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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Happy 80th Birthday, Empire State Building

As Ephemeral New York recently reminded us, for years May 1 was "moving day" in New York City, when all  commercial leases expired. (Can you imagine the chaos as people moved from office to office all around town?)

The biggest moving day of them all was May 1, 1931, when the Empire State Building--at 1,250 feet, the tallest building in the world--opened, eighty years ago today.

After the race between the Manhattan Company on Wall Street and the Chrysler Building to be the tallest (complete with Chrysler's secret vertex), the Empire State Building had to come up with a way to add a spire to its roof that didn't arouse public suspicion and wasn't considered by architects to be a cheat. To do that, they added a dirigible mooring mast. As we write in Inside the Apple
This was utter folly. Not only does a dirigible need to be anchored by both the nose and the tail (which is why they landed at air fields in New Jersey in the first place), the updrafts in Midtown were so strong that a zeppelin the length of two city blocks would have whipped around in the wind like a child’s toy. More to the point, a dirigible’s gondola was in the ship’s center; people would never have been able to (as pictured here in an early publicity drawing) exit from the helium-filled balloon straight into the 102nd-story waiting room.
In late September 1931, the New York Evening Journal completed the only successful dirigible mooring. At great danger to life and limb, it delivered a package of newspapers from the Financial District to the Empire State Building’s roof. It looked great on the newsreel cameras, but would be the closest the mooring mast ever saw to real use.
When the building opened, it was soon nicknamed the "Empty State" Building due its lack of tenants, and custodial staff were instructed to go around flipping on and off the lights to make it seem occupied!

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Read more about the Empire State Building in
Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City.

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