Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Empire State Building: The One and Only.

On the afternoon of April 30, 2012, steelworkers put in place the first column on the 100th floor at One World Trade Center, a.k.a., the “Freedom Tower,” and just like that, New York City once again had a new tallest building on its skyline. But no matter how much higher One World Trade climbs, and whatever skyscrapers follow in the years and decades to come, there will always be one building in Gotham that looms larger, and is viewed more fondly, than any other.

The Empire State Building opened for business on May 1, 1931, in the midst of the Great Depression, with New York governor Al Smith’s grandchildren cutting the ceremonial ribbon that introduced the 102-story wonder to the world. For four decades, it was the tallest building on the planet, before it was finally surpassed in 1972 by the World Trade Center towers anchoring lower Manhattan three miles to the south.
Today, long after losing its title as the tallest building in the world, and at a time when taller structures (everywhere, but especially in Asia) are rising at a dizzying clip, the ESB nevertheless still stands alone — literally and figuratively — on the Manhattan skyline.
Empire State Building by Alfred Eisenstaedt
Literally because, seen from the east or west of the island, its immediately recognizable and (somehow) graceful bulk rises unchallenged from a neighborhood that, by design or lucky chance, is devoid of any buildings even close to its size or grandeur; figuratively, meanwhile, the ESB stands alone because, for countless millions around the globe, the Art Deco masterpiece remains, at something like a primal, subconscious level, the world’s iconic — indeed, perhaps even its Platonic — skyscraper.
Yes, Dubai’s mind-boggling Burj Khalifa, almost a quarter-mile higher than the ESB, quite simply dwarfs it; Malaysia, Canada, Chicago, Saudi Arabia, China, Russia and other cities and countries all have buildings or freestanding structures that are taller than the Empire State. But one would be hard-pressed to find — with the possible exception of the ESB’s even more ornate, gleaming Deco neighbor to the north, the Chrysler Building — a more treasured skyscraper anywhere. An at-once elegant and imposing tower of limestone, granite, glass and steel, the Empire State Building when glimpsed from afar or studied from mere blocks away, at street level, is unique among modern edifices in its capacity to so suddenly and fully stir imaginations and cause hearts to race. (On what other building, anywhere in the world, could the lovestruck King Kong have so dramatically, romantically battled airplanes before plunging to his death?)
So … congratulations, One World Trade. It’s heartening to see a truly phenomenal skyscraper rising, once again, above lower Manhattan. But know that, three miles to the north, the city’s most beloved tower remains, as it has for 80 years, alone in the hearts of countless millions.
— Ben Cosgrove is the Editor of
Photo credit: Alfred Eisenstaedt
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