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Make Like King Kong on New York City’s Empire State Building

Empire State Building

The View From Here: No Trip to NY is Complete Without an Elevator Ride to the Sky at the Empire State Building, something I’d waited my whole like to do (so I could wait another hour):

In This New York Article You Will Discover:

  • The Draw & Mystery of the Empire State Building
  • What to Expect During Your Visit
  • History of the Building


Empire State Building on Fifth Avenue

En route to New York, I knew the one thing I had to do no matter what was head up the Empire State Building. My girlfriend wanted to go shopping. Then to a Broadway Show. Me? I wanted to wait in line to take an elevator ride.

In fact, a ride up to the Observation Deck of one of the world’s most famous buildings is something I had wanted to do my whole life. And I’m not even really sure why. Perhaps it is pop culture — from King Kong, to the various comic books I would read as a kid (even fictional cities Metropolis and Gotham City had their version of the ESB — it was clear). I have always been captivated by the mystique of the Empire State Building.

When we arrived in NYC, I heard Rockefeller Center had a better view of Manhattan — mostly because you get to actually look at not from the ESB.

But I didn’t care. King Kong didn’t climb Rockefeller.

The Empire State Building is considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. At 443 metres tall (1,453 feet) it is the tallest building in New York and the third tallest in America. It is quintessentially Art Deco, with a bit of Gothic thrown in for fun, and it is beautiful. Iconic. Almost surreal.

And when I got my first view — smaller than I had imagined. NYC is full of 50-storey-plus buildings, so a clear view at the Empire State Building is actually hard to find within the city boundaries. From New Jersey, the silhouette of the ESB towers over all, but from within Manhattan Island, although it is hugely taller than any other building, the mighty ESB seems almost overwhelmed by the concrete jungle.

86 Stories High

A new perspective: Looking down from 86 stories up. (Use your camera’s strap!)

That is, until you step out on the 86th floor observatory. From that height, on a clear day it is said you can see into four different states (not including NY). On our misty, rainy morning tour, though, we could only see as far as Jersey.

But you truly look down on America’s biggest city. The skyscrapers that blocked out the sun from street level are hundreds of feet beneath you — puny. Streets are rivers of yellow taxis. People are indistinguishable. You are on top of the world.

I can’t help but wonder what New Yorkers thought when this leviathan was being built in 1930 to 31. It must have blown their freakin’ minds. It even led at least 30 people to off themselves in fantastic style with a swan dive onto Fifth Avenue.

One such suicide, committed by a distraught Evelyn McHale was dubbed the “most beautiful suicide” by Life magazine in 1947… although I’ve yet to figure out why.

Even today, the ESB is impressive as the 15th tallest building in the world; remarkable considering it is 80 years old.

Empire State Building

The author plays tourist by spying on occupants of nearby buildings.

And frankly, that the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago is a bit taller doesn’t take anything from the might ESB. Like I said about Rockefeller Center — it just ain’t the Empire State Building. Even the under-construction Freedom Tower, to be 1776 feet tall, still will never have the mystique or capture the world’s attention like the Empire. Heck – there’s a reason more than 110 million people have come to visit this building, right?

A trip up the Empire State Building is one more check on my life’s bucket list. Sure it’s touristy to a fault. Sure, $20 to ride up an elevator then an additional $15 for the 102-floor observation deck (I stayed on the 86th floor open-air observatory) is a gouge. Sure the lineups can be a nightmare (go early in the day or late at night on a weekday).

empire state building

Erin looks out over New York from 86 stories up.

But being in the same league as King Kong? Priceless. Throughout my week of Broadway shows, shopping and museums, it may be the simple act of taking an elevator to the top of the world’s most iconic skyscraper that sticks with me the longest.

Call it an Empire State of Mind.

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About the author: David Webb is a Vancouver, BC-based travel writer, photographer and magazine editor.

1 comment… add one
  • NYC Guy Sep 16, 2010 Link

    I’ve never been up. Lines r 2 long for me. Evs.

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