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Empire State Building

Richmond Shreve and William Lamb designed the Empire State Building in 1929, the beginning of the Great Depression. They were given the job by John J. Raskob who had bee the chief financial officer of General Motors.

They had until 1 May 1931 to put up the building. This period of only 20 months to put up the tallest building in the world (at the time) was established to minimize the time the building would not be collecting rents. The building went up at a fiery pace. This was made possible in part by the depressed economy. There was very little competition for labor or materials. The building was faced with beautiful limestone and flush windows.

The Empire State Building was originally designed to have 65 stories, but competition with the builders of the Chrysler Building to be the tallest building in the world, moved this up to 80 stories. But, Chrysler responded by increasing the height of their own design, so Raskob had Shreve and Lamb added a 200 foot high dirigible mast making the building 1250 feet high.

All of this created some problems for the elevator contractor. Otis Elevator insisted that anything in excess of 1000 feet for an elevator could cause the cables to collapse. For this reason, the last five stories formed a penthouse that was serviced by a separate system. The building actually has several banks of elevators that service different levels. The number of elevators needed decreases at the higher levels, allowing the building design to actually narrow as it increases in height while still maintaining approximately the same amount of floor space.

The building was designed with multiple bays. This was done, not only for looks, but to increase the number of corner offices available to let. Though the building had been planned with the boom times of the 1920s in mind, it opened in the relatively poor times of the 1930s. Rents were down and occupancy was low (25 percent at opening). Throughout the 1920s it was often called the "Empty State Building". Yet it survived this period to become one of the great landmarks of New York City.

Today its observation deck is one of the prime tourist attractions in the city.

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Other interesting articles:
The Pan Am Building
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W.J. Rayment


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