Once the tallest building in the world, the Empire State Building remains an impressive feat of engineering and art, and a symbol of New York's prosperity. Truly, it's named for New York's other nickname, the Empire State, and it's a perfect side trip attraction for exploring the city from above or learning about her historic charms in the educational exhibits. Student groups anticipating a learning adventure will benefit greatly from climbing (or riding the elevator) to the top of the world on a building like no other.
86 years ago, construction started on the world's tallest building. The Chrysler Building preceded it and prompted the building's designer, William F. Lamb, to think greater. Where many buildings are designed around its base, the architect and his firm put the focus higher up, up in the air above New York City. The visual focus of the building would be its height, so they designed her from the top down. Construction began on St. Patrick's Day, 1930 and utilized roughly 3,400 workers including immigrants from Europe and Native American iron workers from the Montreal region.
As the Empire State Building was getting underway, the Chrysler Building and others were vying for that top ranking as highest building. When the Chrysler Building finished construction in 1930, it beat out 40 Wall Street for the title, but the Empire State Building was hot on its tails. April 11, 1931, she was finished 12 days ahead of schedule with over 400 feet on the Chrysler Building, including the spire. While the Chrysler Building only held the distinction of being the world's tallest for 11 months, the Empire State Building was top dog for 39 years, only to be replaced by the original World Trade Center's North Tower in 1970. Even today, the Empire State Building is the second tallest in New York City, fifth in the whole United States, and 29th in the world.
It's certainly an impressive feat for early 20th century engineering, that redesigned the New York skyline and created a cultural icon for generations. A national landmark and voted the top spot of America's Favorite Architecture by the American Institute of Architects, the Empire State Building is more than just a record breaker. It's an institution of the city, a check mark on everyone's bucket list, and a symbol of hope, freedom, and the indelible spirit of the American Dream that pushes people to do better, be greater.
Like I said, everyone wants to see the Empire State Building, and they should. Whether for educational motives or out of general interest because the Observation Deck is insanely high up, it's still a good idea to stop by. Over the years, the building has acquired more and more attractions to play up the impressiveness of the view. While these are fun as side notes, the Observation Deck is still what everyone comes for. To date, over 110 million people have visited the top of the Empire State Building, drawn by the power of looking down on the city, of being so near the clouds you feel as if you could touch them. There are two operational Observation Decks, one on the 86th floor and on the 102nd which is wholly enclosed. The 86th floor deck is the highest open air observational deck in the entire city and affords 360 degree views of the entire city. You can see clear to the Statue of Liberty on clear days, and spot Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square and more from that impressive height.
You've probably seen the Empire State Building and its observation decks in movies and on TV. Some of the most famous begin with An Affair to Remember, King Kong, and all the way through contemporary romantic comedies like Sleepless in Seattle among others.
However, like I said earlier, the Observation Decks aren't the only things you can find at the Empire State Building. First, there's the Visitors Center on the second floor, newly renovated and complete with an educational exhibit on the building's new sustainability projects. From there you'll probably head upwards toward the 86th floor deck in which case you'll pass the Dare to Dream exhibit on the 80th floor, where you will change elevators for the last leg of your journey. Here is an interesting portrayal of the building's construction process, the history of the project and the city torn by the Great Depression, and the lasting symbol for which the building stands. There are fascinating photographs and personal possessions, documents and artifacts to create a visual history.
Also on the 80th floor is the official gift shop, Empire: The Store, which is 3,000 square feet of souvenirs, gifts, branded products, and more. It's a beautiful, well lit, and colorful Art Deco space that will round out any Empire State Building experience with flair. The store is open daily from 8 am to 2 am, the same hours as the Observation Decks so you can always stop by the store on your way down.
As it is still a working office building, the Empire State Building is home to a number of shops and restaurants, including the delicious (yet pricey) State Bar and Grill as well as a Starbucks, Walgreens, Europa Cafe, Chipotle, and more.
For educational groups, there are a number of academic resources to aid in your visit. There is an education center through the Empire State Building providing educational programs and worksheets for teachers over elementary and middle school grades. You are welcome to download the audio tour and explore the skyline with added information but upon visiting one of the most iconic buildings in the world, you may feel you need nothing more than the view. It is spectacular.