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Thread: Empire State Building Observatory

  1. #1

    Default Empire State Building Observatory

    The spire of the Empire State Building at night. The view from the observatory.

    The view on Times Square from the Empire State Building Observatory. The well-lit tower with the curving glass wall is the Reuters Building.

    The West view from the Empire State Building Observatory. The building between 41st and 42nd Streets is the 1 Penn Plaza. The building on the right is the New Yorker Hotel.

  2. #2

    Default Empire State Building Observatory

    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

  3. #3


    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

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  5. #5

    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.

  6. #6


    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

  7. #7
    Moderator NYatKNIGHT's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Manhattan - South Village


    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.

  8. #8


    The lines Sun. night were very short. It was also VERY cold at the top. We also bought that picture!

  9. #9


    A recent trip to the ESB deck (Jan 15 2005) on a cold winter's night...
















  10. #10
    Moderator NYatKNIGHT's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Manhattan - South Village



  11. #11


    Quote Originally Posted by NYatKNIGHT
    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

  12. #12

    Question Empire State Building

    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.


  13. #13


    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" 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.


  14. #14

    Default Lines of people

    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!!!

  15. #15


    September 9, 2005:

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