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.
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.
“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.
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.
When we went through that door and up the stairs, we entered an area usually only seen by engineers and celebrities.
There is broadcasting equipment and other items that are part of the building’s operation.
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.
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.
Then there is the view, which is right out this door.
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.
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.
But to make it safer, they lowered the height of the outdoor area. Just imagine how nerve-wracking that must have been!
Now back to the view…
Notice how far the Chrysler Building appears from up there.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
And on elevator floors.
The lighting was restored to the original intent — five lumens.
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.
Another cool addition to the lobby is a chandelier in a second floor internal bridge.
The architect responsible for restoring the ceiling came across notes that proposed this chandelier, but was never constructed.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.”