350 5th Ave, New York

While New York's economy was booming in the late-1920s, builders were in a race to create the world’s tallest building. The main competitors were the Chrysler Building, conceived by car tycoon Walter Chrysler, and 40 Wall Street’s Bank of Manhattan building, and they were constantly adding more floors to their designs. The race heated up in August 1929, when plans for the Empire State Building were announced by General Motors executive John J. Raskob and former New York Governor Al Smith.


Chrysler changed his plans when he learned that the Empire State Building would be 1,000 feet tall, and he made his last final move by adding a stainless steel spire to the top of his skyscraper. This caused the Chrysler Building to reach a record of 1,048 feet, which made Raskob and Smith to go back to the drawing board and come back with an even taller design for their Empire State Building.

Upon completion in 1931, the Empire State Building rose 1,250 feet over the streets of Midtown Manhattan. It would boast the record of the world’s tallest building for 40 years until the first World Trade Center tower was completed in 1970.




William F. Lamb from the firm, Shreve, Lamb & Harmon


In architect William Lamb's initial drawings for the plan in 1929, he modeled the Empire State Building after  the Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (which he had previously designed) and Carew Tower in Cincinnati. The older two Art Deco buildings are often called the Empire State Building's architectural ancestors. This was taken literally when the Empire State Building's general manager sent a card to the Reynold's building on its 50th Anniversary in 1979 that read, "Happy Anniversary, Dad."

Despite being the largest architectural project of its time, the design, planning and construction of the Empire State Building only took 20 months to complete. After demolishing the previous building, Waldorf-Astoria hotel, the contractors, Starrett Brothers and Eken, used an assembly line process to build the new skyscraper in just 410 days. They constructed its skeleton at a record speed of four and a half stories per week, using as many as 3,400 men each day. With at least five workers killed during the construction process, the Empire State Building was eventually finished ahead of schedule and under budget.

Along with being designed to house corporate offices, the building was also initially planned to be used as a docking port for airships. The 200-foot tower atop the building would serve as the point in which airships would tether themselves to, and passengers would then exit on an unenclosed plank, check in at a customs office and enter the streets of Manhattan in just seven minutes. Unfortunately, this plan proved to fail, as the high winds near the building’s rooftop made it almost impossible for pilots to navigate. The only form of success was a small airship that tied itself to the tower for a few minutes in September, 1931, and then the entire plan was rejected shortly after.

It earned the nickname, 'the Empty State Building' after only filling 25% of its space upon opening in 1931, which was largely due to the Great Depression. The building didn't become profitable until World War II, and it eventually became an icon, lighting up in various colors for several holidays each year and appearing in over 90 movies and shows, with some of the most memorable being "King Kong", "Sleepless in Seattle"  and "Elf".




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