Em­pire State Build­ing, 1931.


On May 1, 1931, U.S. Pres­i­dent Her­bert Hoover pressed a but­ton in the White House that sym­bol­i­cally turned on the lights of New York’s Em­pire State Build­ing for the first time. Ris­ing 443 me­ters above the streets of Man­hat­tan, this was then the world’s tallest build­ing, an un­prece­dented as­sem­blage of 10 mil­lion bricks, 57,000 tons of steel, and 5,663 cu­bic me­ters of In­di­ana lime­stone that had taken a mere 14 months to com­plete. F. Scott Fitzger­ald would call it the “last and most mag­nif­i­cent of tow­ers,” though its moniker dur­ing the high-va­cancy years of the Great De­pres­sion was con­sid­er­ably less flat­ter­ing: the “Empty State Build­ing,” New York­ers nick­named it. Still, the sky­scraper— crowned by an Art Deco spire orig­i­nally de­signed as a moor­ing mast for di­ri­gi­bles —was in­stantly iconic, and re­mained so even af­ter los­ing its “world’s tallest” rank to the World Trade Cen­ter’s North Tower in 1972. Af­ter 9/11, how­ever, the Em­pire State Build­ing once again be­came the tallest build­ing in NewYork, a ti­tle that has only re­cently moved to One World Trade Cen­ter.

HIGH TIMES A worker perched far above the streets of Mid­town Man­hat­tan bolts a girder dur­ing the fi­nal months of the Em­pire State Build­ing’s con­struc­tion. The Chrysler Build­ing, then less than a year old, can be seen a few blocks away to the north­east.

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