Could you guess how many TV shows and movies the Empire State Building has been featured in? Since King Kong first scaled the gleaming skyscraper in 1933, the icon of New York has been featured on film a whopping 250 times. While it’s one of the city’s most recognizable sights, there’s plenty you might not know about the Art Deco building. Did you know that airships have tried to land here? That’s despite the building itself taking a long time to get off the ground – financially. Here are five fascinating facts about this New York City landmark.
1. The building was planned to be used as an airship docking station
Looking over the skyline of Manhattan would be a little different with aircraft landing on top of the Empire State Building. It may have been, if not for one less-than-promising example. On September 15, 1931, a small Navy airship docked on top for 3 minutes after circling the mast 25 times in 45-mile-per-hour winds. The ballast spilled and the aircraft moved with little control. Doesn’t sound like the smoothest way to make your grand NYC entrance, does it? Perhaps unsurprisingly, plans for the airship docking station were soon scrapped. It probably wasn’t the best idea for passengers to board crafts via ladders on the 101st floor. Fortunately, enjoying the spectacular views from the observation deck, you’ll be on top of the world anyway.
2. The skyscraper was built at record-breaking speed
We all have deadlines to keep, but imagine if your brief was “construct the world’s tallest building in 13 months”. It seems like a tall order until you realize you’ll be joined by 3,500 other workers. In just over 410 days up, the new skyscraper rocketed into the air and opened in 1930. The speed is difficult to imagine when looking out from the observation deck, and it didn’t come without a cost. At least 5 workers died during the building’s construction, even though it was finished ahead of schedule. Remarkably, the first 30 stories were completed before the ground floor plans were even finalized!
3. It took a long time to make any money
While the Empire State Building may be a shining symbol of the United States now, its perception wasn’t as rosy in the 1930s. The 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression almost bulldozed the whole project. With only a quarter of its retail space occupied in 1931, the “Empty State Building” was struggling. Cue the arrival of some truly bizarre publicity stunts. Want to attract renters? How about hosting a séance to contact the ghost of Thomas Edison on the 82nd floor? The entrepreneurial spirit even led to workers turning on lights on the upper floors to make them seem occupied. It wasn’t until World War II that the building finally made a profit. Of course, Rome – or rather New York City’s skyline – wasn’t built in a day.
4. Builders competed in a race to construct the world’s tallest skyscraper (at the time)
Sometimes in life, a little old-fashioned rivalry can be the best motivator. Back in the 1920s, competition in New York City was pretty frenzied. Building was booming, and every self-respecting entrepreneur wanted to win the “Race into the Sky.” Walter Chrysler, of Chrysler Building fame, was particularly keen to come out on top. To edge out the height of the Empire State Building, he had a spire built on his tower’s roof. But that wasn’t enough to put off the chief builder of the Empire State Building, John Raskob. He reviewed his plans and had 5 floors and a spire added to his own. At 360 meters (just under 1,200 feet) higher than the Chrysler’s observation deck, he had the last laugh.
5. Daredevils have parachuted from the top
With 1,576 stairs, you have to be fit as a fiddle to ascend – or descend – the Empire State Building on foot. In fact, there is an annual race for professional athletes to do just that. During the descent in April 1986, two British thrill-seekers opted for a novel approach. After hiding parachutes under their coats, they leaped off the observation deck on the 86th floor. Though they landed safely, one was arrested soon after. As for the other; he hailed a cab and got away (talk about gone in a New York minute). Parachuting down the side of skyscrapers isn’t your bag? Sounds like a skip-the-line ticket for the elevator could be the perfect way to experience the views from the top.