The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

frightful vistas

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On this day in 1931, the Empire State Building opened for business.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Empire State Building was completed a month and a half ahead of schedule, no doubt due to the influence of the “official” head of the project’s influence. A mostly ceremonial and political position, former NYS Governor Al Smith was nevertheless the boss. The real players in the construction of the icon were an investor group led by Louis G. Kaufman, Ellis P. Earle, John J. Raskob, Coleman du Pont, and Pierre S. du Pont.

John J. Raskob was the prime mover, however. Everything and everybody else on the project were just political window dressing or finance.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Empire State Building was designed by William F. Lamb, of the architectural firm Shreve, Lamb and Harmon. The actual construction of the thing was accomplished under the oversight of the Starrett Brothers and Eken, Paul and William and James Farley’s General Builders Supply Corporation handled material delivery and deployment. John W. Bowser was the construction superintendent of the project, and structural engineer for the building was a fellow named Homer G. Balcom.

The plan for the Empire State Building was presented to the public on January 8, 1930. The entire operation, which included demolishing the old Waldorf Astoria which stood on the site, was accomplished in 16 months. The actual erection of the Empire State began in March of 1930.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just the facts; the Empire State Building rises 1,860 steps from the first to the 102nd floor, and it’s said to weigh 365,000 short tons (331,122 t). It encloses an internal volume of 37,000,000 cubic feet, and its exterior is covered in 200,000 cubic feet of limestone and granite. Construction of the tower incorporated ten million bricks, 370 short tons of steel, 1,172 miles of elevator cable and 2,000,000 feet of electrical wires. The building has a capacity for 20,000 tenants and 15,000 visitors. To the 102nd floor, Empire State is 1,250 ft tall, but is 1,453 feet 8 9⁄16 inches when you include its 203 ft pinnacle.

According to official records, the construction cost 7 lives, but contemporaneous socialist newspapers claimed that 42 deaths occurred during construction.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Personally speaking, I can tell you that the easiest way to say “New York City” in a photograph is to frame the Empire State Building into it. One of the “seven wonders of the modern world,” and for much of the twentieth century the tallest structure on earth, Empire State Building was the first of the “super talls,” although the Chrysler Building did technically arrive on the scene first. It’s pretty commonplace to see skyscrapers these days, but the significance of the Empire State Building to the generation that saw it rise – at the astounding pace of 4 1/2 stories a week – cannot be overstated.

For that NYC generation, who were either immigrants or the children of immigrants, the future had arrived.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When the generations of immigrants who pulsed into NYC during the high tide years of emigration – the 1850’s through the 1920’s – arrived here, what they found were a few grandiose structures like the Woolworth Building or the odd church or cathedral, but these were the exception. Manhattan had unpaved streets which pigs roamed around at night, and the building stock in NYC was squat. Tenements spread out in every direction, punctuated by occasional six to eight story industrial or office buildings.

Up until the 20th century – ship masts, industrial chimneys, Trinity Church’s steeple, and the towers of the Brooklyn Bridge formed the skyline.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For those of us who grew up in NYC, the Empire State Building was always aspirational. It represented “the City,” where we’d make our fortunes someday, escaping the humiliations and constraints of the blue collar neighborhoods we were born into. When returning from someplace else, spotting the Empire State Building was a signal that home was near.

Happy 87th Birthday, old fella.

Upcoming Tours and Events

May 12th – Exploring Long Island City – with NY Adventure Club.

Long Island City is a tale of two cities; one filled with glittering water-front skyscrapers and manicured parks, and the other, a highly active ground transportation & distribution zone vital to the New York economy — which will prevail?

Tickets and more details

May 17th – Port Newark Boat Tour – with Working Harbor Committee.

For an exciting adventure, go behind the scenes of the bustling Port of NY & NJ on our Hidden Harbor Tour® of Port Newark! Get an insider’s view of the 3rd largest port in the nation, where container ships dock and unload their goods from around the world. See how the working harbor really works and learn about what all those ships and tugs do. See giant container terminals, oil docks, dry dock repair, and more! Tickets and more details here.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 1, 2018 at 11:00 am

5 Responses

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  1. Beautifully photographed and written. You get an A+,

    BTW I can view the Empire State Building from one of my upstairs windows. Periodically at night, I can see, while reclining in my Barcalounger, the tourists’ camera flashes go off.

    georgetheatheist . . . inspirfed relaxation

    May 1, 2018 at 12:05 pm

    • inspirfed = covfefe

      georgetheatheist . . . inspirfed relaxation

      May 1, 2018 at 12:07 pm

  2. A couple of additional historical items of interest:

    The mast comprising the upper observation deck was originally intended to be a mooring for dirigible airships or zeppelins if you will, hence the term “mast”. However, the plan went over like a lead balloon, never getting off the ground due to the high winds.

    The second incident occurred on July 28, 1945 when a B-25 Mitchell medium bomber piloted by Lt. Colonel William Franklin Smith Jr. performed what in the sanguine technical language of the Bureau of Aviation Safety (the predecessor of the NTSB) referred to as a “controlled flight into terrain/building” between the 78th and 80th floor of the Empire State Building causing 14 deaths.
    That, however, was not in Col. Smith’s flight plan and in the lingua franca of us more plain folks, unfortunately he zigged when he should have zagged whilst flying in fog.

    Don Cavaioli


    May 1, 2018 at 2:15 pm

  3. Good post, Mitch. Informative with only a minimum of philosophical wang-twiddling (not that it isn’t also entertaining, in small doses), ha!


    May 3, 2018 at 2:20 pm

  4. […] Building – builders, timeline, how much it’s thought to weigh – check out this 2018 Newtown Pentacle post. My favorite of NYC’s great buildings from the twentieth century, the Empire State Building […]

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