View Full Version : Empire State Building Observatory

November 29th, 2001, 04:47 PM
The spire of the Empire State Building (http://www.wirednewyork.com/landmarks/esb/default.htm) at night. The view from the observatory (http://www.wirednewyork.com/landmarks/esb/empire_state_building_view.htm).


The view on Times Square (http://www.wirednewyork.com/times_square/default.htm) from the Empire State Building Observatory (http://www.wirednewyork.com/landmarks/esb/empire_state_building_view.htm). The well-lit tower with the curving glass wall is the Reuters Building (http://www.wirednewyork.com/reuters.htm).


The West view from the Empire State Building Observatory (http://www.wirednewyork.com/landmarks/esb/empire_state_building_view.htm). The building between 41st and 42nd Streets is the 1 Penn Plaza (http://www.wirednewyork.com/one_penn.htm). The building on the right is the New Yorker Hotel (http://www.wirednewyork.com/hotels/new_yorker_hotel/default.htm).


January 18th, 2002, 11:21 AM
Alone at the Top

Finding new depth on the 86th floor of the Empire State

Daily News Fashion Writer

It's the nicest view in town.

And, sadly, because of the acts of terrorism committed Sept. 11, it is the only view in town. A visit to the observation deck on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building has long been a "must-do" on any serious tourist's checklist. Now, a trip to the historic building has taken on even greater meaning.

"We're lucky to still have it," said Emma, visiting the city from Los Angeles. Though she had been to the skyscraper once before, this time felt profoundly different.

"It was really weird being up there and not seeing the towers," she said, echoing the sentiments of others gathered outside after an elevator ride down.

Built during the Great Depression, the Empire State Building was at the center of a competition between the founders of Chrysler Corp. (Walter P. Chrysler) and General Motors (John Jakob Raskob) to see who could erect the world's tallest building. From the start of construction on March 17, 1930, the building's steel frame rose at nearly 4 1/2 floors a week.

Not everyone comes for the view. Some just peek out at the world so they can say they've done it, others to imagine King Kong hanging on for his life.

"I watched that movie, and ever since I was a kid I've wanted to come here and check this place out," said Diego Armani, in town for a week from Argentina.

"I was supposed to be in New York last year to see the World Trade Center towers, but I missed them," Armani said, grimacing. "I wasn't going to miss this."

The 1993 romantic comedy "Sleepless in Seattle" convinced Rachel Durand she had to come from Roswell, N.M., to tour the building.

"Just because of how it's depicted in the movie I thought it would be interesting to come up and see," she said.

Though the number of tourists (and New Yorkers) is down from the "1,000 people per hour" the building usually gets on a busy summer day, the deck one day this week held as many as 300 visitors.

The line to get up to the deck, once notoriously long, was remarkably short and relatively painless.

And according to Durand, who has been been making her way around the city the last few days, "security is tighter here than at the Statue of Liberty. I felt very safe."

Neither did the day's pronounced chill and brisk winds keep camera bugs from milling about.

Morgan Silver, another tourist in from L.A., spent close to an hour sketching the view from the building's south side, which faces the Statue of Liberty and the injured skyline.

"It's an amazing view," he said. "It's very inspirational to look out and see how powerful this city is, even after the devastation."

The 86th-floor Observatory (that's 1,050 feet above Fifth Ave. and 34th St.) is open weekdays, 10 a.m. until midnight, and weekends, 9:30 a.m. until midnight. The last elevators go up at 11:15.

Except for children under 18 with an adult, all visitors must show valid photo ID — driver's license, school ID or passport are acceptable. Admission is $9 for adults, $4 for children under 12 and $7 for seniors 62 and older and for military personnel with ID.

Original Publication Date: 1/18/02

August 14th, 2004, 12:55 AM
August 14, 2004

Making Sense of New York, From 86 Stories Up


Visitors need no longer be confused when confronted with the sights from the observation deck.

Despite terror alerts, persistent humidity and the seemingly inevitable weekend with scattered showers, it is the summer of the tourist in Manhattan. It was hardly surprising, therefore, that Raymond Ayotte, a vacationing retired insurance manager from Montreal, was recently heard asking: "But where is Times Square?" Though he was nowhere near it - being atop the Empire State Building - it did not deter Keith Godard, a graphic designer, from explaining: "Times Square is over here." He pointed to "Times Square, Crossroads of the World" on an eight-foot panel interpreting the view from the observation deck of the Empire State Building.

Mr. Ayotte peered at the panel, then compared it to the wide-angle vista right before his eyes. "Instructive!" he said. "Certainly gives you the picture." Which was the whole idea, since - for the first time in decades - visitors at last have a roadmap for that view from the 86th floor.

Ten brilliantly enameled panels now adorn the observation-deck parapet. Ranging in width from five feet to eight feet, they are made of etched quarter-inch-thick stainless steel. The panels took 18 months to create and cost $150,000.

The tourists now studying them intently are part of a phenomenon: despite the recent security alert, New York City is on track to welcome 10 million visitors this summer, up about a million from last year and 8 percent higher than in 2001 before the terrorist attacks, according to NYC & Company, the city's convention and visitors bureau.

Even last year, the observation deck drew 3.5 million visitors at the Empire State Building, 20 percent more than the year before. The projection for 2004 is 3.7 million.

Even more tourists are on the way: the Republican National Convention is expected to bring 50,000 visitors including delegates, alternates, their families and news media chroniclers - not to mention thousands of demonstrators.

Based on hotel occupancy so far, the city is forecasting 36.8 million tourists by the end of the year if current trends continue, a total higher than the city's benchmark year of 1999, when 36.4 million people visited.

"We see them right here because we're often the first stop," said Robert R. Zorn, director of the Empire State Building Observatory, which is open 9 a.m. to midnight every day ($12 for adults, and $7 for children).

The sad new prominence of the Empire State Building in a twin-towerless city has enhanced its singularity, and the new panels validate the building's dominance as a bird's-eye orientation center for tourists. "Visitors may not appreciate the incredible amount of detail that went into them," Mr. Zorn said, referring to the panels, adding that "you won't see anything like this at other buildings." Mr. Zorn has some expertise on the subject, having been director of operations for Top of the World at the World Trade Center, the observation-deck business on the 107th floor and the rooftop of the south tower, for the three years before Sept. 11, 2001.

He recalled that the twin towers once offered visitors maplike overlays on the observation-deck window glass showing points of interest; they were replaced by computer screens that displayed tourism information. Mr. Zorn was scheduled for an early-morning security meeting on the 110th floor on Sept. 11, but a delay on the Long Island Rail Road left him downstairs at the moment the first plane hit. Five of his employees died.

"Not to see the trade center there," he said, "it's surreal for me." The towers are marked on the Empire State panels with dotted black lines.

The appearance of the panels on the Empire State Building still seems something of a secret to most New Yorkers, though the panels have been in the testing phase, as it were, since February.

Decades ago, there were two panels on the observation deck that offered number-keyed photographs of Manhattan. Though now there are as many as 60 captions on some of the new panels, Dorothy Twining Globus, who wrote the text, said, "The hardest thing to figure out was what to leave out."

The panels are color-coded in vivid enamel, a riot of green, red, yellow, orange, lavender and turquoise blue. "All that blue enamel - for water - shows Manhattan to be an island," said Mr. Godard, who did the design and artwork. "A lot of tourists are surprised to learn that it is."

Mr. Godard wanted the panels, in their color, typeface and aspect, "to have that moderne look of the Empire State Building," he said. (The typeface is Futura.) There are four main eight-foot panoramas, perspective views of the city from each of the compass points. There are also four five-foot corner panels, and two other four-foot panels. One of the Hudson River panels shows Robert Fulton's steamboat, the North River, in 1807; there is also the ghostly outline of the Titanic as it might have looked on the day it was supposed to dock, April 16, 1912.

Another vista, conceptualized from early city maps, is a balloonist's-eye view from the height that the Empire State Building would attain in 1931, recreating New York City in 1675 (showing the wall at Wall Street) and contrasting it with the city of 1825 and of 1913, with the Statue of Liberty in the distance.

And a south-facing panel pays homage to five Manhattan buildings that each in its time was the tallest in the world (the Park Row Building, the demolished Singer Building, the Woolworth Building, 40 Wall Street, and the ghostly outline of the trade center). The sixth? The Empire State.

Building management required that the new panels be created as part of a deal that allowed a Manhattan music and sound design firm, the Charles Morrow Company, to create a 22-minute, $5 audio tour, believed to be the building's first. Ms. Globus, curator of exhibitions for the Museum of Arts & Design in Manhattan, worked with Morrow to create the audio tour. When asked to assist in designing the panels, she insisted "that photographs with little numbers on them just would not do."

"It was all surprisingly complex for something that seems so simple," said Ms. Globus of the panels. "We needed a custom-drawn panorama."

She turned to a colleague at the School of Visual Arts, where she is a thesis adviser for the master's program: Mr. Godard, 63, who teaches exhibition design. A London-born graphic designer and artist who created the hat mosaics in the 23rd Street R and N subway stop, Mr. Godard also designed the 14 high-relief bronze historical plaques on the Brooklyn Bridge that, he insists, were inspired by Lorenzo Ghiberti's "Gates of Paradise" in Florence.

After extensively documenting the 86th-floor views in photographs, Mr. Godard did free-hand drawings of New York's grid. He stretched out the perspective, extending the panorama back to a false vanishing point, so the streetscape could be widened to fill eight-foot panels.

Then a colleague who specializes in computer graphics, Curtis Eberhardt, painstakingly translated Mr. Godard's complex sketches to a software program. That was used to generate templates that enabled the panels to be cut in steel and etched. Ultimately the panels were enameled, then bolted to the original Empire State parapet, an attachment that required approval by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

"We are seeing how they weather," Mr. Godard said as he observed the panels, which seem already to have become indispensable to tourists.

Matt Will, a professor of finance at the University of Indianapolis who brought his family to the city on a business trip, contrasted the panels to the finding aids on the Hancock and Sears Towers in Chicago. "Very user-friendly," he said.

Sometimes, though, you can build it and they will not come. "I haven't looked at them," said Carol Robertson. She was shepherding a group of 30 4-H Club members from Northern California on their first visit to the observation deck. She stared out at the city below, then kept her eyes on her charges, not on the panels. "They're probably helpful," she said, "but I'm just interested in the view."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

August 15th, 2004, 05:46 PM



September 6th, 2004, 06:13 PM
To complement the nighttime shots, here are some daytime shots I took on August 12.

For anyone truly dedicated to identifying structures and points of interest, I'd suggest picking up a copy of The View from the 86th Floor from the gift shop.

January 19th, 2005, 09:47 AM
January 19, 2005


Empire State Building to Update Its Tourist Experience


The owners and managers of the Empire State Building worked with BRC Imagination Arts to devise upgrades for waiting areas.

It is not easy to change a building that is so famous that mail from around the world finds its way to "the Empire State Building" without a city or country in the address.

But the managers of the building have decided that, landmark or not, it is time to update some aspects of the building at 350 Fifth Avenue so that tourists have a better time when they visit.

The view, just about everyone agrees, is terrific from the 86th-floor observation deck. But visitors are often treated more like cattle than people, forced to wait in long lines in a hot basement to board the elevators to the top floor.

That will begin to change this spring. The waiting areas will be transformed with additional security checkpoints and ticket windows to minimize delays and add a dash of entertainment for those who wait.

The managers have hired BRC Imagination Arts which has extensive experience in theme park and museum design, to create tourist-friendly attractions within the building, and the two parties recently held a daylong meeting to produce specific plans.

Among other things, it was decided that starting in the spring, visitors will not be sent to the basement but will instead go up an escalator to a waiting area on the air-conditioned second floor. Not much can be done about the carrying capacity of the elevators to the 80th floor, so the waiting will remain, but in an area that offers entertainment focusing on the building's history and its connections with celebrities. Technology that projects images on the floor in a darkened room will try to give visitors the illusion that they are standing on a girder 50 stories high during the construction of the building in the 1930's.

The 80th floor is the upper limit of the building's high-speed elevators. There, visitors have to wait for slower elevators to complete the trip to the top, causing a buildup of people in the corridors.

To break up the long lines, the waiting area will be divided into a series of connecting rooms where plasma screens and other visual devices will tell the story of the construction of the building and will show excerpts from films that use it as a backdrop. "The different areas can change an hour wait into six different 10-minute waits," said Bob Rogers, the chairman of BRC.

In 2006, the 80th and 86th floors will also be remodeled, although not much will change on the famous open-air viewing area on the 86th floor. The paneled office of the building's first manager, Alfred E. Smith, the former governor of New York who was the Democratic candidate for president in 1928, is to be incorporated into the 80th-floor holding area, possibly with animated depictions of Mr. Smith.

A gift shop that now interferes with traffic flow on the 86th floor will be moved to the 80th floor as tenants are moved elsewhere and more tourist-oriented retailing is added.

Bathrooms will also be added during the upper-floor renovations, which are planned for January through March, when there are fewer visitors. According to Mr. Rogers, whose company specializes in designing entertainment centers, when a tour bus pulls up to an attraction, finding a bathroom is the matter uppermost on the minds of at least 7 percent of passengers.

Some 3.6 million people visited the Empire State Building last year, and the total has been rising in recent years. Although one visitor wrote on an Internet opinion site that the wait for elevators was equivalent to being in the "seventh level of hell," surveys of visitors to the observatory, conducted last June, indicated that most were pleased with the experience.

"In spite of the lines, 75 percent of visitors rate it as a positive experience," said Anthony E. Malkin, the president of Wien & Malkin, which has day-to-day control of the building. "We want to improve on that."

The building is owned by partnerships led by Peter Malkin, the chairman of Wien & Malkin, who is Anthony's father, and is controlled by a lease held by Mr. Malkin and Leona Helmsley as a result of the role her husband, Harry Helmsley, had in purchasing the building.

Mr. Malkin said the other managers deliberated seriously before deciding to change the building. "We started thinking about this about five years ago, but it took a while to recapture the space on the second floor and to find a designer who could work with us," Mr. Malkin said.

BRC, which is based in Burbank, Calif., has done projects for Disney, General Motors and NASA and designed the Texas State History Museum in Austin and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill.

In addition to improving the tourist experience, Mr. Malkin said, the redesign is intended to separate tourists from the 15,000 people who work each day in the building, which has 2.7 million square feet of office space.

The building is one of the few prime tourist destinations that is a major business site, as well. "It's like operating the Statue of Liberty on top of the MetLife Building," Mr. Malkin said. Having tourists in flip-flops and fussy children mixing in the lobby with tenants and their visitors can be a detriment to office leasing, real estate executives said.

In spite of its importance as an office building, the Empire State Building has always been, above all, an attraction. It was for a long time the world's tallest building, built by John J. Raskob, a former executive of General Motors, specifically to be taller than Walter P. Chrysler's building on 42nd Street.

It is 1,250 feet to the tip of the "mooring mast," which was supposed to be an anchoring point for the dirigibles that were once seen as the future of air travel. In fact, updrafts caused by the artificial canyons of Manhattan made such dockings impossible.

The building was constructed with astonishing speed in the early days of the Depression, when labor and materials were readily available, taking just one year and 45 days before the opening on May 1, 1931. During construction, rails were installed on 34th Street to move the steel columns and beams; according to legend, they arrived still warm from mills in Pittsburgh.

Because it opened at a time the economy of the country was contracting, tenants were scarce in the early days and it was frequently referred to as the "Empty State Building." That made the observation deck an important contributor to the building's finances, a situation that continues to this day. The funds go to operate and renovate the building.

In those early days, Mr. Smith used his connections to lure dignitaries, including Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein and aspiring movie actresses, to the observation deck, and photographs of them taking in the sights were widely circulated in newsreels, newspapers and magazines.

Promotions on the observation deck have included mass weddings on Valentine's Day and overnight campouts by scout troops. Some of these have been de-emphasized as security concerns have heightened and tourist traffic increased, but the buildings colored lights have increasingly been used to support various causes. Building officials reported there were 140 special lightings last year, with green lights for St. Patrick's Day, for example, and blue and white for a day celebrating the United Nations.

The building has also been a backdrop to dozens of movies. "King Kong" was the most famous, of course, but others include "An Affair to Remember" and "Sleepless in Seattle."

If they succeed in improving the tourist experience with shorter lines and more entertainment, building officials are hoping to increase tour prices, currently $12 for adults, toward $20. Also under consideration is a V.I.P. tour that would bypass the waiting entirely and visit the currently unused observatory on the 102nd floor.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

January 19th, 2005, 11:40 AM
It's about time. That experience prior to reaching the observatory has been an embarassment to a city that prides itself on being the best. Hopefully they'll get rid of the cheesy but mandatory photo too. Glad to hear they're considering allowing visits to the 102nd floor again, it's too incredible to be completely inaccessible.

January 19th, 2005, 02:02 PM
The lines Sun. night were very short. It was also VERY cold at the top. We also bought that picture! :D

January 21st, 2005, 08:44 AM
A recent trip to the ESB deck (Jan 15 2005) on a cold winter's night...
















January 21st, 2005, 10:46 AM

January 21st, 2005, 09:24 PM
It's about time. That experience prior to reaching the observatory has been an embarassment to a city that prides itself on being the best. Hopefully they'll get rid of the cheesy but mandatory photo too. Glad to hear they're considering allowing visits to the 102nd floor again, it's too incredible to be completely inaccessible.

NYatKNIGHT...I tried finding information about the 102nd floor deck awhile back but could neevr find much information about it. When did they stop allowing visitors up to it? I assume it must have been a long time ago because I don't even remember finding any photos taken from the 102nd floor.....Also it must be quite small...I imagine thats why they dont allow people up there?

Just a side note...When my mom and I visited in May we just ducked out of the line for the cheesy photo...We didn't want to sit there and wait in another line :)

July 29th, 2005, 07:41 PM
I was just wondering, when you first step out onto the observation deck, what direction are you facing (north, south, east, west?) and what landmarks can you see?

Sorry if this seems pointless, but I'd really appreciate any help.


July 30th, 2005, 07:16 AM
When you go through the door at the Observation Deck and you go down the ramp you are at the north side i guess. The first Time iwas up there i thought where the other tow bridges are. I only saw the "Brooklyn Bridge". After a few seconds i figured out, that the bridge i saw was the "George Washington Bridge" :D Maybe i have to say, that there was night and the first thing that you see when you go up there for your first time is only lights.


August 5th, 2005, 07:55 PM
I was amazed on how quick the line went by. Even though it was a long, long, long, long line cause of the security check, and getting the tickets and going up 2 elevators. I think it was at least 1hr before we got to the crowded top of the ESB.

I don't remember how long we were actaully their. I can't wait to see how the pictures turned out of when we were their August 2, 2005 monday. My suggestion if you want to not stand in the forever lasting long lines, is pay the fee for the Express ticket. It may be more BUT you'll get up their quicker and get to skip more of the lines!!!! If you have the money and want to save time I recommend it!!!

September 12th, 2005, 12:20 AM
September 9, 2005:


September 12th, 2005, 12:31 AM
An old friend returns: http://www.wirednewyork.com/forum/showthread.php?t=7255

September 14th, 2005, 06:10 PM
September 9, 2005:




September 14th, 2005, 10:30 PM
Yeah! Cool photos.

September 14th, 2005, 10:41 PM
de superbes photos

September 15th, 2005, 08:42 PM
when you first step out onto the observation deck, what direction are you facing (north, south, east, west?)

You exit the elevator at the 86th floor and they direct you to your left, up a couple steps. As you climb the steps you're facing the 5th Ave side of the building-- so, east-southeast. You're actually pointed 119 degrees east of true north, which is how the street grid is oriented.

I'm guessing they closed the 102nd floor less than five years ago. It's about 30 feet across.

September 15th, 2005, 09:27 PM
Thanks for the photos Big Mac. Looks like I got me a new desktop background.

May 25th, 2006, 01:54 PM
sorry for misposting, if it is.
but i recently went to nyc and bought tickets to ESB observatory online, but was not able to use them due to a lack of time. Any chance anyone here knows where i can sell these, i paid $36 for 2 tickets. Thanks ahead of time.

July 13th, 2006, 04:50 AM
July 13, 2006
After Midnight, Romance on the Observation Deck

Slide Show: After Midnight (http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2006/07/11/nyregion/12empire.slideshow_1.html)

Midnight at the Empire State Building. Gone are the long lines, the strollers and the tour bus crowds. Instead, at 1,050 feet, with rain clouds colored pink, romance abounds.

With the lights of Wall Street glimmering in the distance, Kevin Livingston, 28, of Queens, takes advantage of the setting.

He turns to Charlotte Harrison, 27, who is also from Queens and who has been dating him for three weeks. “Will you be my girlfriend?” he asks. Then he declares that even New York City’s lights have nothing on her.

On the east deck another couple, more serious, are locked in a tight embrace.

Yes, she has just whispered. Yes, of course she will be his wife.

The couple, Aisha, 25, and Imran, 32, who would give only their first names, met on Naseeb.com, a Muslim social networking site. Six months’ worth of e-mail messages later — Aisha from Montreal, Imran from London — they made plans to meet for the first time in New York.

Now, atop the Empire State Building, they share their first kiss, and Imran whispers the proposal in Aisha’s ear.

While many of the city’s most popular attractions — the Statue of Liberty, the Bronx Zoo — have been closed for hours, the Empire State still beckons. And this year the arrival of warmer nights coincides with the pushing back of the observation deck’s closing, to 2 a.m. from midnight on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through Sept. 9. Tickets, $16 for adults, may be bought anytime during the day on which they are to be used.

At that late — or early — hour in the summer, the platform becomes a lovers’ lane for couples in search of a late-night view. Their idea, of course, is nothing new — from “An Affair to Remember’’ to “Sleepless in Seattle,’’ the platform has been a classic stage.

How many proposals could the observation deck have seen in its 75 years?

Mira Akerman, 34, who flew to New York from Sweden for her wedding, has come to the top for a postnuptial kiss with new husband, Martin Nilsson, 33. Running out on the deck, still in her white wedding dress, she explains, “It’s such a New York thing to do.”

Hector Rosado, 43, a security guard on duty, says the atmosphere 86 floors up definitely changes at night.

“With the night lights it’s different,” he says. “They enjoy the view. I mean they really enjoy it.”

Two more New Yorkers, Adam Bogan, 30, a financial adviser at J. P. Morgan, and his companion, Sarah Yatto, 27, who works at Bloomingdale’s, stumbled upon the still-open attraction after dinner in the neighborhood.

“It’s dark, it’s foggy, it’s kind of smoky — the city looks mysterious,” Ms. Yatto says, looking uptown from underneath their shared umbrella.

Mr. Bogan agrees. “If there was a bar, we’d be here all the time,” he says.

Still, not everyone finds it romantic. Naomi Pate, a student at the University of Georgia, heads inside to search for someone in her party who seems to have disappeared.

“I think he’s afraid of heights,” she says, alone for the moment on the east deck.

Students visiting from George Washington University, Jay Bhatt, 19, and Priya Patel, 20, look toward Times Square.

“It’s just so peaceful,” Mr. Bhatt says. “You have time to think.”

According to Bob Zorn, director of the observatory, guards working at night had been turning visitors away at midnight for years — people who had come from Broadway shows or a romantic dinner. The new closing hours are an experiment, to see how much interest there will be. “If it’s successful as we feel it will be,” Mr. Zorn said, “we’ll continue to do it.”

On this night, John Lee arrives at the deck about 1:15 a.m. with a dozen travel mates, many of them from Korea. “We weren’t aware it was open that late,” he says.

They are part of an organization called the Christian Gospel Mission and are touring the United States. Mr. Lee, 38, from Los Angeles, is interpreting. The group poses for pictures, the East Side’s lights their backdrop, and then their leader, Joeun Jung, starts a prayer.

“She was so moved by all the beautiful light,” Mr. Lee said afterward. “Each light represented a person or a family or a group.”

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

February 19th, 2007, 09:05 PM
Here are some nice photos of the view from the Empire State Building ( http://andrewprokos.com/photos/new-york/landmarks/empire-state-building/) during the day

March 19th, 2007, 06:44 AM
Clear shot... March 12, 2007.

March 29th, 2007, 07:05 PM
Superb picture. Did you use a tripod or a steady hand?

March 30th, 2007, 03:20 AM
For a few pictures from the ESB and some Roosevelt Island, Please have a look at my thread in the skyscrapercity forums.




The Benniest
April 30th, 2008, 09:10 PM




There are others but my computer is being really slow at the moment. I will post more when I get a chance. :)


January 18th, 2010, 11:25 PM
Set by paolo_rosa (http://www.flickr.com/photos/paolo_rosa/tags/observatory/), taken last week.







July 16th, 2011, 01:10 AM
A View Inside King Kong’s Perch



A view from the Empire State Building's 103rd floor, not open to the public. It overlooks the visitors'
observation deck on the 86th floor and shows views of the Hudson River and Central Park.

I am pressing against a secure wall, not daring to step away. The wind is whipping against me — or is it howling? My feet feel rubbery on the narrow walkway. I think of those balconies on the upper floors of colonial homes in old ports, where pacing wives would gaze out to sea, seeking the long-overdue ships of sailor husbands: widows’ walks. If this particular walk were open to an anxiously pacing public, I can only imagine how many new widows and widowers would be left behind. But I look out, and the vision is literally breathtaking, the Hudson shimmering in the west, and a patch of green off to the north — Central Park — lying just beyond some half-hearted high-rises.

I am standing a floor above the highest observation deck of the Empire State Building just outside a room with cables and communications equipment. The walkway circles around the building’s narrow spire, which, in 1930, was envisioned as a mooring mast for dirigibles; as it turned out, only King Kong ever reliably used it for support.

And though the view from the glassed-in deck on the 102nd floor below is almost as remarkable, I am glad that Jean-Yves Ghazi, the director of the observatory, has led me up here, because what I have been made forcefully aware of by the jolts of wind is not the building as completed object, secure and established, dominating the cityscape, but the building as it came to be. Because it was in the midst of these whipping winds and unsettling heights that welders, riveters, steamfitters, bricklayers, marble setters, metal lathers, glaziers and roofers pieced this building together in unforgiving, empty space in an astounding 11 months.

That sense of venture — and adventure — is also the subject of a new, untitled exhibition on the 80th floor, through which three and a half million visitors a year will walk, on their way to the elevators leading upward. It is a modest show of panels and images, taking up just 3,000 square feet, but it is part of a renovation and modernization costing more than $550 million.
That project has made the Art Deco lobby a gleaming display of marble and gilt; it includes the replacement of every window and the remaking of the climate-control system (saving, we are informed, almost 40 percent in energy costs). And it has also given rise to a series of animated panels about its environmental achievements, on display in the ticket area, where adults wait to pay at least $22 each on lines that snake around stanchions.

But this exhibition on the 80th floor does something else. It is safe to say that visitors to the Empire State Building don’t really come to see the building. They come to see the city around it. This show, whose curator is Carol Willis, the founder and director of the Skyscraper Museum, redirects attention from what the building lets us see, to what we see in the building, which is considerable. On its opening on May 1, 1931, we are told, the Empire State “had broken every record in the book in terms of both size and speed of construction.”

The windows on the 80th floor do not look out on the cityscape; there is time for that upstairs. Instead they are covered with enlarged, semi-translucent photographs taken during the building’s construction in 1930. In one pair of windows we seem to be looking east, toward the river and the rival Chrysler building, finished just months before and doomed to have its height record surpassed. Another window gives us a glimpse of men riveting steel on the 86th floor. A third shows the setting of steel columns in the open air on another nearby floor.

Industriousness abounds, but still, how could the Empire State have been built in so short a time? Within 20 months of the signed contracts with the architects (Shreve, Lamb & Harmon), the building was ready for tenants. Yet it was greater in scale than any yet constructed.

It required 57,000 tons of steel, 10 million bricks, 62,000 cubic yards of concrete and 67 elevators. At one point more than 3,400 workers were employed. And the building grew one story a day. “No comparable structure,” we read, “has since matched that rate of ascent.”

In her researches for her own museum, Ms. Willis found a typed manuscript on blue-lined graph paper, which she published in facsimile in 1998 in “Building the Empire State.” (http://www.skyscraper.org/PUBLICATIONS/BUILDING_THE_EMPIRE_STATE/pub_bes.htm)
The manuscript, resembling a notebook and lacking any attribution, is titled “Notes on Construction of Empire State Building” and meticulously annotates the work accomplished and its cost. It seems written by someone associated with the contractor, Starrett Brothers & Eken.

After its publication, heirs of the contractor contacted Ms. Willis, offering a “family scrapbook” of more than 500 photos (http://www.skyscraper.org/WEB_PROJECTS/VIVA2/viva2_intro.htm) of the tower’s construction. Those photographs are used in this exhibition, images of the building as a work in progress. They are also accompanied by pages from the notebook, with financial accounts. We learn that $15,507.53 was spent on workmen like those portrayed in an adjacent photo, cleaning and pointing limestone. The building’s total job cost, one spreadsheet says, was $25,679,772, which amounted to about 71 cents per cubic foot.

Ms. Willis suggests that the speed was a result of teamwork combined with the genius of the contractors. The company’s president, Paul Starrett, later wrote of the Empire State: “I doubt that there was ever a more harmonious combination than that which existed between owners, architects, and builder. We were in constant consultation.”

But the achievement is still astonishing. The contractors could not rely on previous experience; building taller does not always mean building more of the same. It was noticed, for example, that the 85th floor was six inches lower than it was supposed to be: the weight of the steel had compressed the lower floors.

The exhibition does not cover the building’s post-construction life, but Ms. Willis tells us that for all its triumphs, at first the Empire State was “shaping up to be a colossal financial failure.” In the early ’30s it suffered from an oversupply of office space in the city, a Depression economy and a bad location. In 1933 only a quarter of the space was rented; 56 floors remained empty. It wasn’t until after World War II that the building began to flourish.

But there is another aspect of this project worth examining. The construction notebook reveals a remarkable combination of hard-headed calculation and sentimental warmth. At one point the author writes, “Every large construction project exacts its toll of human life.” He pays tribute to “fellow-workmen” who died during the project, six while working on the building. The author even becomes religious, acknowledging “our debt to them,” along with our “universal kinship” with the “lowly Carpenter of Nazareth.” Was that sense of humble mission part of this project’s culture? If so, it could have helped inspire workers and managers alike. Nothing was taken casually.

The Empire State’s observatory might benefit from higher ambitions as well. It is fine to describe changing light bulbs to save energy, but it would be more effective if visitors were presented with a context for understanding the history of the building and its place in the city.

And after Ms. Willis’s show takes us through the building’s construction, why not conclude by turning outward again, toward the city, which so many have come to see? Why not give some sense of the changing urban landscape and its significance? On the observatory deck it would be helpful to see maps of the terrain, identifying major landmarks.

As for the reasons for the extraordinary accomplishments, another clue comes in the notebook. The author, near the end, mentions a quotation from the art critic John Ruskin that “has been used frequently as an inspirational thought.” Did it resemble the motivation he offered his team? It would help explain a lot. And it wouldn’t hurt if it were mounted today in the exhibition as well:
“When we build, let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight, nor for present use alone; let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for ... and that men will say, as they look upon the labor and wrought substance of them, ‘See! this our fathers did for us.’ ”


August 10th, 2011, 11:59 AM
I have been to NYC several times, but never up into the ESB. My husband has never been to NYC, and we are planning a trip. What other "Must Do!" activities, restaurants, etc. are in near proximity to the ESB? We will likely be riding the subway and walking a LOT to keep our spending to a minimum, so we'd like to stay in the same area of NYC as much as possible during each day.

August 10th, 2011, 12:05 PM
Top of the Rock. Reading Room & Map Room of the NY Public Library at Fifth / 42nd. Bryant Park. Grand Central Terminal. All within 20 blocks of the ESB.

And don't miss the High Line: Walk west from ESB to 30th & Tenth where you can enter the park. Walk south on the elevated rails to the Meatpacking District & Chelsea Market. Then you're right near Greenwich Village and can also check out Hudson River Park all the way down to Battery Park.

August 10th, 2011, 02:00 PM

August 11th, 2011, 08:39 AM
I was going to say the HRP too Loft.....

Also, walking through the West Village can be a treat. Lots of nice smaller restaurants and such along the way, and classic brownstone dwellings on non-grid streets (you may need a GPS or map if you want to find a particular place in there!)

Guys, some of these pics should be cross-linked into the Photo subforum. Some really great stuff here.

August 11th, 2011, 03:23 PM

Oh god.

August 11th, 2011, 03:26 PM
Well, if they like shopping, there is always Century 21 (if they also like crowds and such).

There is also that Toys-R-Us near...the south east corner of Union Square I think.

If it is Beer, I would recommend the Blind Tiger at Jones and Bleeker in the west village....

August 12th, 2011, 11:53 AM
Does it cost $ to go up in the ESB? I have never been up there. I suggest trying local restaurants. They are almost always better than chains and give you a taste of NYC.

August 12th, 2011, 10:36 PM
Yeah, I'm gonna have to print some of these off because I'll never remember on my own! Thanks for awesome responses.