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Secrets of New York

The ultimate insider's guide to the best-kept secrets of NYC's must-see places and buzzed-about people.

The Empire State Building is one of New

The Empire State Building is one of New York's most iconic buildings. (Credit: Getty Images / John Moore)


Secrets of the Empire State Building as it celebrates 85 years

350 5th Ave., New York, NY 10118

New York's most iconic skyscraper turned 85 on May 1, 2016.

In 1931, the Empire State Building was completed, after only 11 months of construction. President Herbert Hoover pressed a symbolic button in the White House that triggered the lights in the lobby, officially opening the world's tallest skyscraper to the public.

More than 5,000 people were reported to have gone to the top of the building the first Sunday after the opening, and the building continues to attract thousands today.

The Empire State Building, which is 1,250 feet tall — 1,450 feet including the top of the spire — held the title for tallest building until the completion of the north tower of the World Trade Center in 1971.

Here are some secrets of the first building to surpass 100 floors.

The first Empire State Building is not the

Credit: Nicole Brown

There is another Empire State Building

The first Empire State Building is not the iconic skyscraper on 34th Street. Built in 1897, the original Empire State Building is the structure at 640 Broadway. It is a nine-story building on the southeast corner of Broadway and Bleecker Street.

John Tauranac, historian and author of "The Empire State Building: The Making of a Landmark," explained that the site was originally home to the Empire State Bank, but it burned down. When the new building was built in 1897, there was a branch of the bank in the building, which is how it got its name.

The Empire State Building's designer William F. Lamb,

Credit: Reynolds American Services Company

The Empire State Building has a 'dad' in North Carolina

The Empire State Building's designer William F. Lamb, from the architectural firm Shreve, Lamb and Harmon, also designed the Reynolds Building in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The Reynolds Building opened in April 1929 and served as the headquarters for RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company until 2010.

Named Building of the Year in 1929 by the National Association of Architects, the Reynolds Building is thought of as a "prototype" for the Empire State Building, said David Howard, a spokesman for Reynolds American Services Company.

In 1979, for the 50th anniversary of the Reynolds Building's opening, the staff of the Empire State Building sent a birthday card to the staff.

"Happy Anniversary Dad," the card said. "We would like to offer our congratulations to the structure that served as the architectural model for New York's most famous skyscraper."

There is a myth that the Empire State Building sends a card to the Reynolds Building every year on Father's Day, but Howard says that's just an urban legend. The only card that was sent is the 50th anniversary birthday card.

Because there are over 150 businesses inside the

Credit: Newsday / Phillip Davies

The building has its own Zip code

Because there are over 150 businesses inside the Empire State Building, it was given its own ZIP code, 10118, the Empire State Realty Trust said. There are about 40 other buildings in New York City that have their own ZIP codes.

There are actually a number of waterways under

Credit: David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

There is a river located under the building

There are actually a number of waterways under the surface of Manhattan, according to the Viele Map of Manhattan, a map drawn in 1865 by civil engineer Egbert L. Viele.

Underneath the Empire State Building, about 60 feet down, one of those rivers still flows. According to an episode of the History Channel's "Cities of the Underworld," the land where the Empire State Building sits was once known as Thompson farm, stretching from Broadway and Sixth Avenue to the west, Madison Avenue to the east, 33rd Street to the south and 36th Street to the north. The creek that ran through that farm is now what can be found in the basement of the Empire State Building.

There is a pumping system set up in the basement to pump the water from the river into the sewer system above, but the basement has been known to flood.

"In a really rainy season, you could get as high as five feet," historian Carol Willis said in the episode.

The Empire State Realty Trust said most people are not allowed in the basement because it is also where the building's chillers are located.

According to the Empire State Realty Trust, the

Credit: Empire State Realty Trust

There is a private observation deck for VIPs

According to the Empire State Realty Trust, the private observation deck is on the secret 103rd floor. It is exclusive for VIPs, and there isn't even elevator access. Only one elevator -- one of the oldest in the building -- goes from the 86th floor to the 102nd floor. Then, there are steps to the 103rd floor.

A number of celebrities, including Neil Patrick Harris and Taylor Swift, have been taken to the secret spot. You can see some of the pictures of them on the Empire State Building's website: The pictures where there is no gate behind them were taken on the 103rd floor deck.

According to historian and author John Tauranac,

Credit: Getty Images / Matt Campbell

Real life ‘An Affair to Remember’ stories

According to historian and author John Tauranac, "The Jersey City Journal" reported that in April 1932 the first marriage was performed in the Empire State Building. "They chose what they described as 'the nearest place to heaven they could find,'" Tauranac wrote, which is almost the exact quote from the 1939 film "Love Affair," and later the 1957 remake "An Affair to Remember."

Another article, published in the Brooklyn Eagle, reported that in December 1935, a woman was seen pacing on the 86th floor observatory. "She was upset," Tauranac wrote in his book. "She had met a young man on the tower the year before and they had promised to meet again on that particular day. He had not shown up," which is also similar to the plots of "Love Affair" and "An Affair to Remember."

On July 28, 1945, a B-25 bomber crashed

Credit: UPI

A plane crashed into the Empire State Building in 1945

On July 28, 1945, a B-25 bomber crashed into the 78th and 79th floors of the Empire State Building after getting off course due to fog. The explosion caused the world's highest fire at the time.

In his book about the building, historian John Tauranac writes that 23 fire companies with 41 pieces of equipment arrived at the scene, along with 15 ambulances. The crash killed 14 people, three in the plane and 11 in the building.

The impact also caused the cables of an elevator to weaken and send it falling 75 stories with an operator, Betty Lou Oliver, inside. Oliver survived the fall, and according to Guinness World Records, it is still the longest fall survived in an elevator.

The city's Landmark Preservation Commission designated the interior

Credit: Nicole Brown

The lobby is a landmark

The city's Landmark Preservation Commission designated the interior of the Empire State Building a landmark in 1981. While it is not surprising that the iconic building would be a landmark, it is somewhat unique that the interior is. According to the LPC website, of the 35,000 landmarks in the city, only 117 are interiors.

The designated parts include the well-known Fifth Avenue entrance hall (pictured), the entrance halls on 33rd and 34th streets, the escalator, staircases, elevator banks and the second floor lobby and bridges.

"For the millions of visitors to the building, the handsome modernistic interiors continue to provide a grand and overwhelming welcome to New York's most famous attraction," the commission's report in 1981 read. "Although the building lost its 'tallest' title in the 1970s, it has lost none of its original distinction or renown."

Two chandeliers that hang on the second floor

Credit: Nicole Brown, RJ Mickelson, Nicole Brown

Original designs were restored or added in 2009

Two chandeliers that hang on the second floor bridges, one pictured at left, were a part of the building's original design but were not created until the building's 2009 lobby renovation. The Empire State Realty Trust said they don't know why they weren't made, but when the original blueprints were found, they wanted to add them to the building.

The restoration also replicated the original ceiling design, center, which had been covered in the 1960s by fluorescent light fixtures, and reverted a clock on the far wall in the Fifth Avenue entrance hall back to an anemometer, right, which was what it was originally.

The Empire State Realty Trust said the recreation of the ceiling took "nearly twice the time it took to construct the Empire State Building."

The 200-foot tower that was added to the

Credit: Keith de Lellis Gallery

The mooring mast was never intended to dock airships

The 200-foot tower that was added to the design of the Empire State Building was said to be a mooring mast that would be used to dock dirigible airships. What is believed to be the real reason for the addition, however, was to ensure the Empire State Building would be the tallest in the world.

"It was the looniest building scheme since the Tower of Babel," historian and author John Tauranac said.

The Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building's competition at the time, had topped out in October 1929 at 1,046 feet. Alfred Smith, the president of Empire State Inc., wanted the building to surpass the Chrysler building's height by as much as possible. Without the mast, the Empire State Building would have been 85 stories and 1,048 feet.

But no airships ever actually docked on the mast. In 1931, a Goodyear blimp, known as Columbia, did carry a bundle of newspapers from the roof of the New York Evening Journal building at 210 South St. to the mooring mast of the Empire State Building, where a man waited to grab the bundle and cut it loose. The scene is described in Tauranac's book about the building.

But only on one day of the year:

Credit: Getty Images / Stan Honda

You can get married on the 86th floor observation deck

But only on one day of the year: Valentine's Day. Anyone can enter the lottery through the Empire State Building's social media pages to be selected for a 15-minute ceremony on Feb. 14. The Empire State Realty Trust said the lottery has previously started in the fall.

Only a few family members are allowed to come up to the ceremony for free, but more guests are allowed to purchase tickets to go up.

In 2015, there were 100 weddings on Valentine's Day, the Empire State Realty Trust said. There were only nine in 2016.


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