April 14, 2024
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April 14, 2024
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From the Ground Up: Experiencing The Legacy of the Empire State Building

Having served as our nation’s capital from 1785 through 1790, New York City is resplendent with America’s rich history, and still, more than two centuries later, New York City is the most populated city in the United States. Dubbed “The Big Apple, New York is replete with people bustling to and from work, countless entertainment venues, including hit Broadway shows, and over 250 skyscrapers that take humanity to never-before-seen heights. Recently, my wife, Ahuva, and I visited the edifice that stands out the most, the iconic Empire State Building, including going through the building’s museum, observatory deck, and its top floor.

Opening in 1931, the Empire State Building, standing at a towering 1,250 feet over the New York skyline, was the world’s tallest building for nearly 40 years. Over 3,400 construction workers built the building in record speed – just one year and 45 days, averaging two and a half floors a week! As a passionate movie buff, what I particularly cherished about the building is its rich history of being featured in numerous classic films, many of which are my all-time favorites. The Empire State Building has graced the backdrop of more than 250 television series and films, with notable appearances in iconic works such as King Kong (1933 and 2005), Sleepless in Seattle (1993), Elf (2003), Independence Day (1996), and James and the Giant Peach (1996).

To enter, we waited in line on 34th Street where our tickets were scanned by well-groomed attendees wearing gray, four-piece uniforms with matching caps donning a patch of the company’s logo – a drawing of the iconic building. Inside, an exhibit showcased a replica model of the building, which we took a picture of, and the giant ceremonial light lever used to turn on the building’s lights. We then waited in line for several minutes for the elevator. All around us were interesting and beautiful large photos of different angles of the building. There were also famous historical shots including King King on top of the building from 1933, and Minnie Mouse on the observation deck. After a few minutes, including going through a security check that felt like customs control at an airport, we entered the museum portion of the building.

Stepping into the museum, we were instantly transported back to the 1930s, a time when the Empire State Building was still under construction. Drawing inspiration from Lewis Hine’s renowned photographs, the first segment of the museum immersed us in the era’s atmosphere. The room was adorned with massive construction beams and statues depicting the hardworking laborers who built this architectural marvel. It provided an excellent opportunity for capturing unique photos and even posing alongside the simulated crew. Another display showcased some of the buildings’ original elevators, offering information on how they were operated, including a simulator of the elevator shaft which we were able to walk through. Other displays showed over 70 different images of the building in various media outlets, including famous movies, comic books, TV shows, and video games. Also presented were pictures of celebrities throughout the years, enjoying themselves on the building’s observation deck. Perhaps best of all, the final exhibit showcased the giant gorilla, King Kong, himself, clinging to the side of the building. Through the window, we saw the ape’s face with his eyes peering through to see the visitors and the continuous movement of his head from window to window. Inside the building, his two giant hands were situated, offering visitors to rest on his fingers and pose for pictures with the great beast. Following the museum, we, at last, arrived at the golden art deco elevator to take us to the observatory.

We entered the elevator, surrounded by marble-lined walls, and a bright screen indicated that we were on the second floor. Interestingly, the elevator did not have any buttons, as the attendant would press the elevator’s destination outside taking us on a direct ride to the 80th floor. The lift-up was my most preferred part of the experience. As the doors closed, the lights dimmed, and a voice resounded, “Welcome to the world’s most famous building.” Suddenly the ceiling lit to life, revealing a few floors above us that were under construction. Through the construction, a virtual blue sky was visible. With each passing moment, as the elevator climbed higher, the display’s number incrementally increased, perfectly synchronized with the ongoing construction, providing us with a remarkable perspective on the building’s construction process. Cranes quickly placed beams, and we saw workers sometimes fearlessly sitting on the latter or riding the cranes’ hooks. As we reached the 80th floor, the construction was simultaneously completed, and the doors opened. The ride-up was very smooth and extremely quick, taking us up 80 stories in roughly 40 seconds, but the time flew by as we were mesmerized by the video.

On the 80th floor, hoards of people were enchanted by the breathtaking panoramic windows around the floor. Through these magnificent windows, we were treated to awe-inspiring views of the entire city. Placed strategically throughout the floor were informative plaques, providing fascinating facts about the city, both past and present. We learned about the remarkable 410-day construction period, and the staggering weight of the building at 730,000,000 pounds, and were even guided by a touch screen that offered personalized recommendations on activities and attractions based on our preferences and length of stay. Since the line for the elevator was a bit long, we decided to walk up the 6 flights of stairs to the 86th floor which hosts the building’s famous outdoor observation deck.

It was a beautiful spring evening on the deck, roughly 60° outside, making it very comfortable to be outside. We took a picture by a large spring floral arch which had a sign saying “2023 Empire State Building’’. Behind us loomed some of the large New York skyline. We continued our way through the crowd, enjoying the spectacular views. Throughout the deck, there were free scopes allowing tourists to admire famous buildings and landmarks up close. On the south side of the deck, using the scopes, Ahuva and I were able to clearly see the Freedom Tower and Statue of Liberty. Gazing out over the sprawling metropolis, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of tranquility, looking down at the thousands of people and cars passing by below who all looked like ants from our high altitude.

After around 45 minutes of enjoying the outside deck, Ahuva and I made our way to a separate elevator which would take us to the 102nd-floor observatory. Getting to this floor requires a separate fee which not too many tourists seemed to partake in since this line was much shorter. The elevator was a glass elevator, and through the door, we were able to see the building’s intricate interior beams and structural design as we ascended. As the doors closed, the lights dimmed, and soothing futuristic music enveloped us, creating an ambiance akin to being aboard a futuristic space cruiser soaring through the skies. Along the elevator’s ascent, intermittent flashes of lights adorned the spaces between floors, reminiscent of the boat scene in the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie, as lights rapidly flew by them. About 30 seconds later, we made it to the 102nd glass-enclosed deck.

Unlike the large crowds of people on the 86th floor, the 102nd indoor observatory was much calmer, providing us with ample space to appreciate the surrounding vistas. We saw many famous landmarks, Madison Square Garden, the Chrysler Building, and the Hudson River snaking around the city. Despite it being a relatively small circular glass room compared to the 86th floor, Ahuva and I had great views of the New York sunset shimmering off the Hudson.
I asked the attendant if this was the highest floor in the building and she told me that it was. But in fact, I found out afterward that there is really one more hidden floor higher — the elusive 103rd floor. Only a few select people such as celebrities (like Taylor Swift) have ever been up this secret floor which requires climbing a ladder from the 102nd floor. On the 103rd floor, there is an even higher outdoor observatory that has a catwalk just two-feet wide and there’s only a waste-level bar that is protecting you. From the videos I’ve seen of it, it looks quite scary, but I wish I would have gotten a chance to do it (Ahuva said that there was no way she would have gone up there).

When we were finished viewing, we took the elevator back down to the 86th floor, followed by another elevator, down to the 80th floor, and finally, another elevator back down to the lobby. On the final elevator, once again there was another awesome virtual video playing on the ceiling. To cap off our spectacular visit, we walked through the building’s gift shop which was selling a lot of NY-themed, Empire State Building, and King Kong memorabilia.

For those of you interested in following the latest news about the Empire State Building, look on its website where you can sign up for alerts about which color the building will be lit up that night and why. For example, on Yom Ha’atzmaut, the building was lit up in blue and white, and in honor of the Knicks during their playoff run, the team’s colors: blue, orange, and white, were lit up. Additionally, you can sign up for emails to see which celebrities are coming on a particular day, such as Michael Strahan, Joe Torre and even P!nk! There are also sometimes special events open to the public. For example, the day after our observatory visit, Ahuva and I attended the 92nd birthday party for the Empire State Building, where we got to take a picture with the building’s costumed mascot Emma Pire!

If you have never been to the top of the Empire State Building, I highly recommend going this summer, especially as the weather gets warmer. Not only will you get to experience once-in-a-lifetime views, but you’ll learn a lot by going through the building’s interesting exhibits, and you will get some incredible photo opportunities. There’s a reason why over 4 million people visit this iconic building each year, and additionally, it’s conveniently located, just a few miles away from Teaneck. Just be on the lookout, in case a giant gorilla tries to grab you when you least expect it!

Admission: 86th outside deck only – Adult $44.00, Child $38.00, and Senior $42.00. With adding the 102nd-floor observatory – Adult $79.00 Child, $73.00, and Senior $77.00

Hours: 9am – 12pm daily

Address: 350 5th Ave. at 34th St. 10118

Phone: (212) 736-3100.

Website: www.esbnyc.com/visit

Zachary Greenberg is a consultant at Semler Brossy and the TABC track coach. At Semler, Zachary works on the 59th floor of the Empire State Building. Additionally, he recently watched the new Marvel film Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 in theaters. If you have any recommendations of fun places for Zachary to cover, email him at [email protected].

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