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Inaccessible New York: Up To The 103rd Floor Of The Empire State Building

May 30, 2013 8:30 AM

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The Empire State Building as seen from 5th Avenue - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

The Empire State Building as seen from 5th Avenue – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

by Evan Bindelglass, CBSNewYork.com

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - In our Inaccessible New York series, we’ve taken you deep under the city at Grand Central Terminal.

Now we’ll take you high atop it at the Empire State Building.

A Delta Air Lines jet on approach to LaGuardia Airport as seen from the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

A Delta Air Lines jet on approach to LaGuardia Airport as seen from the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

The Empire State Building is a marvel of modern engineering. It was completed on May 1, 1931, after only one year and 45 days of construction.

Standing at 1,250 feet, it became the tallest building in the world, easily surpassing the Chrysler Building.

Serving as guide for our journey to some of its inaccessible places was Jean-Yves Ghazi, director of the Empire State Building Observatory.

Empire State Building Observatory Director Jean-Yves Ghazi in the building's lobby - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Empire State Building Observatory Director Jean-Yves Ghazi in the building’s lobby – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

“People come for many reasons. Some people because it’s romantic, because it’s a must-see, because they want to enjoy the view from above, because they want to propose to their girlfriend because they’ve seen it in the movies,” Ghazi said.

Every list you’ll see will tell you that there are 102 floors at the Empire State Building. But, in reality, there are 103. We were fortunate enough to get access to this area, which is off-limits to the general public.

Upper floors of the Empire State Building as seen from 7th Avenue - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Upper floors of the Empire State Building as seen from 7th Avenue – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

So, how did we get there?

First we had to go up to the 102nd floor observatory pod, which is open to the public, though it costs more than just visiting the 86th floor outdoor observation deck.

Interesting fact: When the Empire State Building was initially conceived and constructed, there was no antenna atop it. The top of the building was envisioned as a mooring mast for airships, with passengers disembarking on to the 103rd floor and the 102nd floor serving as customs and official port of entry into the United States.

But due to the strong air currents in New York, that proved to be impossible. The antenna was added in 1950 and brought the building up to 1,467 feet.

When we got to the 102nd floor, we made a hard right out of the elevator and there was a door to our left.

Jean-Yves Ghazi opens the door to the 103rd floor of the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Jean-Yves Ghazi opens the door to the 103rd floor of the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

When we went through that door and up the stairs, we entered an area usually only seen by engineers and celebrities.

Stairs to the 103rd floor of the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Stairs to the 103rd floor of the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

There is broadcasting equipment and other items that are part of the building’s operation.

Broadcast copper at the 103rd floor of the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Broadcast copper at the 103rd floor of the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Radio frequency warning at the 103rd floor of the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork) (Perhaps it's best we didn't get to stay up their for a long time)

Radio frequency warning at the 103rd floor of the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork) (Perhaps it’s best we didn’t get to stay up their for a long time)

There is also another staircase that leads to the “capsule” of the Empire State Building. It is called this because it resembles a space capsule like the command module from an Apollo mission. We weren’t even allowed up there.

Stairs to the "capsule" at the top of the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Stairs to the “capsule” at the top of the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Here you can see the inside of the hatch that is at the top of the original Empire State Building. Above is only the antenna.

The hatch at the top of the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

The hatch at the top of the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Then there is the view, which is right out this door.

Jean-Yves Ghazi opens the outer door at the 103rd floor of the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Jean-Yves Ghazi opens the outer door at the 103rd floor of the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

And here we have it. New York City from 103 floors up, unobstructed by glass and any possibility of glare. The view is awesome, but one of the really cool things about it that you can’t tell from a photo is that it is sensationally quiet.

“Certainly this is when you realize… Manhattan is an island. We are an island. We are surrounded by water,” Ghazi said.

View from the 103rd floor of the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

View from the 103rd floor of the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

A few more shots from 103 to come, but first check this out.

When you used to step through that door, you’d have to step up. See where the silver ends? That is how high the platform used to be.

Jean-Yves Ghazi shows the old height of the 103rd floor ledge of the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Jean-Yves Ghazi shows the old height of the 103rd floor ledge of the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

But to make it safer, they lowered the height of the outdoor area. Just imagine how nerve-wracking that must have been!

Jean-Yves Ghazi tries to demonstrate old height of the 103rd floor ledge of the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Jean-Yves Ghazi tries to demonstrate old height of the 103rd floor ledge of the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Now back to the view…

The view towards New Jersey from the 103rd floor of the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

The view of New Jersey from the 103rd floor of the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Another view towards New Jersey from the 103rd floor of the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Another view of New Jersey from the 103rd floor of the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Notice how far the Chrysler Building appears from up there.

Another view towards New Jersey from the 103rd floor of the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

The view due northwest from the 103rd floor of the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

ANOTHER INACCESSIBLE SPOT
 

The 103rd floor wasn’t the only spot we visited that is generally off-limits to the public. There is also the Celebrity Walk, which VIPs go through on their way to the observatory.

"Celebrity Walk" on the 2nd floor of the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

“Celebrity Walk” on the 2nd floor of the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Every year, they host celebrities for different occasions, usually associated with the lighting ceremony, where they activate the lights of a model in the lobby (more about that later).

But sometimes, celebrities come on their own just like any other tourist.

“Celine Dion came to the building one December with her son and an escort and we caught her in line. She was in queue to go to the top. So, certainly my team recognized her and then expedited her to the top, gave her the VIP treatment,” Ghazi said.

Now here’s the twist about the Celebrity Walk. If weather is poor and visibility is extremely low at the observatory, the walk will be opened to the public.


MORE COOL STUFF ABOUT THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING

The Lobby

In 2007, the Empire State Building embarked on an effort to restore the lobby to its original condition, part of the building’s $550 million renovation initiative.

The lobby of the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

The lobby of the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

In the 1970s, drop ceiling tiles and neon lights were installed because those were the in things to do, but that ruined the original ceiling.

So, part of the initiative was to restore it to its original glory.

Ceiling in the 5th Avenue lobby of the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Ceiling in the 5th Avenue lobby of the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Over two years, they traced back the original designs, which represents the “celestial skies,” as Ghazi put it. Some people also say the design is an interpretation of the machine age.

“If you look at the elements, they’re sort of like little pieces of… a machine from a time clock of some sort,” Ghazi said.

Some of those elements are also featured on the 86th floor.

Ceiling at the 86th floor of the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Ceiling at the 86th floor of the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

And on elevator floors.

Elevator floor at the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Elevator floor at the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

The lighting was restored to the original intent — five lumens.

Ceiling in the 5th Avenue lobby of the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Ceiling in the 5th Avenue lobby of the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

The restoration was unveiled in 2009 featuring 14 layers of aluminum leaves in the ceiling with the last layer being 3-carat gold.

One of the only things was really changed from the original design was the addition of spotlights to accent the 19 medallions representing various trades.

'Machines' medallion in the lobby of the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

‘Machines’ medallion in the lobby of the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Another cool addition to the lobby is a chandelier in a second floor internal bridge.

34th Street lobby at the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

34th Street lobby at the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Second floor bridge over the 34th Street lobby at the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Second floor bridge over the 34th Street lobby at the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

The architect responsible for restoring the ceiling came across notes that proposed this chandelier, but was never constructed.

Chandelier over second floor bridge at the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Chandelier over second floor bridge at the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

They couldn’t find out why it was never built. Perhaps it was a financial issue? Perhaps someone simply decided against it? But either way, it’s now there and fits in perfectly.

Chandelier over second floor bridge at the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Chandelier over second floor bridge at the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Another neat thing about the lobby is the book-matched stone. It’s a method of cutting that lets you see the different layers of evolution in the stone, which Ghazi said creates harmony.

Book-matched stone in the lobby of the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Book-matched stone in the lobby of the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

One thing you may not instantly notice about the lobby is that there is a scale model of the building just left of the information desk. You’ll probably notice the model. But what you may not notice is that it is lit to indicate the color that will be seen that night.

Scale model in the lobby of the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Scale model in the lobby of the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

The Sustainability Exhibit

When you visit the Empire State Building Observatory – after you go through ticketing – you automatically get to see the Sustainability Exhibit on the second floor.

It shows how the Empire State Building, as part of its massive renovation, has worked to become more energy efficient.

The Sustainability Exhibit on the 2nd floor of the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

The Sustainability Exhibit on the 2nd floor of the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

It is now LEED gold certified, having reduced energy consumption by more than 38.4 percent, Ghazi said.

One way they did that that was by refurbishing the 6,514 windows.

“We didn’t replace the glass. We took double-pane glass which was already in place, disassembled it… on the 5th floor… cleaned it, sealed it back up after putting Mylar film, sealed it, inserted krypton and argon gas. The mixture basically quadrupled, four-fold, the insulating barrier — if you will of the window itself,” Ghazi said. “So it made it far more energy efficient than it ever was before.”

“This exhibit is really to educate and hopefully to inspire,” Ghazi said.

‘Dare to Dream’ Exhibit

Visitors to the observatory have the option to visit, at no extra cost, an 80th floor exhibit called “Dare to Dream” about the construction of the building.

"Dare to Dream" exhibit on the 80th floor of the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

“Dare to Dream” exhibit on the 80th floor of the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

The photos featured in the exhibit are at times, spine-tingling, as you see the construction workers 1,000 feet over Manhattan with no hard hats and with nothing holding them to the structure.

"Dare to Dream" exhibit on the 80th floor of the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

“Dare to Dream” exhibit on the 80th floor of the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

“The exhibit is about speed, scale, and steel,” Ghazi said. “Speed because the building was built in one year and 45 days. Scale because it was the tallest building in the world at the time. And steel because it used over 57,000 tons of steel.”

Ghazi loves telling the story of the building’s rivets.

“They have this hot rivet that’s getting ready. The guy tosses the rivet to guy with the sash. Guy with the sash catches it, sets it in place, and the guys put it together,” he said. “That was automation at the time.”

He added that the workers were so specialized, they couldn’t train anyone to fill in if one took ill. They simply had to wait for the worker to get better.

Fun facts from the “Dare to Dream” exhibit…

It cost roughly $25,679,772 to construct the Empire State Building and, due to the availability of workers during the Great Depression, anywhere between 3,400 and 3,500 people were working on the building at any one time.

"Dare to Dream" exhibit on the 80th floor of the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

“Dare to Dream” exhibit on the 80th floor of the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Also, there were multiple cafeterias throughout the building as it was being constructed so the workers didn’t have to go far to take their lunch break.

Steel On The 102nd Floor

At the 102nd floor, visitors can see exposed steel that is the original steel from when the building was constructed. You can actually touch the rivets you read about at the 80th floor exhibit.

Jean-Yves Ghazi shows off the exposed steel on the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Jean-Yves Ghazi shows off the exposed steel on the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Years ago, that steel was covered, and exposing it has actually made the floor feel far less cramped than when I visited as a child. It’s one of the rare times anything feels bigger than when you were a child!

No More Gift Shop On The 86th Floor

The gift shop that was once on the 86th floor is there no longer there, which makes the interior feel far more open and less crowded.

The interior of the 86th floor observatory at the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

The interior of the 86th floor observatory at the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

ASSORTED VIEWS FROM THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING’S 86TH FLOOR

Lower Manhattan, including One World Trade Center, plus the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the distance as seen from the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Lower Manhattan, including One World Trade Center, plus the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the distance as seen from the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)


Lower Manhattan as seen from the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Lower Manhattan as seen from the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

LaGuardia Airport as seen from the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

LaGuardia Airport as seen from the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

The Chrysler Building with the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, LaGuardia Airport, Throgs Neck Bridge, and Bronx-Whitestone Bridge in the distance as seen from the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

The Chrysler Building with the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, LaGuardia Airport, Throgs Neck Bridge, and Bronx-Whitestone Bridge in the distance as seen from the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

The Bloomberg Tower, Citigroup Center, and MetLife Building with the RFK Bridge and Hell Gate Bridge in the distance as seen from the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

The Bloomberg Tower, Citigroup Center, and MetLife Building with the RFK Bridge and Hell Gate Bridge in the distance as seen from the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

30 Rockefeller Plaza with Central Park and the Harlem River bridges in the distance as seen from the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

30 Rockefeller Plaza with Central Park and the Harlem River bridges in the distance as seen from the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Bryant Park as seen from the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Bryant Park as seen from the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Looking northwest up the Hudson River from the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Looking northwest up the Hudson River from the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Looking to the northwest, Worldwide Plaza, 4 Times Square, the Time Warner Center, Bank of America Tower, Riverside Church, the George Washington Bridge, and more are seen from the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Looking to the northwest, Worldwide Plaza, 4 Times Square, the Time Warner Center, Bank of America Tower, Riverside Church, the George Washington Bridge, and more are seen from the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

One Worldwide Plaza as seen from the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

One Worldwide Plaza as seen from the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Macy's as seen from the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Macy’s as seen from the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

The Port Imperial ferry terminal in Weehawken with the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail tunnel behind it as seen from the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

The Port Imperial ferry terminal in Weehawken with the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail tunnel behind it as seen from the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

The Lincoln Tunnel ventilation towers in Weehawken as seen from the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

The Lincoln Tunnel ventilation towers in Weehawken as seen from the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

The Hoboken ferry terminal as seen from the Empire State Building - Apri 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

The Hoboken ferry terminal as seen from the Empire State Building – Apri 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Jersey City, including the Liberty Science Center, plus the Bayonne Bridge in the distance, as seen from the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

Jersey City, including the Liberty Science Center, plus the Bayonne Bridge in the distance, as seen from the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

The Flatiron Building as seen from the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

The Flatiron Building as seen from the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

One World Trade Center as seen from the Empire State Building - April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

One World Trade Center as seen from the Empire State Building – April 30, 2013 (credit: Evan Bindelglass / CBSNewYork)

JEAN-YVES GHAZI’S PARTING THOUGHT

“Located in the heart of Manhattan, the Empire State Building Observatory offers the most spectacular views of New York City and beyond. Really, we have the unobstructed 360 degree view. So, whether we look south, east, west, or north, incredible views and this viewing area where you experience the winds, all part of that element of that experience,” Ghazi said. “So, certainly we invite your customers and your guests to join us. Come visit us at the Empire State Building. We’re waiting for you to enjoy the most spectacular views.”

The 86th and 102nd floors of the Empire State Building are open 365 days a year. Hours are usually 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. Special hours apply on holidays. More information at the building’s official website.
Special thanks to Jean-Yves Ghazi, Elizabeth Sullivan, and Emily Kaplan at the Empire State Building. Video shot by Joe Cingrana of CBS Radio.
You can follow Evan Bindelglass on Twitter @evabin.
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