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Thread: Empire State Building - 350 Fifth Avenue @ 34th Street - by Shreve, Lamb and Harmon

  1. #166


    April 23, 2006
    New York's Lighthouse

    In St. Gabriele Park, the stately Empire State Building is seen in the background.

    During construction, the view through a window in the Chrysler Building.

    LIKE most people, I made a trip to the observatory of the Empire State Building on my very first visit to New York, when I was a gawky Canadian teenager fresh off the train from Toronto. My visit to that building, which will have been open 75 years on May 1, was romantic in more than one sense.

    I was with my first girlfriend, a petite girl with braces on her teeth. Though neither of us hadseen "An Affair to Remember," the 1957 Cary Grant-Deborah Kerr weepie that immortalizes the building as the quintessential New York lovers' rendezvous, we knew that the top of the building was the ideal place to share a kiss, even if it was awkward and adolescent and jostled by other tourists hefting the bulky camera equipment of the pre-digital day.

    The movie we saw later that day in Times Square — a matinee of "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" — featured a fistfight in the back of the theater, in the smoking rows, and my girlfriend and I broke up on the train ride back to Canada. But that moment on top of the building, looking out over the broad Hudson and Lower Manhattan's dense packing of brick and stone, sealed New York's grip on me, as it has on millions of others.

    I would not visit the top of the Empire State again for two decades, probably a typical gap. You go once, and you may never go again. Natives may never go at all, which is a shame. The foursquare view from the top of the Empire State, even more than the sweep of Manhattan that was available from the summit of the twin towers, is one of life's great vistas. It may not quite be, as the building's primary booster and moving force, Al Smith, argued, better than air travel. But it must surely be what Ms. Kerr breathlessly calls it (twice): the nearest thing to heaven we have in New York.

    IN business terms, the Empire State Building may be the most famous white elephant on the planet. Built against all logic during the Depression, it has never succeeded in its ostensible function as an office building. Early years of indifference gave it the label "Empty State Building," and vacancy rates have recently climbed again, from a low of 1.7 percent in 2000 to more than 18 percent.

    The current rent of just $37 a square foot is well below Midtown averages of $48, and yet the building's owners still can't fill the place. (The small offices and antiquated infrastructure are part of the deterrent, despite projected upgrades; but so is a continuing feud between the two companies that control the building, Helmsley-Spear and Wien & Malkin, which complicates leasing arrangements. The dispute arose a decade ago when heirs of the building's co-owners since 1961, Harry Helmsley and Lawrence Wien — both now dead — could not agree on control.)

    Meanwhile, some four million visitors a year make their way to the observatory on the 86th floor (a higher deck, near the building's 102nd-floor summit, reopened last fall after having been closed for years). Here, the weight of the building's significance seems to outstrip its financial woes, even its very material existence. Like all great monuments, the Empire State Building shelters meanings that extend well beyond its gorgeous Indiana limestone cladding and tiny throwback offices.

    Consider just three of the many factors that make the building memorable: the idea of the skyscraper, the mythical functions of the tower and finally the peculiarly American dream-logic of the building's astonishing construction.

    When the Empire State Building opened its rather modest Fifth Avenue doors on May 1, 1931 — Al Smith, the former governor, was there, of course, with photographers, kids and a band — the event punctuated a period of architectural ambition and civic glee that the world is not likely to witness again.

    In the span of two short decades, New York's congested street plan and material wealth, together with crucial developments in science and technology, tempered steel and the elevator, led to the invention of a new architectural form. From Lower Manhattan to Midtown, from Wall Street up to the 40's, Manhattan pushed into the sky the planet's first vertebrate buildings, shoving aside the squat crustaceans that had held sway for so long.

    The Empire State had several distinguished predecessors during the 1920's. The "race for the sky" contest — between H. Craig Severance's Manhattan Company Building, way downtown, and William Van Alen's Chrysler Building — gripped the city's imagination in a manner that is hard to imagine now. When Van Alen won the race by hoisting the Chrysler's distinctive spire from a secret mechanism built inside the peak, the skyscraper and the idea of war over architectural one-upmanship seemed settled for good.

    For many, the Chrysler remains Manhattan's best tall building, a Deco masterpiece, even though it was mocked mercilessly by contemporary critics, not least for the distinctive sheathing of its "Aztec pinnacle," to quote the poet Charles Tomlinson.

    The race was not over, however. One of the most poignant pictures ever captured of the Chrysler — not by Margaret Bourke-White, that disciple of the Chrysler cult — shows the rising column of the Empire State construction at 34th Street through one of the triangular slash-windows of the uptown rival.

    Taller buildings would come, in Manhattan and Chicago and elsewhere, but the Empire State would not be surpassed.

    Even without its now distinctive (and never used) dirigible mooring of chrome-nickel steel and faceted glass, added at Smith's behest and over William Lamb's objections so that the building would have "a hat," the Empire State would have been taller than the Chrysler. The spire made it 1,250 feet high — a figure that would settle skyscraper hash for almost half a century. This span as world's tallest building is itself worth a meta-record in this age of Asian gigantism, where structures like the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur straddle the summit of summits for, at best, a few years. (The world's tallest building at this writing is Taipei 101 in Taiwan, and at least three taller buildings are already planned in Shanghai alone.)

    TO some eyes, the Chrysler remains aesthetically superior: a function, in part, of Deco's nostalgic appeal and Van Alen's instinctive grasp of Gotham's Batmannish soul. In a comparison with the slimmer Chrysler, it is easy to underestimate the tough masculine beauty of Lamb's design for the Empire State.

    Whereas the Chrysler displays a giddy modernism, the Empire State combines subtle Deco grace notes with an assured, almost classical sense of proportion. Its solid central shaft rises gracefully from cleverly arranged volumes at the base, lifting to an understated cap of layered sections. In a Vanity Fair feature of the day, Lamb was named one of New York's 10 "Poets of Steel," an honor denied to both Van Alen and Severance.

    But even absent such aesthetic rehabilitation, the Empire State would be superior in meaning, the distinctive image of mythic New York: the New York of film and fiction, beckoning and false, corrupted and sometimes corrupting, but irresistible for all that.

    The building is, obviously, a tower, indeed the central tower of New York. Thus it functions, as the modernist master Robert A. M. Stern once put it, as "the lighthouse of Manhattan." But like all towers, it is no mere structure or landmark. A tower speaks of and to the human ambition for transcendence, that restless desire to transcend what the Futurist theorist Emilio Filippo Tommaso Marinetti called "the vile earth." The paradox of the tower, any tower, is that it stands fixed to the ground even as it stretches up and tries, somehow, to achieve liftoff.

    The Empire State is not Futurist in design, nor is it explicitly utopian. Indeed, its workaday offices and no-nonsense design are deliberately utilitarian in conception. Most people who visit the building pay no attention to its often under-rented interior, a kind of urban time machine filled with diamond merchants, insurance companies and private investigators, among many, many others.

    Nevertheless, with its machine-made grace, the Empire State Building towers above the island grid and fixes the scene. Standing at the center of Manhattan, it gathers up the city to itself and then redeploys it, out and down, to every spot from which it can be seen.

    Towers spring from military desire as well as spiritual urges, and the central position of the Empire State might raise, as towers do, the specter of surveillance. Especially in these Patriot Act days, one can imagine that it drapes a visual net over New York, a sort of heaven-suspended security system.

    And yet the grid it overlooks is, for all its constraints, a stage of freedom and spontaneity. Its very rigidity seems to offer new invitations to liberty. The streets crush and bend and mangle their straight lines, giving way to the wonky charm of the West Village, for example, or the Battery. The Empire State, meanwhile, resolutely resists any link to the security state. Its empire is not the one of watchful eyes and foreign invasions; rather, at its summit assemble the free citizens of the world, multilingual and blessed, who ascend to gather in their views and memories, not data or evidence.

    The Empire State holds New York's eight million souls together in a way the taller World Trade Center never could, and even now, in dark memory, does not. The older building's unlikely birth in the middle of the 1929 Crash; its defiant optimism steered by Al Smith and the financier John J. Raskob, those quintessential self-made men; the astonishing assembly line of steel and stone that made it the fastest megaproject the world had seen; its gathering of workers from all nations and trades — all this combines to make the Empire State the ultimate dream building.

    Monument and promise, folly and wonder of the world, it can be no surprise that no other tall building even dared challenge it for pre-eminence for almost half a century.

    We sometimes speculate about a particular feature of a city, and wonder what things would be like if it did not exist. Especially because of what happened to those taller buildings downtown, the answer in the case of the Empire State Building is clear. Like our ideas of God and happiness, if the Empire State Building did not exist in the New York skyline, we would have to invent it.

    Mark Kingwell, a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto and a contributing editor to Harper's magazine, is the author of "Nearest Thing to Heaven: The Empire State Building and American Dreams," to be published next month by Yale University Press.

    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

  2. #167


    Video: The Closest Thing to Heaven
    Sam Roberts of The Times reminisces about New York's tallest building.

    Video: Fun Facts
    Jeff Vandam of The Times discusses quirky tidbits about the Empire State Building.

    Audio Slide Show: Al Smith's Ambitious Project
    In 1929, the former governor of New York teamed with others with the idea to create the world's tallest skyscraper.

    Audio Slide Show: Working in the Sky
    The ironworkers of the Empire State Building worked without harnesses, hard hats or wires.

    Audio Slide Show: Light of His Life
    For the chief electrician of the Empire State Building, changing the color of the lights is just one of many responsibilities.

    Slide Show: Wish You Were There
    Readers share their memories and photos of the Empire State Building.

    Slide Show: Then and Now
    Many of the familiar rhythms of the Empire State Building have stayed remarkably the same over 75 years.

    Slide Show: Everywhere You Look
    The Empire State Building has imitators across the country and around the world.

  3. #168


    April 23, 2006

    75 Years
    Performing Miracles, With Wrench and Rivet

    TOY TOWER From atop the 59th floor of the Pan Am (now Met Life) Building, a different perspective on a rival skyscraper.

    WILLIAM STARRETT, whose construction company was the general contractor on the Empire State Building, once declared that building skyscrapers was the nearest peacetime equivalent to war. His analogy was never more apt than during the raising of America's most fabled structure. Not only was the Empire State Building built in an astonishing 13 months, but it was done almost entirely without overtime.

    Mr. Starrett knew that brilliance on the drawing board is meaningless, that it is sweat, muscle and skill that transform idea into fact. By the time the building started going up, the development frenzy of the 20's had gone bust. The Empire State was the only game in town, and that is why Mr. Starrett was able to recruit the elite of the city's construction trades.

    They arrived each morning from the boroughs outside Manhattan and beyond, immigrants and native born, some young and fresh, others scarred and bent by past endeavors. They carried the tools of their trade in handmade wooden boxes, or on belts hanging from lean waists. On the way to the site they passed soup lines and shuttered businesses, vivid reminders that they were lucky to be employed at all.

    But before the workers went up, they had to go down, because standing staunchly in their way was the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. A few days after the stock market crash of 1929, crews began the hard, nasty work of demolishing the hotel, tearing it apart with sledgehammers and pry bars and blowtorches. In the end, 16,000 truckloads of debris was hauled away, most of it dumped into the sea off Sandy Hook, N.J. Once the hotel was a memory, the men dug deeper, blasting into the Manhattan bedrock until, on St. Patrick's Day 1930, the journey upward began.

    From Day 1, the pace was dizzying. Dozens of different trades, from the ironworkers who led the way into the Manhattan sky, to the concrete men and brickies, to the tin knockers and stonemasons, electricians, plasterers and elevator constructors, were employed on the project.

    Every day was controlled mayhem. You started your day at 8 a.m., broke for lunch at noon, and quit at 4:30 when the whistle blew. The racket was ear-splitting: the barking of dozens of rivet guns, the diesel roar of derricks, the bellowing of foremen and the pounding by hundreds of carpenters.

    There was no room for error in the tight schedule of deliveries that the contractors had designed. Materials came from all over America and beyond: granite from Midwestern quarries, steel from Pennsylvania mills, marble from Italy. Much of it arrived on the East Side docks, where it was loaded onto flatbeds and hauled across town. Trucks drove directly into the belly of the building, and the material they carried never hit the ground; it was snatched right off the truck beds and hoisted immediately to the floors where it was needed. On each floor, small-gauge rail was built to ferry material to the appropriate work site.

    If you worked on the Empire State, you hustled all day long, whether you were a skilled electrician or a water boy or a rivet punk. If you could not handle the pace, there was a line of hungry men that snaked around the block each day waiting for a shot, and the foremen were happy to point them out. The operation was so tight that the steel often arrived still warm from the forges.

    But the men also reveled in being the best, the fastest. Every Monday, the various trades placed money into hats and then spent the week racing one another skyward, competing to see which gang could throw up the most steel, drive the most rivets, lay the most brick, pour the most concrete.

    On Fridays, escorted by men with guns, the paymaster made his way through the building, calling out the name of each man and handing him a pay envelope filled with cash. The gang that won that week's competition picked up a nice bonus from the hat money. But even without the bonus, the pay was princely. Tradesmen earned almost $2 an hour, laborers $1 to $1.25. Subway workers, by contrast, earned about 36 cents an hour — $30 for an 84-hour week.

    All the trades smashed records. The standard for erecting steel was three floors a week. On the Empire State Building, the ironworkers often threw up five floors in a week, or a story a day.

    At the peak of construction, on Aug. 14, 1930, 3,439 men were at work on site. Construction is a dangerous job, and men sometimes die doing it; the Empire State Building was no exception. Most jobs at the site were performed on the edge of the abyss; that was where the carpenters hammered together their forms, or molds, and where the stonemasons hung the building's granite skin. There were no hard hats, no safety harnesses and no jobs for the faint of heart.

    THE more radical press of the day wrote apocryphal stories of mass death on the site brought on by capitalist greed. In truth, Starrett Brothers paid much more attention to safety than was customary for the time, even placing nursing stations throughout the project. In the end, between the demolition of the Waldorf-Astoria and the construction of the Empire State, a dozen men died, far fewer than typical for major projects of that era.

    It wasn't all toil and grind. On Fridays, as the week ended, the workers selected a floor, and when the bosses were gone they'd meet and turn the place into a casino in the sky. The carpenters slapped together gaming tables. Barrels of beer were rolled in on the small-gauge rail that snaked through each floor. The men gambled and partied as they gazed down on their receding city.

    During its 13-month run, the construction was the best show in town, and the workers the accidental stars. Gawkers lined up every day to watch. Someone set up a telescope in Bryant Park and charged a nickel a pop, providing close-ups of the men as they reached higher and higher into the New York sky. The city thrilled to their mad ascent. But when the work was done, those thousands of men walked away and disappeared into the obscurity of their lives.

    In May 1931, the building opened with great pomp. President Hoover, all the way down in Washington, threw a switch that turned on the power. A number of dignitaries gathered to bluster about the great accomplishment. The ceremony was broadcast live on radio. Not many of the workers showed up.

    Thomas Kelly, a former construction worker, is the author of "Empire Rising: A Novel," about the construction of the Empire State Building.

    The Heroes
    The 'Sky Boys'

    A construction worker rides on hoisting ball while working on the mooring mast of the Empire State Building during its construction circa 1931.

    THE shy, slight man who showed up on 34th Street one spring day carrying a four-by-five Graflex camera probably failed to make a powerful first impression on the workers he'd been hired to photograph. He wore owlish glasses, his ears stuck out, and his demeanor was that of the bookish schoolteacher he once had been. Altogether, he looked as if he could be blown off a steel beam by a stiff breeze.

    Lewis Wickes Hine was easily underestimated. But from the moment he'd quit his job at the Ethical Culture School two decades earlier to devote his life to photography, he had proved himself brave and resourceful, not to mention enormously gifted. During his early years of photographing children in coal mines in Pennsylvania and cotton mills in South Carolina, he often posed as a Bible salesman or a life insurance agent to gain entry, then slipped away before he could be discovered and beaten up. The haunting portraits Hine brought back from those expeditions galvanized child labor laws in America and made him the pre-eminent documentary photographer of the Progressive era.

    But by 1930 all that was long behind. Hine's brand of sociological concern was out of fashion, and his photographs were out of favor. The onset of the Depression only reduced the chance that this washed-up 56-year-old would find decent work with his camera. Still, when the phone call came from his old friend Belle Moskowitz, who was working as the Empire State Building's publicist, he must have hesitated before accepting her offer to become the building's official photographer. On one hand, it meant selling out to the kind of corporate interest he had long disdained. On the other hand, he needed the money.

    Hine was hired to photograph all aspects of the building's construction, but it is obvious from his photographs that he found his most stirring subject in the structural ironworkers. These men — "sky boys," as Hine would come to call them — raised the building's steel frame, balancing on airy perches to join columns and beams, leading the way upward as the other trades followed from below. A tight-knit, swashbuckling clan of Newfoundlanders, Mohawk Indians, Scandinavians and Irish-Americans, they were self-proclaimed "roughnecks" who, as the New York Times writer C. G. Poore put it at the time, spent their days "strolling on the thin edge of nothingness."

    Hine understood that to photograph the men who raised steel, it would not do to stand on the pavement. He would have to enter their element, to climb out among them at high altitude and take the chances they took. One of Hine's more ingenious techniques was to have himself hoisted in an open steel box rigged to a derrick line so that he could dangle over the ironworkers, a quarter-mile above the ground. Thus, he managed to capture, as no one had before, the dizzying and sometimes marvelous work of building skyscrapers.

    That work had never been so marvelous as it was on 34th Street in the spring and summer of 1930. Under Hine's eye, the ironworkers raised 57,000 tons of steel in just six months, almost 50 percent more than the amount used in the Chrysler and Bank of Manhattan buildings combined.

    Hine's photographs of the men, later collected in a volume called "Men at Work," convey an almost palpable appreciation of their physical labor. While his earlier reform-minded photographs portray his working-class subjects as sympathetic victims, those from the Empire State Building treat them as heroes: muscle-bound men, with strong jaw lines and sun-bleached hair, conquering gravity and steel.

    They stand on airy perches, hang off guy wires and catch rides on the steel balls of derricks, all the while brimming with confidence and derring-do. The world below may have been descending into economic despair, but these are images of unabashed optimism. And whatever success the Empire State Building later achieved as architecture or real estate, Hine's photographs sealed its status as a stunning human endeavor, animating its steel and brick with something like soul. Even today, it is difficult to look up from 34th Street without conjuring one of Hine's sky boys clambering among the clouds, and the building is better for it.

    After the steel frame topped out in November 1930, the workers dispersed and returned to less glorified work or, in the grip of the Depression, to none at all. Hine returned to his home in Hastings-on-Hudson and to mounting financial difficulties. The photographs he had taken on the Empire State Building would later fetch tens of thousands of dollars and become among the best-known images in the world, but they did little to help his foundering career at the time. When he died 10 years later, he was destitute.

    For those months in 1930, though, both the photographer and the ironworkers were at the top of their games, and each gave the other an invaluable gift. Hine gave the men a degree of honor and immortality that is rarely bestowed on blue-collar workers. They, in turn, lent his photographs their exhilarating pride and grace, and inspired some of the greatest work of his life.

    'Everybody Seems to Think You Have to Be a Superman'

    THE names and biographies of most of the men who worked on the Empire State Building are lost now. But one of Lewis Wickes Hine's photography subjects left behind a few words to explain himself when a journalist visited him during a lunch break on the 84th floor. His name was Victor Gosselin; he was known to his fellow ironworkers simply as "Frenchy" because he had been raised in Montreal. Frenchy was a connector, one of the especially agile ironworkers whose task was to snatch steel from the sky as it came sailing in on the boom of the derrick, then wrangle it into the building's frame.

    In Hine's photographs, Frenchy is shirtless and wears cutoff jeans that reveal cuts and bruises on his legs. That a connector, who shinnies up and down rusted steel columns all day, would wear shorts is beyond imagining, but there he is, taking a trip on the derrick ball, a half grin on his face as his shorts ride up like a chorus girl's.

    "Everybody seems to think you have to be a superman or something to work on steel," Frenchy told the journalist. "Of course, it ain't no picnic, but then there's lots of jobs I'd pass up for this. I wouldn't want to be no taxi driver, for instance. Look at them down there, dodging in and out of that traffic all day long. A guy's apt to get killed that way."

    Munching on a huge steak sandwich, Frenchy revealed that he had come close to getting killed several times in falls and had seen dozens of other men die. What did his wife think of his work? "She don't think nothing about it. You don't see Lindbergh's wife telling him he can't fly around in airplanes, do you?" Frenchy shrugged.

    "I don't know," he added. "She never says nothing but 'Goodbye, baby; don't get hurt.' "

    Jim Rasenberger is the author of "High Steel: The Daring Men Who Built the World's Greatest Skyline," a history of New York's ironworkers.

    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

  4. #169


    April 23, 2006

    75 Years
    Facts, Factoids (and Flat-Out Myths)

    Green Acres

    Before there was a 350 Fifth Avenue, the site was a quiet field, hinterlands to a city miles to the south.

    In 1799, a farmer named John Thomson bought 20 acres there, a parcel that included Sun Fish Pond, where residents set out lures and fishing poles. "The land is fertile, partly wooded and well watered," Mr. Thomson wrote in a sale notice for his land and buildings in 1825.

    Within a few years, the land was acquired for $20,500 by one of John Jacob Astor's sons, those downtown scions who understood that the city would soon stretch north and make them even richer than they were. The family built mansions on the property and before long were entertaining the upper slices of society in their ballroom — 400 people, invited every year by Mrs. Astor and soon solidified in New York's social history as "The Four Hundred."

    In 1893, William Waldorf Astor, Mrs. Astor's nephew, tore down his house to make room for a hotel that bore his middle name; it is said he did so to upset his aunt, whose house was next door. The ploy worked. Declaring the Waldorf Hotel a "glorified tavern," Mrs. Astor moved uptown — and Mr. Astor's cousin John Jacob Astor IV struck a blow for her by building an even grander hotel, the Astoria, next to the Waldorf. Soon, family differences were set aside, and the two hotels were united.

    The combined hotel was the biggest stage for New York society. Of a charity ball held there in February 1898, The New York Times described "a blaze of jewels, a beauty, a richness, a variety of costumes, and an elegance of setting such as has never before combined." After three decades of sumptuousness, the hotel was sold and was toppled in 1929. Society, it seemed, had been replaced by commerce.

    Older, Shorter

    New York has two Empire State buildings — or, more precisely, a new one and an old one. The old one is at 640 Broadway, at Bleecker Street, and it is built of an unlovely tan brick but graced with occasional arched windows and decorative cornices. It is nine stories tall and has fewer than two dozen apartments. Downstairs, one can enjoy scallop broccoli for $4 at Hong Kong Restaurant, or have a $125 deadbolt installed from RBD Lock & Alarm, and say it all came from the Empire State Building, although nothing on the building today displays that title.

    This, the original Empire State Building, was built in 1897, replacing a structure destroyed in a fire in 1895. According to news reports, the Empire State Bank occupied the first floor of the burned building, with occupants on the upper floors that included Hecht & Company, a fancy goods store, and the New York Feather Company.

    Though the new building rose into the sky, the bank to which it owes its name had dissolved in 1896. The Empire State name continued to be used in press accounts about 640 Broadway, But such mentions dwindled, as did the building's fortunes, and in 1929, it was sold at auction. Two years later, when Al Smith's counterpart opened uptown, no mentions of the old building's name could be found at all.


    Q. Why isn't there a water tank on top of the building?

    A. In the matter of water, the Empire State was ahead of its time. Instead of what would have to have been the city's largest rooftop water tank, it has a pump system, with water tanks stationed every 20 floors.

    Q. How long was the building intended to last?

    A. Forever. The Empire State was meant to be a monument to how much American workers could achieve, according to Lydia Ruth, a spokeswoman.

    Q. How much garbage is collected daily?

    A. The official monthly trash output is 100 tons, which breaks down to 3.23 tons each day, equivalent to just over the curb weight of a 2006 Hummer H2.

    Penny From Heaven

    That fabled penny dropped from the top of the Empire State Building is not likely to kill anyone. More likely, it will land in the pocket of an electrician.

    Lydia Ruth, the building's spokeswoman, explained that when wind hits the building, it travels up the side and creates an updraft, and as a result anything thrown off the building is blown back, usually to the 81st floor, where the building's electricians often work. Alternatively, items thrown from the building are carried far off into the Hudson River and beyond.

    Kenneth G. Libbrecht, professor of physics at the California Institute of Technology, offered a more scientific explanation. "With no air resistance," he wrote in an e-mail message, "a penny dropped from the top of the Empire State Building would be going nearly 200 miles per hour when it hit the ground. But the air would slow its speed to maybe 100 miles per hour, depending on just how the coin tumbled on its way down.

    "This is not much faster than a person can throw a penny (a good fastball travels over 90 miles per hour), so you could test for yourself about how much damage a dropped penny would do."

    Still, don't try it.

    Grief in the Clouds

    Perhaps the building's darkest day was July 28, 1945, when a B-25, flying toward Newark in fog, slammed into the 78th and 79th floors. The crash killed three people on the plane and 11 in the building. The fuel tanks exploded, and an engine and part of the landing gear fell through an elevator shaft into the subbasement.

    Grief has visited the building numerous other times. The lonesome death of 21-year-old Dovid Abramowitz, who leapt to his death from the Empire State Building on Feb. 2, was far from the first suicide in the building's history. But it was different from many others in that Mr. Abramowitz, who lived on the Lower East Side, bypassed the observatory and found his way to an office window on the 66th floor.

    More than 30 people have used the building as a final place of contemplation before jumping to the parapets and then to the sidewalks below. Just weeks before the opening, a carpenter's helper who had once worked on the building jumped from the 78th floor. The first post-opening suicide occurred on Nov. 3, 1932. The man who died was carrying a note to his wife written on the back of a photograph. "My darling," it read. "This is a picture of my son, Arnim, which was taken in Astoria, L. I., June 4, 1930."

    The man rode the elevator to the 86th floor, and as the doors opened, he dashed into the open air, jumping over an iron gate and off the ledge.

    The suicides added up quickly in the 30's and 40's, prompting the building's guards to be constantly on watch for anxious or oddly behaving guests. As of 1947, 11 plainclothes security agents were in place, and in two months they thwarted five potential suicides over what was then a four-and-a-half-foot barrier. That December, a steel fence was installed that was thought to be "suicide-proof." It wasn't.

    Before Mr. Abramowitz's death in February, the last jumping case was in 2004, when a man scaled the barrier fence, stood on the opposite ledge and spread his arms before jumping off. On the world's most public stage for suicide, his death was unusual for its anonymity. He carried no identification, and it was nearly a month before anyone learned his name.

    Drawing Board Dreams

    Many plans for the Empire State remained just that.

    The most famous scheme, of course, was the dirigible landing. The building's designers believed that the tip of the spire would make a perfect docking place for dirigibles and other airships. "The directors of the Empire State, Inc., believe that in a comparatively short time the Zeppelin airships will establish trans-Atlantic, transcontinental and trans-Pacific lines," Al Smith said in 1929, announcing plans to build a 200-foot tall mooring mast.

    The mast was constructed, but it saw little blimp traffic, and the idea was dropped. Not for lack of trying, however: In October 1931, an airship flying in from Holmes Airport in Jackson Heights, Queens, tried futilely for an hour to attach itself to the tower in order to pick up mail.

    Four decades later, rivalry sparked another unrealized scheme. In the early 70's, when the Empire State's reign as the city's and nation's tallest building was challenged by the World Trade Center and the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Empire State architects presented sketches depicting ways to add 11 floors to the building.

    The plan involved lopping off the 16 top stories and replacing them with larger and more modern office floors. Asked if the new segment would conform to the building's style, Robert W. Jones, vice president of Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, the original architects, said it wouldn't. "It's like Chartres," he said. "They built one tower in early Gothic and later they built another one in flamboyant Gothic."

    Oh, Say, Can You See?

    People throughout the New York metropolitan region often get a glimpse of the Empire State Building as part of their daily commute. But just how far is too far away to see the landmark?

    "We always say 80 miles," said Lydia Ruth, a building spokeswoman. "If you were on top of the Pocono Mountains, you could see the building."

    Brian Bossuyt, a spokesman for Camelback Ski Area, atop a Pocono mountain 73 miles away, disagrees. "You can't see it from here, per se, from Camelback," he said. "I don't even think you can see it with those coin-operated binoculars."

    The expert on the subject would seem to be Gary Conte, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service. "From a meteorological perspective," Mr. Conte said, "typically, on a clear day with a fresh air mass in, you can actually see 15, maybe even 20 miles. But it all depends on where you're standing."

    Fifteen or 20 miles would put one in locations like Far Rockaway, Queens.

    But Mr. Conte may not be the last word on the subject.

    "We can see the Empire State Building from Bear Mountain," said Susan Smith, the historian for Bear Mountain State Park in Rockland County, which is about 40 miles north of the Empire State Building. "From the top of Perkins Drive, you can see all the way down to Manhattan."

    F. Y. I.
    The Ever-Changing Lighting

    Q. I am fascinated by the ever-changing multicolored lighting on top of the Empire State Building. Could you tell me the schedule?

    A. Only the highlights. Most gazers probably don't realize how often the lighting system changes and how many groups, causes, nations and holidays are honored. The building's Web site,, lists 67 combinations of up to three colors that have been used. (Examples of color schemes and the subjects they have celebrated can be found atop the pages of this section.)

    The possibilities are seemingly endless. For example, as one reads the colors from the bottom up, as a pedestrian would see them, lavender-lavender-white honors the anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. Yellow has celebrated the U.S. Open tennis tournament, among other topics. Purple-purple-gold honored the golden jubilee day of Queen Elizabeth II.

    Just looking up won't tell you everything. Are you looking at red-blue-white? You could be seeing a commemoration of Philippine independence or the colors of the New York Rangers. Blue — just blue — has been used to commemorate more than a dozen subjects, including Unicef, Boys and Girls Clubs, child abuse prevention and Jazz at Lincoln Center.

    If you want to light the building pink for Mom's birthday, sorry. Building policy does not allow lighting for commercial or corporate events, or personal celebrations, though requests are taken for nonprofit or charitable celebrations.

    To avoid the risk to birds, which are attracted to the lights, the tower lights are turned off during spring and fall migration seasons and on some cloudy, humid or foggy nights, when large numbers of birds are seen flying near the building.

    The Empire State Building has been lighted to some degree since November 1932, when a searchlight beacon alerted the public to Franklin D. Roosevelt's election as president. Colored lighting came in 1976.

    Installed in each of the four faces of the topmost mast are four vertical banks of 11 eight-foot panels positioned one on top of another, for a total of 176 panels. A ring of 32 sodium vapor lights above the 102nd floor was installed in 1984 to create a golden halo effect around the top of the mast from dusk to dawn.

    Q. When I was on the Empire State Building's observation deck, I got to wondering why the building stopped where it did. I've read that buildings could have been built much higher.

    A. It's true; buildings could have gone higher. In 1956, Frank Lloyd Wright even sketched a design for a mile-high 528-story skyscraper in Illinois.

    But the Empire State Building, to say nothing of Wright's behemoth, was limited by economic factors. As a building rises higher, more structural steel and bracing are required, lowering the amount of rentable space and increasing costs. While the Empire State Building was being planned, the American Institute of Steel Construction issued a report estimating that a skyscraper's rate of economic return declined if it went higher than 63 stories.

    But perhaps the major factor limiting height was the elevators. As floors went higher, more passengers had to be served and the elevator cables were longer. Wider shafts were needed, reducing rentable space.

    Balancing speed with comfort is a juggling act. The acceleration of elevators has to be tolerable for riders' knees and stomachs. The Empire State elevators travel as fast as 1,000 feet a minute.

    For the record, the Empire State Building stands 1,250 feet tall. A broadcasting antenna adds 204 feet to the overall height, making it 1,454 feet. An earlier antenna, which stood from 1951 to 1984, was 18 feet taller.


    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

  5. #170


    April 23, 2006

    75 Years
    Crashing to Earth, Again and Again

    The body of Evelyn McHale, 23, atop a limousine after she jumped to her death from the observation platform of the Empire State Building.

    SHE was right on target. Soaring from a thousand feet up, she hit the bull's-eye, landing on top of the roof of the car, her long legs demurely crossed. I couldn't take my eyes off her.

    Before I had bought into the romance of the Empire State building, I knew it from a 1947 photograph of a suicide reprinted in "The Best of Life." In the image of this sleeping beauty, I saw not only unrequited love but also the skyscraper's sheer gravitational power.

    The woman's fall was an homage to the Empire State Building, grisly performance art for the symbol of the modern metropolis, and vivid evidence that because of the building's size and pre-eminence, it has been a target for destruction by creators of popular culture over three-quarters of a century, and a place that could also, in turn, destroy the soul.

    Those who attempted suicide understood. The magnet of death and the thrill of desire have been partners in the life of the Empire State Building since the moment it was created.

    Like nearly every other New Yorker (more than one million people looked out from the observatory in the first year of the building's existence), F. Scott Fitzgerald was lured to the top, for a literal uplift during the depth of the Depression — and ruined by the experience. "Full of vaunting pride," he wrote in his 1932 essay "My Lost City," "the New Yorker had climbed here and seen with dismay what he had never suspected, that the city was not the endless succession of canyons that he had supposed but that it had limits." With that vision, he wrote, came "the awful realization that New York was a city after all and not a universe, the whole shining edifice that he had reared in his imagination came crashing to the ground."

    More than two decades later, in 1954, the evangelist Asa Allen dreamed of standing atop the building, watching a black cloud of divine retribution rolling in from the west to destroy the inhabitants of the sinful city. "I was amazed that the spirit of the Lord should so move me, there atop the Empire State Building. Why should I feel such a surge of his spirit and power there?"

    The view was like a magic potion; once you took it in, you could never be the same.

    Despair was hardly the only response. As E. B. White wrote in 1949, the building "managed to reach the highest point in the sky at the lowest moment of the Depression."

    "The Empire State Building," he continued, "shot 1,250 feet into the air when it was madness to put out as much as six inches of new growth."

    But even before it opened, in April 1931, the skyscraper inspired the first depressed New Yorker to jump to his death from it. Within the year, it also had inspired fantasies of the building's own end. "Somehow we know by instinct that outsize buildings cast the shadow of their own destruction before them," W. G. Sebald wrote just before the attacks of Sept. 11, "and are designed from the first with an eye to their later existence as ruins." Though Americans like to focus on the building as a hopeful symbol amid the despair of the Depression, the culture wasted no time in taking aim at this beloved target.

    Within two years, King Kong had broken loose from his chains, tramped through Times Square and headed directly to the highest peak he could find. He too took a leap (albeit involuntary) from the tower. (That fall was cut from the film, supposedly because the prop of Kong looked too unimpressive falling next to the building, but maybe because the image brought the fantasy uncomfortably close to home.)

    The other New York disaster film of 1933, a so-called lost work titled "Deluge," was the first to take down the building. In the film, an enormous earthquake unleashes a tidal wave that destroys all New York; the city's final collapse is signified by the collapse of the world's tallest and most solid structure. So powerful were these images, and so costly to make, that the scene of the building's collapse was reused in several later films, among them "S.O.S. Tidal Wave" in 1939 and the late 1940's series "King of the Rocketmen."

    By the end of the 1930's, the building had gained a muscular defender not prone to falling from high places. In the first Superman movie — actually, a 10-minute television short — a mad scientist directs his Electrothanasia-Ray at the city's tallest building. Superman rushes to catch the swaying tower — a stand-in for the Empire State Building — before it collapses, and thus saves the city.

    During the Cold War, scientists, policymakers and nervous filmmakers used the building to illustrate the horror of nuclear war. In the 1964 film "Fail-Safe," for example, Henry Fonda, playing the president, decides that he must destroy New York as compensation for the accidental destruction of Moscow. A bomber is sent over Manhattan, soaring over the Empire State Building as it drops its destructive load.

    Others took a far lighter attitude toward the building. "Mars Attacks," the popular cards issued in 1962, featured views of invading Martians making a mess of the city, splitting the Empire State Building in two. More than four decades later, in 1996, those aliens would be back in "Independence Day," hovering over the building before blasting it into extinction.

    The skyscraper is turned into a shish kebab stick for Roald Dahl's Giant Peach, and in David Macaulay's book "Unbuilding," it is taken apart, girder by girder. Before 9/11, when joking about a fallen skyscraper was less painful, the cartoonist Matt Groening depicted perhaps the most insulting of Empire State debacles: New York in the year 3000, where only the top of the building sticks out above a new street, and the bulk of it lies below, in a museum of old New York.

    Even after 9/11, when the Empire State Building once again bore the burden of being the tallest skyscraper in New York, it continued to be a target. In the new millennium, when fears of self-inflicted environmental disaster replaced the fear of nuclear war (something had to), it was a frozen Empire State Building that signified the city's end in the global-warming thriller "The Day After Tomorrow."

    Every era has found a use in destroying the Empire State Building. Yet when it comes to harming the place, there is a curious delicacy: although the structure is an obvious target in a disaster movie, no one seems to want it destroyed violently. Truly spectacular destruction scenes have been largely reserved for other buildings. The World Trade Center towers were engulfed in "Meteor" (1979); the Chrysler Building was summarily beheaded in "Godzilla" (1998); Rockefeller Center was decimated in "Invasion USA" (1952). But few images show the Empire State Building actually crashing down.

    TO be a target is surely an honor. When New York is no longer destroyed, on film, in flight-simulator software, video games and paintings — that will be a sign that the city no longer dominates America's, and the world's, imagination. But maybe some buildings are just out of bounds.

    In "Sector 7," a wordless children's book by David Wiesner, a young boy on a school trip atop the Empire State Building befriends a cloud. Before he knows it, he has followed the tradition of leaping from the top of the skyscraper. Instead of falling, however, he is carried to the Grand Central Terminal of cloud making. After revolting against the strict and unimaginative cloud makers, the boy is gently returned to the observatory deck by his new cloud-friend.

    But he is changed: now he literally floats on a cloud as he descends with his class and walks out onto the sidewalk. There he finds an awestruck city, looking up, not for suicides, but at the clouds shaped like beautiful fish, manta rays, octopus and squid.

    Virtually all of the four million who yearly rise to the top of the Empire State Building come down safely. But each one is changed by the experience.

    Max Page's book "The City's End: Two Centuries of Fantasies, Fears, and Premonitions of New York's Destruction" will be published next year by Yale University Press.

    A scene from the movie "Independence Day."

    75 Years
    Forecast: Mostly Sunny

    THE Empire State Building came into the world amid a hubbub of predictions. Al Smith, its cheerleader and public face, prophesied that the area below 40th Street would become the city's new office district. (He was wrong.) A group described as "leading builders and real estate men" told The New York Times that the building would hold the country's height record for years to come. (They were right.) The Times, in an editorial, forecast the end of public tolerance for "architecture that is cheap or mean."

    In that spirit, three experts on tall buildings were asked to offer their predictions about how the Empire State Building will be regarded when it passes its 100th anniversary, in 2031.

    In addition to their official credentials, all three have a special affection for the place. Carol Willis, who lives within blocks of the building, describes its presence as "my top 10 reasons for choosing the apartment," while John Tauranac is, among other things, the owner of a six-foot-tall backlit steel sculpture of the building.

    John Tauranac
    Author of "The Empire State Building: The Making of a Landmark"

    Can we go 75 years back, to show how easy it is to prognosticate and be wrong?

    There was a wonderful publisher of guidebooks called Moses King. In a book that he put out in 1908, he started with a drawing of New York as the "Cosmopolis of the Future." Casting off the tops of these fantastic buildings are Jules Verne-like contraptions, part dirigible, part airplane, part helicopter. They have signs on them saying "Europe," "Panama Canal."

    In 1931, when the Empire State Building was opened, there was a belief that office construction would never reach north of 59th Street; the assumption was that there would be a terrific spillback. The promoters of the Empire State Building were firmly convinced that their neighborhood would fill up. But that spillback effect never really took place.

    Who knows? Maybe the Empire State Building will be a condominium in 25 years. Who would have thought that the Plaza Hotel, one of the city's most beloved institutions, would be in the process of being converted to condos? Who would have thought that the Met Life tower would be converted to residential use?

    Carol Willis
    Founder and director of the Skyscraper Museum

    When it turns 100, I think that the building will look as glorious as it does today, because it's protected as a landmark, so its fabric won't change. I doubt the surrounding area will change dramatically, either. Most of the buildings are already built pretty close to the maximum of what the current zoning allows, so there's not much room to develop.

    Fortunately, there won't be anything to challenge the pre-eminence of the Empire State Building, which has always been so magnificent because its stands alone, in isolation, unlike the cluster of towers around Grand Central, or in the Financial District.

    As a historian, I think that in the next 25 years, the building will be unchanged in its essential identity. That's important in the longer sense, because Manhattan is a 20th-century creation, the way the Paris we see today is essentially a 19th-century urban scene. New York is characterized by great buildings like the Chrysler and the Empire State that give it a sense of place and uniqueness. And we will increasingly appreciate that, the way Romans have learned to live inside their buildings, the way that boutiques adapt to Renaissance palaces.

    Neal Bascomb
    Author of "Higher: A Historic Race to the Sky and the Making of a City," about the contest to build the city's tallest building

    The Empire State Building today is essentially what it was 75 years ago, which was the lone pinnacle in the New York skyline. It was the building you saw at a distance; it personified what we think of as New York. With the loss of the World Trade Center, that is the case again.

    Twenty-five years from now, people will look at the Empire State Building as the classic New York skyscraper. They'll say, "That's the first true skyscraper." The way skyscrapers are being built now, they're almost fantastic, particularly in Asia. You look at the Empire State Building, and it looks so simple, almost like a pyramid.

    It will still be the place people have to go to. People will always want to say, "Yes, I went to New York, and I went to the top of the Empire State Building, and it was marvelous." Even if they build a 2,000-foot tower somewhere else.

    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

  6. #171


    April 23, 2006
    75 Years
    Look! Down on the Ground!

    RONETTE RILEY, an architect who occupies the highest office in New York City, believes that the Empire State Building is located in an uncommonly harmonious spot, at least from a feng shui perspective.

    "My feng shui master calls it the epicenter of Manhattan," explained Ms. Riley, who is the sole tenant on the 80th floor, the highest level at which office space exists. "Because if New York is the center of the universe, the Empire State Building is the center of New York.

    "Unfortunately," she added, "the neighborhood is just starting to catch up."

    Indeed. At street level, 960 feet below Ms. Riley's aerie, the surrounding blocks are a honky-tonk hodgepodge of commerce, a chaotic no-man's land thronged with sightseers and sharp-elbowed shoppers. On any given day, tour buses disgorge bewildered-looking Germans outside nearby hotels, workers wearing sad-looking cardboard sandwich boards jab clothing-sale leaflets at passers-by, and Long Island commuters dash toward Penn Station, weaving among shoppers headed for the Broadway malls and clutches of Koreans heading to 24-hour restaurants on West 32nd Street.

    For all its clamor and bustle, the neighborhood around 34th Street and Fifth Avenue is as oddly anonymous as the tower at its center is celebrated. Even the area's name is open to question. Some maps call it Midtown South, but that is hardly a term that rolls off the tongue or conveys a distinctive character.

    "I'm a native New Yorker, and I never even thought about what to call this neighborhood because it's got no clear identity in my mind," said Douglas Mancini, a red-aproned bartender at Keens Steakhouse on West 36th Street off Avenue of the Americas. "What is it? It's not Murray Hill, and it's not quite Midtown, is it?"

    When the Empire State Building was constructed 75 years ago, replacing the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, the soaring office tower was an incongruous newcomer to what at the time was the city's most important retail district.

    Fifth Avenue was the city's white-glove shopping boulevard, beginning with the full-block B. Altman department store, which stood cater-corner to the Empire State Building. From there, the luxury shopping strip stretched north up Fifth Avenue, including two dazzling retail palaces designed by Stanford White, one on East 36th Street that was occupied by Russeks Furs, and one on East 37th Street that was home to Tiffany & Co.

    "It was a curious site, the Empire State Building, for an office building," said David Garrard Lowe, author of "Art Deco New York." "It moved into this rather luxurious neighborhood, because you go a little farther to the east and you're in Murray Hill, so it was suddenly a huge office building in the middle of the luxury trades and luxury housing."

    One block west of the Empire State, meanwhile, stood three great middle-class shopping emporiums: Macy's, Saks and Gimbels. These local businesses greeted their new Art Deco neighbor with open arms.

    "The day it opened was sort of a local holiday," said John Tauranac, author of "The Empire State Building: The Making of a Landmark." "The streets were closed to traffic, there were mobs of people, and all of the merchants were delighted because they thought they were going to get more business."

    Things didn't quite work out as planned. The building's developers, Mr. Tauranac said, assumed that once the rapid development around Grand Central was complete, "commerce would move south from 42nd Street and encircle them, and that never really happened."

    Perhaps the most striking result of this development — or lack of development — is that the area around the Empire State Building remains startlingly similar to the way it was the day the building opened.

    "It's incredible to think how little the neighborhood has changed in terms of the structures that are there," Mr. Tauranac said. "If you look on the north side of 34th Street, beginning on the east side of Madison Avenue and going all the way to the west side of Broadway, to Macy's, the buildings are all the same as they were 75 years ago."

    The same is largely true of the south side of 34th Street, he added, as well as the block of 33rd Street west of Fifth Avenue, where only one new apartment building has gone up.

    The luxury trade headed north up Fifth Avenue in the decades after the Empire State Building was put up, but otherwise the types of companies now doing business in the area have much in common with those in operation during the skyscraper's early years. Saks and Gimbels have been replaced by malls housing other middle-class retailers, while the side streets in the 30's west of Fifth Avenue are home to storefront wholesalers showcasing garment trimmings and costume jewelry.

    The neighborhood has rebounded from the dark days of the 1980's, when prostitutes loitered outside the Morgan Library on East 36th Street and the magnificent French Renaissance-style Hotel Martinique on West 32nd Street and Broadway was a crack-infested welfare hotel. The block of 32nd Street west of Fifth Avenue thrives as the 24-hour main drag of Koreatown; the Martinique has been restored and is a Holiday Inn.

    THE neighborhood is even experiencing a residential influx that could be its most significant change since the arrival of the Empire State Building. A 40-story rental building recently opened on West 31st Street near Fifth Avenue, and a 50-story green-glass condominium is rising near 33rd Street and Fifth Avenue.

    As new high-rises go up around the Empire State Building, could the skyscraper's enviable feng shui be compromised? "That doesn't affect me," said Ms. Riley, who occupies the highest office in the land. "I'm above it all."

    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

  7. #172


    [quote=Kris]April 23, 2006

    75 Years
    Crashing to Earth, Again and Again

    The body of Evelyn McHale, 23, atop a limousine after she jumped to her death from the observation platform of the Empire State Building.

    WOW. She looks like shes napping. unharmed. Morbid but fascinating

  8. #173


    I dont know if this would be the correct thread for this, maybe under news but an interesting event today.

    I was in midtown and ended up at the Wendy's on 5th across the street from the Empire State Building. When I came out all of a sudden there were crowds all looking up and pointing towards the top of the tower. Police cars started to arrive and shut down 33rd street. Fire trucks started to arrive. The word on the street was it was either a suicide jumper had jumped or was hanging out getting ready to jump. More and more people gathered. Mob mentality. One person looks up, they all do

    I had my binoculars on me (dont ask) but could see nothing. Seemed like a hoax to me that a couple hundred people fell for. A new small crowd was gathering around a pair of swedes who were showing off footage from their video camera. I checked it out, and they were on the observation deck and got first class footage of a guy hanging onto the observation deck railings from the other end, hanging over the edge of the building. Police and other people were holding onto to him through the bars and then they were evacuated off the tower. Thrilling stuff

    UPDATE: Turns out it was a stunt, this guy really wanted to parachute off the Empire State so he bought himself a fat suit to hide his parachute and wore old man makeup. Got up there, took off his stuff in the bathroom and made a dash for the edge. The security gaurds got wise to him early and intercepted him and hung onto him through the bars while he tried in vain to push off so he can fall. They hung onto him until cops arrived, removed part of the railing and arrested him.

    Only in NY

  9. #174
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    Man Arrested For Attempt To Parachute Off Empire State Building

    NY 1
    April 28, 2006

    A California man is facing charges today after police thwarted his attempt to base jump off the Empire State Building.

    Jeb Corliss, 30, is charged with reckless endangerment and criminal trespass, among other charges. Police say he came from Malibu intending to parachute off the Empire State Building Thursday.

    A police officer was able to stop Corliss after he was spotted climbing over the fence on the 86th floor observatory deck. He was arrested at the scene.

    Before he changed into his parachute gear in the bathroom, he was dressed in a disguise – a wig and a professional fat suit.

    Copyright © 2006 NY1 News

  10. #175
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    Cops stop fall guy

    Foil Empire State jumper

    April 28, 2006

    Would-be Empire State Building jumper and professional dare-taker Jeb Corliss hangs precariouisly above midtown as cops and security guards hold onto him through railing of observation deck, preventing him from making his leap. In the first moments, guards seem barely able to keep Corliss (below) from making the jump.

    Towering legacy

    A dopey daredevil hellbent on parachuting off the Empire State Building was plucked from the brink of disaster yesterday in a breathtaking drama that played out on a narrow ledge more than 1,000 feet above city streets.

    As scores of tourists watched in stunned disbelief, TV stunt show star Jeb Corliss ripped off an old fat man disguise - and scaled the 10-foot security fence around the 86th-floor observation deck.

    He was precariously perched on a ledge far above 33rd St. and ready to jump, when security guards and cops reached through the fence and handcuffed the dodging dodo to the bars as witnesses gasped, cameras clicked and videotape rolled.

    "Dude, you guys are going to kill me!" Corliss screamed as he tried to wriggle free. "You guys are going to kill me right now.

    "Let me go!"

    The 30-year-old Californian wore a helmet fitted with a camera, likely hoping to film his 1,050-foot plunge - with no regard for the safety of people on the streets below - for "Stunt Junkies," a Discovery Channel show he hosts.

    But cops and security guards, who had been tipped the death-wish scheme by someone claiming to be worried about Corliss, weren't going to allow his latest attempt at twisted glory.

    He had snuck into the storied skycraper around 4:30 p.m. wearing a $15,000 fat suit, a gray wig and a latex mask with a gray beard.

    But once on the observation deck, he went into a bathroom, tore off the suit to reveal a parachute underneath, dashed to the curled railing and climbed it.

    But he was slowed down by security guard Kevin Downes, who had chased him from the bathroom, giving cops and other security personnel precious seconds to leap into action.

    "He was resistant. He tried to push off with his feet. He was fighting with us to get off," said Timothy Donohue, a building manager.

    One unidentified woman was so upset she thrust a fistful of cash at Corliss and tried to bribe him to come back.

    Donohue and others finally got a good grip on Corliss' harness before cuffing him.

    "He wasn't going without me and I really didn't want to go for the ride," said Donohue.

    "It's New York City, it's rush hour. It is not the time to jump off buildings."

    ESU cops with bolt cutters eventually snapped the cuffs, removed a portion of the fence and pulled Corliss back to safety, ending a 15-minute struggle. He kept his latex mask on until it was clear the only way he was reaching terra firma was in an elevator.

    Outside the building, Corliss was grinning like a fool as cops - who had rushed to the top terror target - hauled him away. Meanwhile, Downes was taken to Bellevue Hospital with head and ankle injuries.

    Corliss charged last night with a number of crimes including reckless endangerment, assault and resisting arrest.

    "I wouldn't describe him as a daredevil," said NYPD Deputy Inspector James McCarthy. "I would describe him as an individual who obviously showed a depraved indifference for human life.

    "In the worst case scenario, his parachute doesn't open and he kills a number of people walking by."

    Still, the afternoon drama at New York's tallest building gave visitors a show they'll never forget.

    Dennis Hook, 68, an English tourist, said, he thought the nail-biting spectacle "was a joke at the beginning. There was someone in a King Kong suit walking around so it looked like a show. It was unbelievable."

    Dutch tourists Edu De Neve, 57, his wife, Garda, and sons Mattijs, 27, and Guido, 25, were stunned by the sight of about 20 cops racing onto the observation deck to help subdue Corliss.

    "It was something to see," said Garda De Neve, 57, shaking her head in wonder.

    Although she had been reluctant to come to the U.S. due to terrorism fears and the incident yesterday was less than a treat for the Dutch family, she said of her first visit to New York, "I love it here."

    Corliss is no stranger to risky business.

    He's chuted off the Palace Hotel here, the Skylon Tower in Niagara falls as well as the giant Petronas Towers in Malaysia.

    His antics on the Empire State may have been timed to bring attention to the 102-story building's 75th birthday Monday.

    "It was absolutely unreal," said a visibly shaken Mark Skelton, who is chaperoning a high school band from Cleveland, Ga. on a visit here. "You'd never think this kind of thing would happen."

    Skelton's daughter, Erin, 15, couldn't help but giggle: "I think it all was pretty cool."

    Towering legacy

    The Empire State Building, which turns 75 Monday, has seen its share of triumph, tragedy - and stunts.

    Here's a look at some key events:
    • MAY 1, 1931 - The world's tallest building opens, reaffirming American ingenuity in the depths of the Great Depression.
    • MARCH 2, 1933 - The blockbuster film "King Kong" seals the skyscraper's place in the world's imagination.
    • JULY 28, 1945 - A B-25 bomber plows into the 79th floor of the building in dense fog, killing 14 people.
    • APRIL 24, 1986 - Two British men parachute from the 86th floor observation deck. One got into a taxi, chute and all, but another was caught when he got snagged on a traffic light.
    • FEB. 23, 1997 - A gunman opens fire on the observation deck, killing one person and wounding six others before turning the weapon on himself.
    • OCT. 24, 1998 - Two daredevils escape after they parachute from the observation deck.
    • At least 35 people have killed themselves by plunging from the observation deck.
    All contents © 2006 Daily News, L.P.

  11. #176
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    April 28, 2006

    Photo: Steven Bryant

    HIGH-KICKING: Daredevil Jeb Corliss
    tries to wriggle free to perform his
    Empire State Building jump yesterday -
    but can’t shake the iron-fisted cop
    gripping his leg.

    April 28, 2006 -- A daredevil used a fat suit to sneak a parachute up to the observation deck of the Empire State Building for a spectacular stunt jump yesterday - but authorities thwarted his death-defying scheme by grabbing him as he prepared to plummet to the packed Midtown streets...

  12. #177


    Scruffy: that´s a nice photo-report.

    I first went up there when I was a little kid in 1965. King Kong had made it to going up to the top of the Empire State Building was a HUGE deal for a kid. From the observation deck, I remember my aunt pointing out the site of the demolished Penn Station....and a giant sign on Macy´s roof that said "world´s largest department store". My aunt sang "give my regards to Broadway, rememember me to HERALD SQUARE" pointing it out down below. We went up to the very top a cramped room....I can still remember that. It was closed to the public long I´m glad we were able to do it. Afterwards we had hamburgers at a place called "The Artful Burger". When I was a kid, burgers were "Artful" burger wasn´t something I was used too. We then went up to the Cloisters....I still remember the subway ride....with the Preparation H advertisements and my cousin explaining to me that it was for pimples.
    Last edited by Fabrizio; April 28th, 2006 at 09:40 AM.

  13. #178
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    Oct 2002
    Manhattan - South Village


    Top notch reporting, Scruffy. Those tourists got a real treat.

  14. #179
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Nov 2002

    Default Are any images of the 11 floor addition plan available?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kris
    Four decades later, rivalry sparked another unrealized scheme. In the early 70's, when the Empire State's reign as the city's and nation's tallest building was challenged by the World Trade Center and the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Empire State architects presented sketches depicting ways to add 11 floors to the building.

    The plan involved lopping off the 16 top stories and replacing them with larger and more modern office floors. Asked if the new segment would conform to the building's style, Robert W. Jones, vice president of Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, the original architects, said it wouldn't. "It's like Chartres," he said. "They built one tower in early Gothic and later they built another one in flamboyant Gothic."
    I'm curious - are there any images out there of their plans for lopping off the top of the building and replacing it?

  15. #180


    May 1, 2006

    Happy Birthday, Empire State Building

    Posted by Jen Chung

    The Empire State Building turns 75 today, as glamorous as ever. From being a romantic setting to one where wacky people try to do wackier things, it's still one of the most exciting places in the city. Tonight, the lights will be white, as they were all white when lights were first turned on by President Herbert Hoover.

    Wikipedia on the Empire State Building. And photographs from the New York Public Library of its building. Plus, two fun Empire State Building toy kits: In wood and metal.

    2003-2006 Gothamist LLC.

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