Discover America Radio
New York, New York

The Empire State Building

Meet someone you love on top of the world


Soaring 1,454 feet into the New York sky, the Empire State Building is the most perfect, enduring symbol of the city, a Promethean achievement that rose during the Great Depression. It reigned as the tallest building in the world for over 40 years and, since 2001 when the Twin Towers fell, it is once again the city's tallest. Though perhaps not the most beautiful of New York's skyscrapers (the Chrysler Building usually wins that title), it is undoubtedly its most iconic and beloved, its art deco peak lit up in the colours of the season, transforming it into a lighthouse that marks the metaphorical centre of town.

The idea for the 102-storey building was born in the mind of John J. Raskob, a vice president of General Motors, who wanted to compete with Walter Chrysler’s new building up at 42nd and Lex (Lexington Avenue). The announcement of the building’s construction came on August 29, 1929, just days after the stock market hit its then all-time peak, but by the time work on the foundation began in January 1930, the market had crashed. Whether because of the crash or in defiance of it, work went on. It officially opened in March 1931—only 13 months after construction had begun—and was a huge commercial flop. Only 30 per cent of its office space had been rented, and 56 of its 103 floors had no occupants whatsoever. In its first year, the building’s owners made as much money from tickets sold to its observation decks as they did in rent.

But in the long run, none of that mattered. Nor does the fact that an early plan to tie up airships to the building’s tower never materialised. The fact is that before it was even complete, the Empire State Building had become New Yorkers’ proudest collective achievement and an international icon too. In the 1933 film, King Kong scaled the building after escaping from his captors, battling biplanes before tragically falling to his death. In 1957, Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr made plans to meet on the observation deck and resolve their star-crossed love. In 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan mimicked that Affair to Remember with their own sky-high rendezvous. And every day, thousands of visitors make their own trip by lift up to the observatories on the 86th and 102nd floors (the lower one being the perennial favourite, the higher one glassed in and cramped) for a view that can stretch up to 80 miles in all directions and make you feel that you’re king of the world.

This trip idea can be found in:

1,000 Places to See in the United States & Canada Before You Die®

Trip idea text ©Patricia Schultz. For contact information about the places mentioned and many more USA trip ideas, see Patricia Schultz's blockbuster book.

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