A lobby worthy of an Empire
A re-created mural was revealed Wednesday on the lobby ceiling of the Empire State Building. (Photo: RJ Mickelson/amNY)
Maybe when you work in the World’s Most Famous Building, the extraordinary becomes the mundane.Even when the building’s lobby is restored from its drab 1960s look to its Art Deco origins, you might not notice.
A number of employees who work at the Empire State Building hardly paid attention to the new lobby — or old lobby, rather — after it was unveiled Wednesday. Tourists seemed to notice, even if they didn’t know the look was brand new.
After two years and a $550 million renovation to the entire building, the crown feature of the project — a re-created mural on the lobby’s ceiling — was finally revealed. The mural, an aluminum leaf and gold glaze on canvas representation of the universe as cogs and wheels, is a third the size of a football field. The original fresco, which could not be restored, lies 6 inches above the new one in its deteriorated state.
“The irony is, as famous as it has always been on the outside, [the building] has never been as well known inside,” said Frank J. Prial Jr., the head architect on the project with the firm Beyer Blinder Belle.
The restored lobby, which now evokes the spirit of the original that opened in 1931, is meant to draw more attention to the historical interior, Prial said.For some people who work here it might take a few days — or someone to point it out — before they realize the giant gold painting unfolding over their heads.
“Typical New Yorkers. Always in a hurry,” Prial said.Iwona Zielinska, 27, has worked at the building for 3½ years and she didn’t take note of the lobby’s new luster. When it was pointed out to her, she said, “I have to walk around and really pay attention to it.”
Rey Lynn Goessling, 32, a tourist from Sacramento, had her camera pointed to the ceiling.
“I just think it’s really beautiful,” she said.
What she didn’t know was that she was among the first tourists to see it. She figured it had always been there, but the original was covered in the 1960s with a drop ceiling.
Not all workers interviewed was disinterested in their historically accurate office space.
Clara Kim, 31, and Michael Venezia, 32, who work in the building, were curious about the new look.
“We never look up,” Kim said. “ We were like: ‘Has it always been there?’”
One person who is more than familiar with the new lobby is Anthony Malkin, a managing partner in Wien & Malkin, which owns the building and oversaw the renovations.“The idea behind the lobby here is we have an absolute gem. One of the most important pieces of Art Deco in the city that had basically been adulterated,” Malkin said. “We looked to bring it back.”
At the same time, the rest of the building’s interior has been — or in is in the process of being — upgraded all the way to the 102nd floor observation deck. The building now features the most modern green standards, Malkin said, and the office floor plans have been opened up to accommodate larger tenants.
“The old Empire State Building is completely modernized for the 21st century, but at the same time is being restored to its original condition,” he said.