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.