The Skyscraper Museum is devoted to the study of high-rise building, past, present, and future. The Museum explores tall buildings as objects of design, products of technology, sites of construction, investments in real estate, and places of work and residence. This site will look better in a browser that supports web standards, but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.
VIVA2: The Visual Index to the Virtual Archive 2
The Visual Index to the Virtual Archive 2 is an interactive interface providing access to The Skyscraper Museum's unique collection of more than 1,000 photographs of the construction of the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center towers.
Historic postcards of the Empire State Building--and many other New York skyscrapers can be accessed through the Museum's innovative Visual Index to its Virtual Archive, VIVA.
Empire State Building Archival Prints
Exclusive archival prints of the Empire State Building are sold in the Museum's bookstore and can printed on request. You can view these images by visiting VIVA2, the Musuem's interactive interface providing access to The Skyscraper Museum's unique collection of more than 1,000 photographs of the construction of the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center towers. Sample images are provided here.
Building the Empire State (Publication)
A rediscovered 1930s notebook charts the construction of the Empire State Building.
Edited by Carol Willis, with introductory essays by Carol Willis and Donald Friedman, Building the Empire State reproduces the unique rediscovered notebook of the skyscraper's general contractors, Starret Brothers and Eken.
Building the Empire State (Exhibition)
Building the Empire State examined the design and construction of New York's signature skyscraper, drawing together photographs and film of the construction, architectural and engineering drawings, contracts, builders' records, financial reports, and other artifacts. LAUNCH THE EXHIBIT
What is your favorite New York City skyscraper? In 2005, the Museum posed this question to an invited list of 100 knowledgeable New Yorkers and building industry professionals, including architects and engineers, developers, brokers, builders, historians, and critics. Visit the online exhibition archive to see where the Empire State Building ranked!
In 1931, The Empire State Building became the world's largest office building. The Big Building online exhibit examines the history of "jumbo" building and presents volume--as opposed to height--as a means of historical and economical analysis. LAUNCH THE EXHIBIT
The World's Tallest Towers
Illustrating all the structures from 1890 to the present day that have been, successively, the world's tallest building.
|Empire State Building|
Seen from the air, 2012
|Tallest in the world from 1931 to 1970[I]|
|Preceded by||Chrysler Building|
|Surpassed by||World Trade Center (North Tower)|
|Type||Office building; observation deck|
|Architectural style||Art Deco|
|Location||350 Fifth Avenue|
Manhattan, New York 10118[a]
|Construction started||March 17, 1930; 87 years ago (1930-03-17)|
|Completed||April 11, 1931; 86 years ago (April 11, 1931)|
|Opening||May 1, 1931; 86 years ago (May 1, 1931)|
($534 million in 2016 dollars)
|Owner||Empire State Realty Trust|
|Architectural||1,250 ft (381.0 m)|
|Tip||1,454 ft (443.2 m)|
|Roof||1,250 ft (381.0 m)|
|Top floor||1,224 ft (373.1 m)|
|Observatory||1,224 ft (373.1 m) (102nd floor)|
1,050 feet (320 m) (86th floor)
|Other dimensions||424 ft (129.2 m) east–west by 187 ft (57.0 m) north–south|
|Floor area||2,248,355 sq ft (208,879 m2)|
|Design and construction|
|Architect||Shreve, Lamb and Harmon|
|Developer||Empire State Inc., including John J. Raskob and Al Smith|
|Structural engineer||Homer Gage Balcom|
|Main contractor||Starrett Brothers and Eken|
Empire State Building
U.S. National Register of Historic Places
U.S. National Historic Landmark
Location in New York CityShow map of Manhattan
Empire State Building (New York City)Show map of New York City
Empire State Building (New York)Show map of New York
|Coordinates||40°44′54.36″N73°59′08.36″W / 40.7484333°N 73.9856556°W / 40.7484333; -73.9856556Coordinates: 40°44′54.36″N73°59′08.36″W / 40.7484333°N 73.9856556°W / 40.7484333; -73.9856556|
|NRHP reference #||82001192|
|Added to NRHP||November 17, 1982|
|Designated NHL||June 24, 1986|
|Designated NYCL||May 19, 1981|
|I. ^Empire State Building at Emporis|
The Empire State Building is a 102-story[b]Art Decoskyscraper in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. Designed by Shreve, Lamb & Harmon and completed in 1931, the building has a roof height of 1,250 feet (380 m) and stands a total of 1,454 feet (443.2 m) tall, including its antenna. Its name is derived from "Empire State", the nickname of New York. As of 2017[update] the building is the 5th-tallest completed skyscraper in the United States and the 28th-tallest in the world. It is also the 6th-tallest freestanding structure in the Americas.
The site of the Empire State Building, located on the west side of Fifth Avenue between West 33rd and 34th Streets, was originally part of an early 18th century farm. In the late 1820s, it came into the possession of the prominent Astor family, with John Jacob Astor's descendants building the Waldorf–Astoria Hotel on the site in the 1890s. By the 1920s, the family had sold the outdated hotel and the site indirectly ended up under the ownership of Empire State Inc., a business venture that included businessman John J. Raskob and former New York governor Al Smith. The original design of the Empire State Building was a for a 50-story office building. However, after fifteen revisions, the final design was for a 86-story 1,250-foot building, with an airship mast on top. This ensured it would be the world's tallest building, beating the Chrysler Building and 40 Wall Street, two other Manhattan skyscrapers under construction at the time that were also vying for that distinction.
Demolition of the Waldorf–Astoria began in October 1929, and the foundation of the Empire State Building was excavated before demolition was even complete. Construction on the building itself started on March 17, 1930, with an average construction rate of one floor per day. A well-coordinated schedule meant that the 86 stories were topped out on September 19, six months after construction started, and the mast was completed by November 21. From that point, interior work proceeded at a quick pace, and it was opened on May 1, 1931, thirteen and a half months after the first steel beam was erected. Despite the publicity surrounding the building's construction, its owners failed to make a profit until the early 1950s. However, it has been a popular tourist attraction since opening, with around 4 million visitors to the building's 86th and 102nd floor observatories every year.
The Empire State Building stood as the world's tallest building for nearly 40 years until the completion of the World Trade Center's North Tower in Lower Manhattan in late 1970. Following the September 11 attacks in 2001, it was again the tallest building in New York until the new One World Trade Center was completed in April 2012.
The Empire State Building is an Americancultural icon and has been featured in more than 250 TV shows and movies since the film King Kong was released in 1933. A symbol of New York City, the tower has been named as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The Empire State Building and its ground-floor interior have been designated as a city landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, and were confirmed as such by the New York City Board of Estimate. It was also designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986, and was ranked number one on the American Institute of Architects' List of America's Favorite Architecture in 2007.
The Empire State Building is located on the west side of 350 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, between 33rd and 34th Streets. Although physically located in South Midtown, a mixed residential and commercial area, the building is so large that it was assigned its own ZIP code, 10118; it is one of 43 buildings in New York City that has its own zip code.[a] The area to the south and west features other major Manhattan landmarks as well, including Macy's at Herald Square on Sixth Avenue and 34th Street,Koreatown on 32nd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues,Penn Station and Madison Square Garden on Seventh Avenue between 32nd and 34th Streets, and the Flower District on 28th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. The nearest New York City Subway stations are 34th Street–Herald Square at Sixth Avenue and Broadway, one block west, and 33rd Street at Park Avenue, two blocks east. There is also a PATH station at 33rd Street and Sixth Avenue.
To the east of the Empire State Building is Murray Hill, a neighborhood with a mix of residential, commercial, and entertainment. One block east of the Empire State Building, on Madison Avenue at 34th Street, is the New York Public Library's Science, Industry and Business Library, which is located on the same block as the City University of New York's Graduate Center.
The tract was originally part of Mary and John Murray's farm on Murray Hill. The earliest recorded major action on the site was during the American Revolutionary War, when General George Washington's troops were retreating from the British following the Battle of Kip's Bay. In 1799, John Thompson (or Thomson; accounts vary) bought a 20-acre (8 ha) tract of land roughly bounded by Madison Avenue, 36th Street, Sixth Avenue, and 33rd Street, immediately north of the Caspar Samler farm, for 482 British pounds (roughly US$2400 at the time).[c] Thompson was said to have sold the farm to Charles Lawton for $10,000 on September 24, 1825, although details of this sale are unclear, as details of the deed that certified the sale were later lost. In 1826, John Jacob Astor of the prominent Astor family bought the land from Lawton for $20,500.[d] The Astors also purchased a parcel from the Murrays. John Jacob's son William Backhouse Astor Sr. bought a half interest on July 28, 1827, for $20,500, for a tract of land on Fifth Avenue from 32nd to 35th streets.
On March 13, 1893, John Jacob Astor Sr's grandson William Waldorf Astor opened the Waldorf Hotel on the site with the help of hotelier George Boldt. On November 1, 1897, Waldorf's cousin, John Jacob Astor IV, opened the 16-story Astoria Hotel on an adjacent site. The combined hotel had 1,300 bedrooms making it the largest hotel in the world at the time. After Boldt died, in early 1918, the hotel lease was purchased by Coleman du Pont. By the 1920s, the hotel was becoming dated and the elegant social life of New York had moved much farther north than 34th Street. The Astor family decided to build a replacement hotel further uptown, and sold the hotel to Bethlehem Engineering Corporation in 1928 for $14–16 million. They closed the hotel on May 3, 1929.
Bethlehem Engineering Corporation originally intended to build a 25-story office building on the Waldorf–Astoria site. The company's president, Floyd De L. Brown, paid $100,000 of the $1 million down payment required to start construction on the tower, with the promise that the difference would be paid later. Brown borrowed $900,000 from a bank, but then defaulted on the loan.
The land was then resold to Empire State Inc., a group of wealthy investors that included Louis G. Kaufman, Ellis P. Earle, John J. Raskob, Coleman du Pont, and Pierre S. du Pont. The name came from the state nickname for New York.Alfred E. Smith, a former Governor of New York and U.S. presidential candidate whose 1928 campaign had been managed by Raskob, was appointed head of the company. The group also purchased nearby land so they would have the 2 acres (1 ha) needed for the tower's base, with the combined plot measuring 425 feet (130 m) wide by 200 feet (61 m) long. The Empire State Inc. consortium was announced to the public in August 1929.
Empire State Inc. contracted William F. Lamb, of architectural firm Shreve, Lamb and Harmon, to create the building design. Lamb produced the building drawings in just two weeks using the firm's earlier designs for the Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem, North Carolina as the basis. Concurrently, Lamb's partner Richmond Shreve created "bug diagrams" of the project requirements. The 1916 Zoning Act forced Lamb to design a structure that incorporated setbacks resulting in the lower floors being larger than the upper floors. Consequently, the tower was designed from the top down, giving it a "pencil"-like shape.
The original plan of the building was 50 stories, but was later increased to 60 and then 80 stories. Height restrictions were placed on nearby buildings to ensure that the top fifty floors of the planned 80-story, 1,000-foot-tall (300 m) building would have unobstructed views of the city.The New York Times lauded the site's proximity to transportation, with the Brooklyn–Manhattan Transit's34th Street station and the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad's33rd Street terminal one block away, as well as Penn Station two blocks away and the Grand Central Terminal nine blocks away at its closest. It also praised the 3,000,000 square feet (280,000 m2) of proposed floor space near "one of the busiest sections in the world".
While plans for the Empire State Building were being finalized, an intense competition in New York for the title of "world's tallest building" was underway. 40 Wall Street (then the Bank of Manhattan Building) and the Chrysler Building in Manhattan both vied for this distinction and were already under construction when work began on the Empire State Building. The "Race into the Sky", as popular media called it at the time, was representative of the country's optimism in the 1920s, fueled by the building boom in major cities. The 40 Wall Street tower was revised, in April 1929, from 840 feet (260 m) to 925 feet (282 m) making it the world's tallest. The Chrysler Building added its 185-foot (56 m) steel tip to its roof in October 1929, thus bringing it to a height of 1,046 feet (319 m) and greatly exceeding the height of 40 Wall Street. The Chrysler Building's developer, Walter Chrysler, realized that his tower's height would exceed the Empire State Building's as well, having instructed his architect, William Van Alen, to change the Chrysler's original roof from a stubby Romanesque dome to a narrow steel spire. Raskob, wishing to have the Empire State Building be the world's tallest, reviewed the plans and had five floors added as well as a spire; however, the new floors would need to be set back because of projected wind pressure on the extension. On November 18, 1929, Smith acquired a lot at 27–31 West 33rd Street, adding 75 feet (23 m) to the width of the proposed office building's site. Two days later, Smith announced the updated plans for the skyscraper that included an observation deck on the 86th-floor roof at a height of 1,050 feet (320 m), higher than the Chrysler's 71st-floor observation deck.
The 1,050-foot Empire State Building would only be 4 feet (1.2 m) taller than the Chrysler Building, and Raskob was afraid that Chrysler might try to "pull a trick like hiding a rod in the spire and then sticking it up at the last minute." The plans were revised one last time in December 1929, with a 16-story, 200-foot (61 m) metal "crown" and an additional 222-foot (68 m) dirigible mooring mast. The roof height was now 1,250 feet (380 m), making it the tallest building in the world by far, even without the antenna. The addition of the dirigible station meant that another floor, the now-enclosed 86th floor, would have to be built below the crown; however, unlike the Chrysler's spire, the Empire State's mast would serve a practical purpose. The final plan was announced to the public on January 8, 1930, just before the start of construction. The New York Times reported that the spire was facing some "technical problems", but they were "no greater than might be expected under such a novel plan." By this time the blueprints for the building had gone through up to fifteen versions before they were approved. Lamb described the other specifications he was given for the final, approved plan:
The program was short enough—a fixed budget, no space more than 28 feet from window to corridor, as many stories of such space as possible, an exterior of limestone, and completion date of [May 1], 1931, which meant a year and six months from the beginning of sketches.
The contractors were Starrett Brothers and Eken, Paul and William A. Starrett and Andrew J. Eken, who had also constructed other New York City buildings such as the original Stuyvesant Town, Starrett City and Trump Tower. The project was financed primarily by Raskob and Pierre du Pont, while James Farley's General Builders Supply Corporation supplied the building materials.John W. Bowser was the construction superintendent of the proejct, and the structural engineer of the building was Homer G. Balcom. The tight completion schedule necessitated the commencement of construction even though the design had yet to be finalized.
Demolition of the old Waldorf–Astoria began on October 1, 1929. Stripping the building down was an arduous process, as the hotel had been constructed using more rigid material than earlier buildings had been. Furthermore, the old hotel's granite, wood chips, and "'precious' metals such as lead, brass, and zinc" were not in high demand resulting in issues with disposal. Most of the wood was deposited into a woodpile on nearby 30th Street or was burned in a swamp elsewhere. Much of the other materials that made up the old hotel, including the granite and bronze, were dumped into the Atlantic Ocean near Sandy Hook, New Jersey.
By the time the hotel's demolition started, Raskob had secured the required funding for the construction of the building. The plan was to start construction later that year but, on October 24, the New York Stock Exchange suffered a sudden crash marking the beginning of the decade-long Great Depression. Despite the economic downturn, Raskob refused to cancel the project because of the progress that had been made up to that point. Neither Raskob, who had ceased speculation in the stock market the previous year, nor Smith, who had no stock investments, suffered financially in the crash. However, most of the investors were affected and as a result, in December 1929, Empire State Inc. obtained a $27.5 million loan from Metropolitan Life Insurance Company so construction could begin. The stock market crash resulted in no demand in new office space, Raskob and Smith nonetheless started construction, as canceling the project would have resulted in greater losses for the investors.
A structural steel contract was awarded on January 12, 1930, with excavation of the site beginning ten days later on January 22, before the old hotel had been completely demolished. Two twelve-hour shifts, consisting of 300 men each, worked continuously to dig the 55-foot (17 m) foundation. Small pier holes were sunk into the ground to house the concrete footings that would support the steelwork. Excavation was nearly complete by early March, and construction on the building itself started on March 17, with the builders placing the first steel columns on the completed footings before the rest of the footings had been finished. Around this time, Lamb held a press conference on the building plans. He described the reflective steel panels parallel to the windows, the large-block Indiana Limestone facade that was slightly more expensive than smaller bricks, and the tower's lines and rise. Four colossal columns, intended for installation in the center of the building site, were delivered; they would support a combined 10,000,000 pounds (4,500,000 kg) when the building was finished.
The structural steel was pre-ordered and pre-fabricated in anticipation of a revision to the city's building code that would have allowed the Empire State Building's structural steel to carry 18,000 pounds per square inch (124,106 kPa), up from 16,000 pounds per square inch (110,316 kPa), thus reducing the amount of steel needed for the building. Although the 18,000-psi regulation had been safely enacted in other cities, Mayor Jimmy Walker did not sign the new codes into law until March 26, 1930, just before construction was due to commence. The first steel framework was installed on April 1, 1930. From there, construction proceeded at a rapid pace; during one stretch of 10 working days, the builders erected fourteen floors. This was made possible through precise coordination of the building's planning, as well as the mass production of common materials such as windows and spandrels. On one occasion, when a supplier could not provide timely delivery of dark Hauteville marble, Starrett switched to using Rose Famosa marble from a German quarry that was purchased specifically to provide the project with sufficient marble.
The scale of the project was massive, with trucks carrying "16,000 partition tiles, 5,000 bags of cement, 450 cubic yards [340 m3] of sand and 300 bags of lime" arriving at the construction site every day. There were also cafes and concession stands on five of the incomplete floors so workers did not have to descend to the ground level to eat lunch. Temporary water taps were also built so workers did not waste time buying water bottles from the ground level. Additionally, carts running on a small railway system transported materials from the basement storage to elevators that brought the carts to the desired floors where they would then be distributed throughout that level using another set of tracks. The 57,480 short tons (51,320 long tons) of steel ordered for the project was the largest-ever single order of steel at the time, comprising more steel than was ordered for the Chrysler Building and 40 Wall Street combined. According to historian John Tauranac, building materials were sourced from numerous, and distant, sources with "limestone from Indiana, steel girders from Pittsburgh, cement and mortar from upper New York State, marble from Italy, France, and England, wood from northern and Pacific Coast forests, [and] hardware from New England." The facade, too, used a variety of material, most prominently Indiana limestone but also Swedish black granite, terracotta, and brick.
By June 20, the skyscraper's supporting steel structure had risen to the 26th floor, and by July 27, half of the steel structure had been completed. Starrett Bros. and Eken endeavored to build one floor a day in order to speed up construction, a goal that they almost reached with their pace of 4 1⁄2 stories per week; prior to this, the fastest pace of construction for a building of similar height had been 3 1⁄2 stories per week. While construction progressed, the final designs for the floors were being designed from the ground up (as opposed to the general design, which had been from the roof down). Some of the levels were still undergoing final approval, with several orders placed within an hour of a plan being finalized. On September 10, as steelwork was nearing completion, Smith laid the building's cornerstone during a ceremony attended by thousands. The stone contained a box with contemporary artifacts including the previous day's New York Times, a U.S. currency set containing all denominations of notes and coins minted in 1930, a history of the site and building, and photographs of the people involved in construction. The steel structure was topped out at 1,048 feet (319 m) on September 19, twelve days ahead of schedule and 23 weeks after the start of construction. Workers raised a flag atop the 86th floor to signify this milestone.
Afterward, work on the building's interior and crowning mast commenced. The mooring mast topped out on November 21, two months after the steelwork had been completed. Meanwhile, work on the walls and interior was progressing at a quick pace, with exterior walls built up to the 75th floor by the time steelwork had been built to the 95th floor. The majority of the facade was already finished by the middle of November. Because of the building's height, it was deemed infeasible to have many elevators or large elevator cabins, so the builders contracted with the Otis Elevator Company to make 66 cars that could speed at 1,200 feet per minute (366 m/min), which represented the largest-ever elevator order at the time.
In addition to the time constraint builders had, there were also space limitations because construction materials had to be delivered quickly, and trucks needed to drop off these materials without congesting traffic. This was solved by creating a temporary driveway for the trucks between 33rd and 34th Streets, and then storing the materials in the building's first floor and basements. Concrete mixers, brick hoppers, and stone hoists inside the building ensured that materials would be able to ascend quickly and without endangering or inconveniencing the public. At one point, over 200 trucks made material deliveries at the building site every day. A series of relay and erection derricks, placed on platforms erected near the building, lifted the steel from the trucks below and installed the beams at the appropriate locations. The Empire State Building was structurally completed on April 11, 1931, twelve days ahead of schedule and 410 days after construction commenced. Al Smith shot the final rivet, which was made of solid gold.
The project involved more than 3,500 workers at its peak, including 3,439 on a single day, August 14, 1930. Many of the workers were Irish and Italian immigrants, with a sizable minority of Mohawkironworkers from the Kahnawake reserve near Montreal. According to official accounts, five workers died during the construction, although the New York Daily News gave reports of 14 deaths and a headline in the socialist magazine The New Masses spread unfounded rumors of up to 42 deaths. The Empire State Building cost $40,948,900 to build, including demolition of the Waldorf–Astoria (equivalent to $533,628,800 in 2016). This was lower than the $60 million budgeted for construction.
Lewis Hine captured many photographs of the construction, documenting not only the work itself but also providing insight into the daily life of workers in that era. Hine's images were used extensively by the media to publish daily press releases. According to the writer Jim Rasenberger, Hine "climbed out onto the steel with the ironworkers and dangled from a derrick cable hundreds of feet above the city to capture, as no one ever had before (or has since), the dizzy work of building skyscrapers". In Rasenberger's words, Hine turned what might have been an assignment of "corporate flak" into "exhilarating art". These images were later organized into their own collection. Onlookers were enraptured by the sheer height at which the steelworkers operated. New York magazine wrote of the steelworkers: "Like little spiders they toiled, spinning a fabric of steel against the sky".
Opening and early years
The Empire State Building was officially opened on May 1, 1931, forty five days ahead of its projected opening date, by United States President Herbert Hoover, who turned on the building's lights with the ceremonial button push from Washington, D.C.. Over 350 guests attended the opening ceremony, and following luncheon, at the 86th floor including Jimmy Walker, Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Al Smith. An account from that day stated that the view from the luncheon was obscured by a fog, with other landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty being "lost in the mist". The building officially opened the next day. Advertisements for the observatories were placed in local newspapers, while nearby hotels also released advertisements that lauded their proximity to the newly opened tower.
According to The New York Times, builders and real estate speculators predicted that the 1,250-foot-tall (380 m) Empire State Building would be the world's tallest building "for many years", thus ending the great New York City skyscraper rivalry. At the time, most engineers agreed that it would be difficult to build a building taller than 1,200 feet (370 m), even with the hardy Manhattan bedrock as a foundation. (Technically, it was believed possible to build a tower of up to 2,000 feet (610 m), but it was deemed uneconomical to do so, especially during the Great Depression.) As the tallest building in the world, at that time, and the first one to exceed 100 floors, the Empire State Building became an icon of the city and, ultimately, of the nation.
The Empire State Building's opening coincided with the Great Depression in the United States, and as a result much of its office space was vacant from its opening. In the first year, only 23% of the available space was rented, as compared to the early 1920s, where the average building would have occupancy of 52% upon opening and 90% rented within five years. The lack of renters led New Yorkers to deride the building as the "Empty State Building".
Jack Brod, one of the building's longest resident tenants, co-established the Empire Diamond Corporation with his father in the building in mid-1931 and rented space in the building until he died in 2008. Brod recalled that there were only about 20 tenants at the time of opening, including him, and that Al Smith was the only real tenant in the space above his seventh-floor offices. Generally, during the early 1930s, it was rare for more than a single office space to be rented in the building, despite Smith's and Raskob's aggressive marketing efforts in the newspapers and to anyone they knew. The building's lights were continuously left on, even in the unrented spaces, to give the impression of occupancy. This was exacerbated by competition from Rockefeller Center as well as from buildings on 42nd Street, which, when combined with the Empire State Building, resulted in surplus of office space in a slow market.
Aggressive marketing efforts served to reinforce the Empire State Building's status as the world's tallest. The observatory was advertised in local newspapers as well as on railroad tickets. The building became a popular tourist attraction, with one million people each paying one dollar to ride elevators to the observation decks in 1931. In its first year of operation, the observation deck made approximately $2 million in revenue, as much as its owners made in rent that year. By 1936, the observation deck was crowded on a daily basis, with food and drink available for purchase at the top, and by 1944 the tower had received its 5 millionth visitor. In 1931, NBC took up tenancy, leasing space on the 85th floor for radio broadcasts. From the outset the building was in debt, losing $1 million per year by 1935. Real estate developer Seymour Durst recalled that the building was so underused in 1936 that there was no elevator service above the 45th floor, as the building above the 41st floor was empty except for the NBC offices and the Raskob/Du Pont offices on the 81st floor.
Per the original plans, the Empire State Building's spire was intended to be an airship docking station. Raskob and Smith had proposed dirigible ticketing offices and passenger waiting rooms on the 86th floor, while the airships themselves would be tied to the spire at the equivalent of the building's 106th floor. An elevator would ferry passengers from the 86th to the 101st floor[e] after they had checked in on the 86th floor, after which passengers would have climbed steep ladders to the board the airship. The idea, however, was impractical and dangerous due to powerful updrafts caused by the building itself, the wind currents across Manhattan, and the spires of nearby skyscrapers. Furthermore, even if the airship were to successfully navigate all these obstacles, its crew would have to jettison some ballast by releasing water onto the streets below in order to maintain stability, and then tie the craft's nose to the spire with no mooring lines securing the tail end of the craft. On September 15, 1931, in the first and only instance of an airship using the building's mast, a small commercial United States Navy airship circled 25 times in 45 miles per hour (72 km/h) winds. The airship then attempted to dock at the mast, but its ballast spilled and the craft was rocked by unpredictable eddies. The near-disaster scuttled plans to turn the building's spire into an airship terminal, although one blimp did manage to make a single newspaper delivery afterward.
In 1932, the Fifth Avenue Association gave the tower its 1931 "gold medal" for architectural excellence, signifying that the Empire State had been the best-designed building on Fifth Avenue to open in 1931. A year later, on March 2, 1933, the movie King Kong was released. The movie, which depicted a large stop motion ape named Kong climbing the Empire State Building, made the still-new building into a cinematic icon.
On July 28, 1945, a B-25 Mitchell bomber crashed into the north side of the Empire State Building, between the 79th and 80th floors. One engine completely penetrated the building and landed in a neighboring block, while the other engine and part of the landing gear plummeted down an elevator shaft. Fourteen people were killed in the incident, but the building escaped severe damage and was reopened two days later.
A black and white view from Macy's
Night view from the same street-corner in color.