Empire State Building

350 Fifth Avenue

(Between 33rd & 34th Streets)

Developer: Hammerson Property Corporation

Architect: Brennan Beer Gorman Architects

Erected: 1931

The Empire State Building Reasserts its self

Empire State from Alro Hotel

Empire State Building from the southeast

Photo by Carter B. Horsley

By Carter B. Horsley

The Empire State Building has been New York City's most prominent skyscraper since it was erected in 1932 even though its height has been exceeded a bit by a few "SuperTalls" in recent years, none of which has its prime central location and graceful massing of limestone and stainless steel mullions.

For a few decades its location has not been the most desirable as Rockefeller Center, further up Fifth Avenue at 50th Street, and the Central Park South/57th Street corridor of "Billionaires' Row" became more chic.  But the re-emergence of Madison Square Park North district and the Hudson Yards complex to the far West in the 30's has reinforced its location's attractiveness.

In recent months a major renovation of its public spaces including its 86th and 102nd floor observatories, the latter of which opens July 20, 2020, have refocused the tower's prominence.

An July 14, 2020 article at 6sqft.com by Devin Gannon reported that the capacity of the observatories "will be reduced by more than 80 percent, temperatures will be checked and face coverings will be required...Plus, the building is deploying a number of improvements for ventilation, including MERV 13 filters, an air purification system, and mechanisms to bring fresh air into the space."

Empire State Observatory looking north

View to the north from 102nd floor

Photo by Evan Joseph courtesy of Empire State Realty Trust

The changes are quite dramatic.  On the top, enclosed level, new and larger windows afford staggering vistas in all directions and on the lower and partially open level its a wonderful and memorableArt Deco-style ceiling treatment.

Admission to the lower level is $38 a person and another $20 a person is required for the upper level. Other ticket packages are available for more, including a sunrise package for $115, an a.m./ p.m. experience for $55, and an all-access tour that includes a private escort and bottle of champagne for $460.

"Tickets," the article continued, "for set times can be purchased online. In the first weeks of reopening, the Empire State Building will only allow 500 guests across its 70,000 square feet of space at a time, which is below the 25 percent capacity guideline set by the state for phase four of reopening."

Interior of 102nd floor observatory

Interior of 102nd floor observatory

Photo by Evan Joseph courtesy of Empire State Realty Trust

According to the Empire State Realty Trust, the restricted capacity will allow for groups to be separated “by more than 18 feet.”

In December, the Trust "completed a four-year $165 million redevelopment of the landmark with the opening of new observatory spaces...and a second-floor museum...".

“We will reopen the universally-recognized symbol of New York City to the world, our brand new $165 million Observatory experience, and so state that New York is resilient and that our future holds promise,” Anthony E. Malkin, president and CEO of Empire State Realty Trust, said.

View from Brooklyn through bridge

View from Brooklyn through a bridge

Photo by Carter B. Horsley

In a December 2, 2020 article at 6sqft.com, DEVIN GANNON noted that "In partnership with the city’s tourism agency, NYC & Company, Empire State Realty Trust created an interactive, visitor-focused experience, which includes personalized digital itineraries, the building’s classic viewfinders, film, original artwork, and more. It added that the "102nd-floor observatory to the public in October, with the second-floor museum opening earlier in the summer."

View from south on the avenue

View from south on the avenue

Photo by Carter B. Horsley

The NYC & Company exhibit, dubbed “NYC: Above and Beyond,” has five interactive videos that ask visitors questions about their interests and length of trip. Then, a customized itinerary will be created that will include site suggestions throughout the five boroughs. Visitors can download the travel plan through an email or directly to any handheld device.

Anthony Malkin, the chairman and CEO of the Trust, said “The completed Empire State Building Observatory elevates our Guests’ experience, from our new entrance to the dramatic and exciting 102nd floor,” Malkin said in a statement. “At 88 years young the Empire State Building remains the icon of innovation, aspirations, and dreams, and is the vibrant ancestor of all tall buildings around the world.”

The article also noted that "Other exhibits on the 80th floor include “Artistry in Light,” a film about the building’s music-to-light shows, a famed NYC skyline drawing by British artist Stephen Wiltshire, and augmented reality scenes of the Big Apple seen through a pair of old-fashioned binoculars.

In addition to the revamped 80th floor, the redesign included a new observatory entrance on West 34th Street to reduce foot traffic on Fifth Avenue, a 10,000-square-foot museum from Thinc Design on the second floor, and the 102nd-floor observatory set 1,250 feet above street level and includes 24 floor-to-ceiling windows and 360-degree views.

2009 view from the southeast

2009 view from the southeast

Photo by Carter B. Horsley

In an October 11, 2019 article 6sqft.com Devin Gannon wrote that building owner Empire State Realty Trust redesigned the highest observatory "to be less obstructive for guests, allowing more picture-perfect views and less time waiting," adding that "Guests on their way up to the 102nd floor get a never-before-seen look at the inside of the tower’s mast while riding in an all-glass elevator from the 86th floor." 

“The 102nd-floor Observatory is the crown jewel of the Empire State Building,” Anthony Malkin, Empire State Realty Trust Chair and CEO, said in a statement. “We’ve removed all the obstructions and obstacles, giving guests access to a view that is centrally-located and unrivaled in New York City.”

"A 10,000-square-foot museum designed by Thinc Design (the firm behind the 9/11 Memorial & Museum exhibits) opened in July," the article continuedm "and lets guests meander through the space, which helps eliminate lines. The path of the new exhibit, along with a new digital ticketing system, shortens the waiting and security check process, while strengthening the relationship visitors make with the skyscraper. The exhibit explores the history of the Empire State Building, from its construction to its current state as a destination for A-listers and modern office space. Guests are surrounded by an animation of ironworkers shouting to each other and tossing hot rivets overhead, building models, and impressive black and white images.The museum also features a 72-screen movie theater that shows a montage of 600 clips that highlight the use of the Empire State Building in pop culture, accompanied by an original score. A hallway with original King Kong posters and 4D elements bring the ape to life, inviting guests to take a photo in his giant hands."

View from Madison Avenue and 34th Street

View from Madison Avenue

Photo by Carter B. Horsley

See thecityreview.com review of John Tauranac's excellent book on the Empire State Building.

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