New York City, NY

The Empire State Building: History, Fun Facts & What to Do Inside It

Traveling with Alice
Empire State Building, New York CityJonas Brief/Unsplash

Located at 350 Fifth Avenue, the Empire State Building stands at 1,454 feet (443.2 meters), has 103 floors, 73 elevators, 6,500 windows, and maintenance and administrative staff of about 250.

Construction on the art-deco-inspired Empire State Building began on March 17, 1930. It was the tallest building in the world for 41 years before being surpassed by the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Empire State Building regained its title of tallest building in New York City and second-highest building in the United States, following Chicago's Sears Tower. It cost almost $25 million to build; the beginning of the Great Depression sliced the anticipated costs in half.

History of the Empire State Building

The John Thomson Farm owned the present site of the Empire State Building in the late 18th century; then, in the 19th century, it was home to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, frequented by the New York social elite.

The building was designed in two weeks by the architectural firm Shreve, Lamb, and Harmon Associates. While John J. Raskob financed the construction that was completed in 410 days.

The Empire State Building officially opened on May 31, 1931. In decadent fashion, President Herbert Hoover activated today's worldwide famous lights with the touch of a button in Washington, D.C.Unfortunately, due to the Great Depression, the location was not profitable until 1950.

In the meanwhile, it earned the nickname of "Empty State Building" by locals.

On June 24, 1986, the building was appointed National Historic Landmark and had been named one of the seven wonders of the modern world by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Fun facts about the Empire State Building

Because of its imposing size, the Empire State Building has been implicated in some unexpected situations.

On July 28, 1945, an Army Air Corps B-25 crashed into the 79th floor causing $1 million damage to the building; luckily, the structural integrity was unaffected. As of 2007, approximately 20,000 employees work at the Empire State Building; it is one of the few structures in the world to have its own zip code.

During spring and autumn bird migration season, the building must turn off its sign lights on foggy nights to avoid confused birds flying into the building.
A view of the New York Skyline from the Empire State building at sunsetCarl Solder/Unsplash

The Empire State Building's lights

Another important fact about the Empire State Building lights is that they change seasonally or on the occasion of special events and commemoration.

During the Christmas holidays, the lights are red and green; blue lights were used to commemorate the death of Frank Sinatra, while it sat in complete darkness for fifteen minutes when Fay Wray passed away.

The Empire State Building has even lit up with the colors of local sports teams. Only red, white, and blue lights were used in the months after September 11, 2001.

The Empire State Building in movies

Like other New York City landmarks, the Empire State Building has been featured in countless movies since its origin, among them:

  • An Affair to Remember,
  • King Kong,
  • Funny Face,
  • Guys and Dolls,
  • When Harry Met Sally.

What to see at the Empire State Building

The Empire State Building is home to offices, shops, and restaurants but, when visiting, you can't miss the chance to enjoy the breathtaking view from the two observatories reachable by high-speed elevators: the 86th-floor observatory (about 1,050 feet/320 meters) and the 102nd-floor observatory.

Exhibitions on the 2nd and 80th floors will take you back in time to the Empire State Building construction, teach about art and the measures it is taking about energy efficiency. Not to mention the chance to touch King Kong's hands breaking through the walls!

To enjoy the visit at its best, download the free self-guided audio tour using the free on-site guest Wi-Fi.
Tourist photographing the view from the 86th floor of the Empire State Building on New Year's Day 2020Daniel Penfield, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons

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