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Discover the Fascinating History of the Empire State Building

The Empire State Building is an iconic American skyscraper located in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. Standing 1,454 feet tall, it is the tallest building in the U.S. and one of the most popular structures across the world. Stay on this page to learn about the history of the Empire State Building and make your visit more meaningful!

Timeline:

1893: William Waldorf Astor established the Waldorf Hotel on the site of the Empire State Building.

1928: The hotel closed and was sold to the Bethlehem Engineering Corporation.

Aug 1929: The land was resold to Empire State Inc., who then purchased additional nearby land, making the size of the total site 2 acres.

1 Oct 1929: The Waldorf Hotel was demolished.

Dec 1929: Empire State Inc. acquired additional funding from the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.

17 March 1930: Construction of the Empire State Building began.

1 May 1931: 18 months after construction started, the Empire State Building was officially opened.

History of the Empire State Building

1800s

The site of the Empire State Building was initially owned by the Astor family in the mid-1820s. John Jacob Astor’s grandson, William Waldorf Astor established the Waldorf Hotel on the site. About 4 years later, William’s cousin, John Jacob Astor IV, constructed the Astoria Hotel, adjacent to the existing hotel. The joint property had an astounding 1,300 bedrooms, making it the largest hotel in the world at its time. 

Empire state building history

Early 1900s (1920 - 1940)

During the 1920s, the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel which was once a prime location in New York City started becoming obsolete. It was eventually sold to the Bethlehem Engineering Corporation in 1928 for about $20 million and then resold to Empire State Inc. in August 1929. 

On 1 October 1929, the hotel was completely demolished and talks began about constructing a new building. At the end of the year, Empire State Inc. acquired additional funding from the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company to complete the project. By March 1930, construction of the new building began, which was completed 18 months later on 1 May 1931, under the direction of architects Shreve, Lamb & Harmon Associates, and Starrett Bros. & Eken. The team managed to construct an unimaginable 4 and a half floors every week. 

Within just one year, people from all over the world paid a visit to the newest architectural icon. In 1933, the movie King Kong had its debut in New York, featuring the Empire State Building. This was one of the first iconic roles the building played in cinema. 

Empire state building history

Mid 1900s (1940 - 1960)

15 years after its establishment, the Empire State Building became the headquarters of many major companies, with about 15,000 employees working out of the building’s premises. In 1950, a 60-ton and 222-foot tall antenna was built, making the total height of the building 1,472 feet. A few years later, the building received the recognition of being one of the 7 greatest engineering achievements of the country. In 1956, 4 massive beacon lights were installed at the foot of the building’s tower, which were called “The Freedom Lights.” This was added to serve as a symbol of welcome and freedom for all its visitors. 

The Empire State Building went on to be bought by Lawrence A. Wien, Peter L. Malkin, and Harry B. Helmsley, for a whopping $65 million, which converts to approximately $557 million dollars today. This was the highest amount ever paid for a single building. 

The year 1969 saw an event called the Daily Mail Transatlantic Air Race, with around 360 participants flying all the way from London’s Post Office Tower to the Empire State Building in New York City.

Empire state building history

Late 1900s (1970 - 2000)

By the year 1976, the Empire State Building’s observatory saw over 50 million visitors. Although this was quite an accomplishment, the building now sees millions of visitors yearly. Later that year, white, blue, and red floodlights were installed on the tower, in honor of the colors of the American flag.

On 15 February 1978, a timeless tradition began with the inauguration of the Empire State Building Annual Run-Up, where participants had to climb about 1,500 steps to get to the top of the building. 

The iconic building went on to be declared a National Landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission on 18 May 1981, and then declared a National Historic Landmark in 1986.

Another tradition began on 14 February 1994, with over 250 couples getting married atop the Empire State Building. This is now a yearly televised event, covered by news companies around the world!

Empire state building history

2000s

The Empire State Building celebrates its 75th anniversary with the restoration of the art deco lobby and the original gold and aluminum ceiling. During the next year, the building was ranked No. 1 by the American Institute of Architects on the list of America’s Favorite Architecture, outranking the Golden Gate Bridge, the White House, and many other prestigious landmarks. 

In 2009, efforts began to make the Empire State Building more energy efficient. Authorized by President Bill Clinton and other officials, about $65 million was spent to install new elevators, windows, and other energy-efficient technology. Later that year in September, the original ceiling was restored in the Fifth Avenue Lobby, along with the painting of a large mural, which took about 20,000 hours to complete.

Keeping up with modern times, the Empire State Building went digital in 2010, gaining over 500,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter, a number that is now in the millions.

All the efforts to make the Empire State Building more energy efficient were recognized with two exemplary awards - the Green Power Leadership award and the LEED Gold certificate. 

New LED lights were installed on the tower in 2012, giving rise to magnificent and colorful displays. A few years later on 24 August 2018, a new entrance was unveiled on 34th Street, featuring a welcome wall and a full-scale model of the building. 

More features were added in the year 2019 like the 2nd and 80th-floor exhibits as well as a state-of-the-art observatory on the 102nd floor. 

Empire state building history

The Empire State Building Today

Empire State Building History



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Frequently Asked Questions About the Empire State Building’s History

Are there guided tours explaining the Empire State Building’s history?

Audio guides are available with your entry tickets. This way you get to learn more about the long history of the Empire State Building.

What is the most interesting fact about the Empire State Building’s history?

There are many interesting facts about the Empire State Building’s history - it was featured in the first King Kong movie in 1933, it was the tallest building when it was built, and televised weddings have taken place every Valentine’s Day since 1994. Scroll up to read more about the long and fascinating history of the Empire State Building.

How old is the Empire State Building?

The Empire State Building is in its 93rd year, after being established in 1931.

What is the Empire State Building famous for?

The Empire State Building is famous for being one of the oldest architectural marvels in the world. It is also known for its observatories, offering breathtaking views of the city.

Who built the Empire State Building?

The main architects behind the Empire State Building were Shreve, Lamb & Harmon Associates, and Starrett Bros. & Eken.

What is the architectural style of the Empire State Building?

The architectural style of the Empire State Building is known as Art Deco. This is a style that first emerged in France, giving the building a sleek and modern look.

How much does it cost to visit the Empire State Building?

Your Empire State Building tickets start from $44.

Is it worth visiting the Empire State Building?

Yes, the Empire State Building has been an iconic landmark worldwide since the early 1900s. Visit the exhibits and observatories inside the building for a memorable time.

When did the Valentine’s Day wedding tradition start at the Empire State Building?

The first set of weddings took place on 14 February 1994 atop the Empire State Building. It is now a yearly televised event.

Who owns the Empire State Building now?

The Empire State Building is currently owned by the Empire State Realty Trust.

When did the first Empire State Building Run-Up take place?

The first annual Empire State Building Run-Up took place on 15 February 1978. This race still takes place every year inside the building.

Is the Empire State Building a national landmark?

The Empire State Building was declared a national landmark in 1981.

When did the Empire State Building first appear on screen?

The Empire State Building made its debut appearance in the first King Kong movie of 1933.

What is the Empire State Building worth today?

The Empire State Building is valued at about $1.7 billion today.