Deconstructing History: Empire State Building

Deconstructing History: Empire State Building

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Great Moments in Construction History: The Empire State Building

Ahh … the Empire State Building. Symbol of NYC, of ingenuity, of giant monkey’s who capture young girls and swat airplanes. Once the tallest building in the world, the Empire State Building has a storied past and an exciting construction history.

This 102 story art deco building was designed by Shrev, Lamb and Harmon. The design was changed 15 times until it was ensured to be the tallest in the world. William F. Lamb presented the completed architectural design in just two weeks. This was due to using the firms’ earlier designs for the Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem, NC, as the basis. The tower was designed top-down due to the 1916 zoning act, which forced Lamb to design a structure incorporating setbacks. This resulted in the lower floors being larger than the upper.

DID YOU KNOW: The building staff at the Empire State Building sends a Father’s Day Card to the building staff at the Reynolds building every year?

The original plan was to start construction on October 24 th . However, the New York Stock Exchange suffered a sudden crash marking the beginning of the decade-long Great Depression. Raskob refused to cancel the project, despite the economy, because of the progress that had been made up to that point. Luckily for the project, neither Raskob nor Smith suffered financially in the crash. Most of the investors, however, were affected, and as a result, in December 1929, Empire State Inc. obtained a $27.5 million loan from Metropolitan Life Insurance Company so construction could begin. Although there was no demand for office space, due to the financial crash, the team began construction. If they had not, the project would have resulted in greater losses for the investors. This just goes to show that projects can still, successfully, get off the ground, even in a financial downturn.

Now, as far as the construction itself: A structural steel contract was awarded on January 12th, 1930, with the excavation of the site beginning ten days later on January 22nd. Back to the true non-union conditions of it all Two twelve-hour shifts, consisting of 300 men each, worked continuously to dig the 55-foot foundation. Small pier holes were sunk into the ground to house the concrete footings that would support the steelwork. Construction on the building itself started on March 17th, with the builders placing the first steel columns on the completed footings before the rest of the footings had been finished. Four colossal columns, intended for installation in the center of the building site, were delivered they would support a combined 10,000,000 pounds when the building was finished!

From there, construction proceeded at a rapid pace during one stretch of 10 working days, the builders erected fourteen floors. This was made possible through precise coordination of the building’s planning, as well as the mass production of common materials such as windows and spandrels. The scale of the project was massive, with trucks carrying 16,000 partition tiles, 5,000 bags of cement, 450 cubic yards of sand, and 300 bags of lime arriving at the construction site every day. The team also had to get crafty in sourcing materials, which, due to the economic climate, had become hard to find. The marble, for example, ended up being sourced from Germany in order to get the required look.

The team made some interesting decisions to cut time and make sure their laborers were taken care of. Cafes and concession stands on five of the incomplete floors (so workers did not have to descend to the ground level to eat lunch) and temporary water taps were installed (so labor would not have to go to ground level to buy bottles of water). Carts (running on a small railway system) transported materials from the basement storage to elevators, to another set of tracks on the desired floors—thus expediting getting materials to the numerous levels.

While construction progressed, the final designs for the floors were being designed from the ground up (as opposed to the general design, which had been from the roof down). Some of the levels were still undergoing final approval, with several orders placed within an hour of a plan being finalized. The Empire State Building was structurally completed on April 11th, 1931, twelve days ahead of schedule and 410 days after construction commenced. Al Smith shot the final rivet, which was made of solid gold.

The project involved more than 3,500 workers at its peak, including 3,439 on a single day, August 14th, 1930. Many of the workers were Irish and Italian immigrants, with a sizable minority of Mohawk ironworkers from the Kahnawake reserve near Montreal. According to official accounts, five workers died during the construction. This was long before the days of safety plans and OSHA. As we can clearly see by the many photos that were taken, rigging was NOT something seen as an importance in those days.

The Empire State Building cost $40,948,900 to build, including the demolition of the Waldorf–Astoria (equivalent to $628,673,504.32 today). This was nearly $20k lower than the $60 million budgeted for construction. Imagine being able to value engineer THAT much of a savings for your owners!? That said, due to the financial crash, the owners did not make a profit on the building until the early 1950s

So much about the building of the Empire State Building resonates with much of what we – as contractors – are still dealing with 89 years later. We can learn that, despite any financial hardships, great structures can be built and history made.

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It took 90 minutes for Daily News to 'steal' the Empire State Building

In one of the biggest heists in American history, the Daily News "stole" the $2 billion Empire State Building.

The News swiped the 102-story Art Deco skyscraper by drawing up a batch of bogus documents, making a fake notary stamp and filing paperwork with the city to transfer the deed to the property.

Some of the information was laughable: Original "King Kong" star Fay Wray is listed as a witness and the notary shared a name with bank robber Willie Sutton.

The massive ripoff illustrates a gaping loophole in the city's system for recording deeds, mortgages and other transactions.

The loophole: The system - run by the office of the city register - doesn't require clerks to verify the information.

Less than 90 minutes after the bogus documents were submitted on Monday, the agency rubber-stamped the transfer from Empire State Land Associates to Nelots Properties LLC. Nelots is "stolen" spelled backward. (The News returned the property Tuesday.)

"Crooks go where the money is. That's why Willie Sutton robbed banks, and this is the new bank robbery," said Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney Richard Farrell, who is prosecuting several deed fraud cases.

Of course, stealing the Empire State Building wouldn't go unnoticed for long, but it shows how easy it is for con artists to swipe more modest buildings right out from under their owners. Armed with a fraudulent deed, they can take out big mortgages and disappear, leaving a mess for property owners, banks and bureaucrats.

"Once you have the deed, it's easy to obtain a mortgage," Farrell said.

Many crooks have done just that:

- Asia Smith stole her 88-year-old grandmother's house in Springfield Gardens, Queens, pocketing $445,000 in mortgages she took out.

"Her grandmother raised her," said Queens Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kane. Smith, 22, was arrested last December and is serving a one-year jail term for fraud.

- A man posing as someone who had been dead for 19 years deeded the dead man's property to himself. He then sold it to the scheme's mastermind, who took out a $533,000 mortgage and vanished with the cash.

- Toma Dushevic managed to steal seven dilapidated city-owned buildings in Brooklyn 10 years ago.

He got renovation permits, fixed up one of the buildings, and rented out apartments. He sold another building for $250,000 and ran his scam for nearly two years until he was caught. Dushevic returned the buildings and did 18 months behind bars.

The FBI says financial institutions filed 31% more Suspicious Activity Reports involving mortgage fraud last year than in 2006. Nationwide, lenders' losses totaled $813 million, and New York was one of the top 10 mortgage fraud states.

In the city, deeds accepted by the register's office are recorded on that agency's Web site, where they are easily viewed and are the basis for mortgage transactions.

The News investigation disclosed that mortgage brokers, representatives of title companies, lending banks, lawyers and others in the mortgage process often failed to verify identification and other information provided by the thieves.

Unlike the city employees, the brokers and others should check mortgagors' information, their professional trade associations say.

In one Queens deed fraud case, a mortgage broker and title company representative are accused of taking part in the scam. They are charged with helping obtain $1.4 million in mortgages from two of the biggest banks in the city on behalf of the scammer, who has vanished.

In all cases The News reviewed, the city register's office accepted and recorded the fraudulent mortgages.

Unlike the thieves, The News did not obtain a mortgage on the Empire State Building.

Instead, The News returned the property to its rightful owners Tuesday - less than 24 hours after the fake deed was filed. The News also is withholding key details of how the scam works.

Real thieves get the mortgage cash, ripping off banks and leaving the properties' owners with mortgage debt and ruined credit.

"Mortgages stay with properties," Farrell explained.

When the victims don't pay the mortgages they didn't take out, lending banks foreclose on the properties.

A major tool thieves use is the notary stamp on documents, one item city employees check.

"They don't check to see if it's real, but they do check to see if it's there," said a lawyer familiar with the system. The stamps are easy to get and cost about $30.

History of Empire State Building Construction

Two similar skyscrapers appeared in New York at about the same time. The Chrysler Building appeared first. The building has 77 floors. It was the highest structure in New York until the Empire State Building was built. For 39 years, from 1931 to 1970 it used to be the tallest building in the whole world. Thus it became one of the most popular symbols of the USA. This building is the most conclusive confirmation of human development and the greatest contributions of humankind. Anyone who sees it for the first time (especially in the 1930’s) is always wondering how such magnificent construction could have been created by a man. And it still remains the 50th tallest building in the world.

Nowadays, working on such constructions in NYC, you have to be trained by an approved provider. Stay safe, take a fall prevention online course, and be prepared for the work. It will help you and your co-workers to get back home safely at the end of the day.

Docking on the Empire State Building

Ah, the romance of the airship. With its advent, passengers could finally be transported over great distances in comfort—even luxury. “On a plane you fly, but on the Graf Zeppelin you voyage,” remarked one pampered passenger. (For the Graf Zeppelin‘s first transatlantic flight, besotted crowds of 50,000 or more awaited its arrival at the landing field at Lakehurst, New Jersey in 1928, even though it was delayed a day due to bad weather. Millions more watched as the airship slowly made its way up the East Coast, floating over Washington, D.C., past Baltimore and above New York City.) The airship experience, however, didn’t come cheap. In 1928, a round trip transatlantic ticket went for $3,000, worth about $40,000 in today’s dollars.

But what about the photograph shown here? The New York Times reports that in 1929, “Alfred E. Smith, the leader of a group of investors erecting the Empire State Building,” announced that the height of the building would be increased by 200 feet so that a mooring mast for dirigibles could be installed. Smith noted that passengers would exit the airship down a gangplank, and a mere seven minutes later could be on the street, ready to experience everything Manhattan had to offer.

Dr. Hugo Eckener, the commander of the Graf Zeppelin, reports the New York Times, dismissed the project as impractical, noting that dirigible landings required dozens of ground crew, not to mention plenty of rope. “The notion that passengers would be able to descend an airport-style ramp from a moving airship to the tip of the tallest building in the world, even in excellent conditions, beggars belief,” notes the Times.

In 1930, International News Photos distributed this manipulated photograph. At the time, no airship had docked at the Empire State Building. That didn’t happen until September 1931, when a privately-owned dirigible docked for a mere three minutes, in a 40-mile-per-hour wind. “Traffic was tied up in the streets below for more than a half hour as the pilot, Lieutenant William McCraken jockeyed for position in the half gale about the tower 1,200 feet above the ground,” the Times reported in 1931.

This image—and 200 others—are on display at the National Gallery of Art in the exhibition “Faking It: Manipulated Photography before Photoshop.” The exhibition runs through May 5, 2013.

The history behind the Empire State Building, and why it matters today

On May 1, the Empire State Building turns 90 years old in New York City. Its opening in 1931 was widely celebrated: “the world’s loftiest building,” cheered the New York Times. But as the Great Depression deepened its hold on the American people, the 1,250-foot-tall structure became a national symbol of economic overreach, mocked as the “Empty State Building.” The investors nearly drowned in a sea of red ink. Yet they held on.

By the end of World War II, the Empire State Building towered over the adversity that had shaken its foundations. Ninety years later, confronted by new society-wide-crises, we can still learn from the tenacity of the Empire State Building’s developers, who refused to let the challenges of their time defeat them and the building they championed.

The primary visionary — and moneyman — behind the Empire State Building was John J. Raskob. Raskob was a mostly behind-the-scenes figure in elite circles. He had quietly helped Pierre du Pont create the modern DuPont Corporation. Then he worked with William Durant and Alfred Sloan to turn General Motors into the world’s auto industry leader. Raskob was a financial genius who loved nothing more than putting together deals that filled out the corporate firmament.

Raskob’s business accomplishments made him a figure of renown. The New York Times wrote of Raskob in 1928: “Here was a genius at organization with a breadth of vision and gift for seeing into the future.”

Searching for new worlds to conquer, he teamed up with New York Gov. Al Smith and became Smith’s 1928 presidential campaign manager and chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Raskob was among the first of a now common type in American politics: the immensely wealthy man who uses his money and connections to take a seat at the high table of party politics. Raskob hoped to parlay his premier role in the Smith campaign to an appropriate position in a Smith presidency, perhaps secretary of the Treasury.

But after Smith came up short in the presidential race against Herbert Hoover, Raskob, without missing a beat, turned his eye to New York real estate.

He did so in part because he anticipated the stock market crash. After making millions of dollars in the Great Bull Market of the 1920s, he had begun selling his shares. But he also expected the coming market correction to be short-lived and didn’t think it would affect the broader economy. In the meantime, he figured that investing in New York real estate development would be a prudent choice.

And he was in good company. In 1928, with the U.S. economy booming, wealthy men put up 760 buildings in New York City, dramatically raising its skyline. The American capitalist elite competed to put their stamp on the city while profiting handsomely from what they believed to be a never-ending real estate bonanza in the world’s financial capital. Raskob wanted in, and he wanted to build higher than all the others, including his good friend Walter Chrysler.

In pursuit of his new passion, Raskob devised a development deal involving the site of the soon-to-be-demolished Waldorf Astoria hotel. With a nudge here and a quiet meeting there, Raskob outmaneuvered and replaced the original developer. He brought in several of his favorite people as investors: the banker Louis Kaufman, Metropolitan Life President Frederick Ecker and longtime friend and colleague, du Pont.

Raskob also appointed Smith president of the Empire State Building — after losing the 1928 presidential race, Smith needed a job. It was an all-star team. Raskob wrote to his sister: “It is going to be a beautiful structure and, of course, the largest office building in the world. The Governor and I are having a lot of fun building it.” Raskob assumed that with all of his business connections, combined with Smith’s many allies in state and city government, he would have no problem leasing out the Empire State Building’s 2.8 million square feet of office space.

Amazingly, the Empire State Building was constructed under budget by some 3,400 men in just over a year. It towered over the Chrysler Building and every other skyscraper in New York City, and, indeed, anywhere in the world.

On May 1, 1931, at 11:30 a.m., President Herbert Hoover, champion of the 1920s “New Era” alliance between business and government, who hoped to provide Americans with a note of optimism amid the economy’s darkening clouds, flipped a switch that turned on the building’s lights. A bevy of prominent New Yorkers gathered on the 86th floor where they marveled at “men and motor cars creeping like insects through the streets.” Soon thousands more would take in the panorama from the building’s observation deck on the 102nd floor.

While people flocked to the building’s observation decks, paying tenants were much harder to come by. In 1929, before the stock market crash, office buildings in New York City could count on leasing at least 50 percent of available space even before construction had been completed. The Empire State Building opened with just 20 percent of its space leased, and much of that was taken by the building’s own investors. Despite efforts by Smith, Raskob and the rest of their team to get friends and business associates to lease space, the building remained ghostly quiet. Red ink flowed.

Raskob, the primary investor, broke one of his cardinal rules: Use “Other People’s Money” when undertaking risky investments. Instead he poured his own wealth into the building to keep it afloat. From his palatial office on the building’s 80th floor, Raskob stayed the course. During the war and immediately thereafter, as the U.S. economy grew, tenants began to find their way to the Empire State Building’s empty floors. Finally, in 1950 the building turned a strong profit as commercial real estate rebounded and midtown Manhattan boomed.

Raskob lived to see his building triumphant. But just barely. He died in 1951. His family sold his investment for some $51 million (more than a half-billion in current dollars). Much of the money went to the Raskob Foundation for Catholic Activities, which the extended Raskob family oversees to this day.

20 Incredible Photos of the Construction of the Empire State Building

The Empire State Building, the 102-story skyscraper on Fifth Ave. between West 33rd and 34th Streets in Midtown Manhattan stands 1,454 feet tall. It was the world&rsquos tallest building for 39 years from its completion in 1931 until the World Trade Center&rsquos North Tower was completed in 1970. It has been named one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Excavation of the site began on January 22, 1930 and construction of the building began on March 17. The project involved 3,400 workers, mostly European immigrants, as well as hundreds of Mohawk iron workers. Despite an astonishing lack of safety regulations, only five workers died during construction.

The construction of the Empire State Building was part of a competition in New York City for the &ldquoworld&rsquos tallest building&rdquo with 40 Wall Street and the Chrysler Building. The Empire State Building surpassed both buildings in height upon its completion in April 11, 1931, 12 days ahead of schedule.

1929-1931 Empire State Building under Construction. mashable New York 1950s. Worker on Empire State Building. servatius Sept. 29, 1930 Flirting with danger is just routine work for the steel workers arranging the steel frame for the Empire State Building, which became the world&rsquos tallest structure when completed. Pinterest Steel worker Carl Russell sits at 1,222 feet (400 meters) on top of a steel beam casually waving to the cameraman. Imgur Oct. 29, 1930 A construction worker hangs from an industrial crane during the construction of the Empire State Building. BETTMANN: CORBIS Feb. 28, 1956 &ldquoWorkmen place one of the new beacon lights in position on the 90th floor of an impressive electronic crown in the form of four far-reaching night beacons. Combined, the four Empire State Night lights will generate almost two billion candle power of light and will be the brightest continuous source of man-made light in the world. Engineers say the beacons can be seen from as far as 300 miles. Cost of the installation is $250,000.&rdquo BETTMANN/CORBIS 1) July 30, 1945 &ldquoWorkmen erect scaffolding on the 33rd Street Side of the Empire State Building as reconstruction work on the skyscraper begins. In spite of the damage the structure suffered when a B-25 crashed between the 78th and 79th stories, the world&rsquos tallest building was open today (July 30th), two days after the tragic accident.&rdquo BETTMANN/CORBIS 1) Sept. 19, 1930 &ldquoWorkmen at the new Empire State building that is being erected on the site of the old Waldorf Astoria Hotel at 34th Street and 5th Avenue. in New York, by a corporation headed by the former Governor Al Smith, raised a flag on the 88th story of the great building, 1,048 feet above the street. The flag thus is at the highest point in the city higher than the Crystler Building. Photo shows the workmen at the ceremonies.&rdquo BETTMANN/CORBIS Sept. 29, 1930 Erected on the site of the old Waldorf Astoria, this building will rise 1,284 feet into the air. A zeppelin mooring mast will cap this engineering feat. Mashable

History of Innovation

Building (innovation): Empire State Building (fast-track construction)
Location: 350 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10118
Construction Years: 1930-1931
Owner: Bethlehem Engineering Corporation
Architect: Shreve, Lamb & Harmon Associates
Size: 2.85 million rentable square feet

The Empire State building began construction in 1930, and has a total height of 1,454 ft (433.2m). It is designed in the art deco style and is considered one of the greatest pieces of American architecture. Due to the use of four facades, each facing a different street, the architect managed to create a feeling of a front on each side. At the time of construction it became the tallest building in the world and held that record from 1931 until 1972 . Due to the nature of the build, the general contractors had to buy custom equipment in order to create the design. Construction occurred using a new method called fast track construction , where construction begins before the designs are completely finished, and each part of the work was controlled using a detailed construction schedule, maximizing the efficiency of the different construction trades . By using this method, the entire construction process occurred in just 410 days and was completed under budget and 3 months ahead of schedule despite the purchase of new equipment. `


The site of the Empire State Building was originally where the Waldorf Astoria Hotel stood on Fifth Avenue. The hotel was razed to make way for the Empire State Building in 1928. Construction began in 1930, and the plans were for the building to be at least 100 stories tall. Shreve, Lamb, and Harmon Associates were the architects, and Starrett Brothers & Eken were the builders on the project. It took just one year and 45 days from start to finish to build the Empire State Building, and the construction of the 102-story building dominated the news. On May 1, 1931, the lights on the building were illuminated for the first time.

Watch the video: Construction of the Empire State Building


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