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King Kong's perch turns 75 Monday
The Associated Press
NEW YORK — Born in the Great Depression, it has weathered economic hardship, world war, labor strikes, murder, terrorist fears and a plane crash.
The Empire State Building, once the tallest building in the world and again the tallest in New York City, is turning 75 Monday.
A yearlong celebration is planned for the building, consisting mainly of monthly light shows, according to Lydia Ruth, spokeswoman for the corporation that runs the building.
Like London's Crystal Palace and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Empire State Building represented in its time "what we were capable of," says Carol Willis, an architectural historian and founder-director of Lower Manhattan's Skyscraper Museum.
Construction of the Empire State Building was one of the most remarkable feats of the 20th century. It took 410 days to build by 3,400 workers, many of them desperate for work at the height of the Great Depression. The work force was made up largely of immigrants, along with hundreds of Mohawk Indian ironworkers.
The 1,453-foot, 8-9/16-inch tower opened May 1, 1931, with President Herbert Hoover pressing a button in Washington to turn on its lights. Architect William Lamb, the chief designer, messaged former New York Gov. Alfred E. Smith from a ship at sea: "One day out and I can still see the building."
Timing of the opening was abysmal, coming as the Depression was deepening. It soon earned the nickname Empty State Building.
Built of steel and aluminum and faced with granite and Indiana limestone, it was for about 40 years the world's tallest building until surpassed in 1972 by the World Trade Center. It again became the city's tallest after airliners flown by terrorist hijackers destroyed the 110-story twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001. It now ranks ninth in the world, and second in the United States behind Chicago's Tower.
Excavation: Began Jan. 22, 1930.
Construction: Began March 17, 1930.
Design: Architectural firm of Shreve, Lamb and Harmon.
Cornerstone: Original laid by former New York Gov. Alfred E. Smith Sept. 17, 1930.
Framework: Rose at a rate of 4 ½ stories a week.
Construction time: One year and 45 days, including Sundays and holidays (completed ahead of schedule).
Height: The main building rises to 1,250 feet at the 102nd floor. Its total height is 1,453 feet, 8 9/16 inches to the top of the lightning rod.
May 1, 1931: President Herbert Hoover presses a button in Washington, officially opening the building and turning on its lights.
July 28, 1945: An Army Air Corps B-25 bomber crashes into the building between the 79th and 80th floors. Fourteen people are killed as the plane gouges an 18-by-20 foot hole, and one engine ploughs through the building, emerging on the other side. The structural integrity of the building is unaffected. Repair costs $1 million.
1986: The National Parks Service recognizes the building as a National Historic Landmark.
August 2004: After the death of actress Fay Wray, star of the original 1930s film "King Kong," the building stood in complete darkness for 15 minutes.
In the movies
The building has figured in about 90 movies, including "An Affair to Remember," "Sleepless in Seattle," "Manhattan," "On the Town," "Prisoner of Second Avenue," "Superman II" and of course "King Kong," featuring the giant ape that climbed to the top clutching Fay Wray to escape his captors.
Sources: Reuters and Empire State Building Web site
Its 102 floors are topped by a 200-foot tower designed as a mooring mast for dirigibles. The mast was never used because of dangerous updrafts, but it did serve "King Kong" movies as a perch for swatting fighter planes.
The building's image was hurt by the Sept. 11 attacks, which scared potential tenants who feared it could be the next target. In September 2001, 8 percent of the building's commercial space was empty. Today, that figure is 17 percent compared with 6 percent for the surrounding area, according to data from Colliers ABR real-estate firm.
Building management is fighting back with a massive renovation on the elevators, windows, plumbing and security. More than $75 million has been spent, though the improvement cannot provide tenants with wide-open floor plans because of the structure's bulky columns.
"The Empire State Building is making a concerted effort to reclaim some of its past glory," said David Hoffman, executive managing director of Colliers.
Out-of-towners still flock to its 86th-floor observation deck. Visitors have included Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth II, Cuban President Fidel Castro, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and Lassie.
On July 28, 1945 — three weeks before the end of World War II — an Army B-25 bomber lost in morning fog crashed into the north side of the Empire State Building, killing three crew members and 11 people in the building.
The impact shook the building, one of the plane's engines flew out the other side and crashed onto a roof far below, and an elevator operator survived a 1,000-foot plunge. The 14 deaths matched the number of workers killed in construction.
In 1997, a mentally disturbed man killed a Dutch tourist and wounded seven others on the observation deck and then killed himself.
The toll of other suicides is uncertain; a man who climbed the observation-deck fence and jumped to his death in 2004 was variously reported as either the 31st or the 34th. At least two would-be suicides survived when wind gusts blew them back onto the building.
Last week, a daredevil tried to parachute off the building but was stopped by officers.
The building absorbs about 100 lightning strikes a year but does not, as is popularly supposed, sway in the wind. The tower's rigid frame allows it to move less than two inches.
Material from Reuters is included in this report.
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