at 1,046 feet and 77 stories.


The design of the Empire State building is rather ingenious.  At its core is the lifeline of the building.  Elevators, airshafts, plumbing, and stairwells all permit free movement of resources and people throughout the building.  Surrounding this core is a large office space that becomes increasingly smaller with height.

The exterior of the building is definitively Art Deco.  The building has a simple grace and elegance that echoes the beauty of New York City’s great skyscrapers.

Visitors can visit the top observation deck for a great view of the city.  Since the destruction of the World Trade Center, the Empire State building has reverted to the tallest skyscraper in New York City.

Despite early problems after its construction with finding tenants during the Great Depression, the Empire State Building is now 97% occupied by commercial operations.