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Empire State Building – Three secrets you may not know

The 443-metre-high symbol of New York City, the Empire State Building is a monumental art deco skyscraper that was the tallest building in the world between 1931 and 1967, and the tallest skyscraper in the world until 1970, when the North Tower of the World Trade Center was completed.f

What stories and secrets are hidden within the walls of this iconic monument? We asked ourselves this question. And we found three secrets that you probably don’t know.

Let’s start with the reasons for its construction. Although few people know it, its construction began as a competition between brothers. John Jacob Astor Jr and William Backhouse Astor each inherited a plot of land on Fifth Avenue: one on the corner of 33rd Street, the other on 34th.

In 1859, John had a mansion built on 33rd Street. Then, in 1862, his younger brother William surpassed him with a larger mansion next door on 34th Street. In 1893, John’s son William Waldorf Astor had their mansion demolished and the Waldorf Hotel built. Four years later, in 1897, their family and neighbours had their mansion razed to make way for the Hotel Astoria. The competition stopped there, however, and in 1928, the Astoria was sold to a group of entrepreneurs for $20 million. With the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel becoming obsolete, the building and building site went up for sale and the Empire State Building rose in its place.

And if the beginning was peculiar, many curious events occurred in this building over the course of time. Do you know, for example, about the plane that crashed into the skyscraper?

On a foggy Saturday morning on 28 July 1945, a disoriented pilot flying a B-25 Bomber crashed into the Empire State Building between the 78th and 80th floors. Amazingly, the fire that erupted lasted 40 minutes, and only 14 people were killed: 3 in the plane and 11 in the building. Fortunately, the building was not seriously affected.

Not that anyone didn’t hope it would collapse. Contrary to what many might think, in fact, the Empire State Building had a long-standing reputation for being something of an aberration.

The project, conceived by businessman John Jacob Raskob, began in the autumn of 1929, a few weeks before the financial crisis that caused the Wall Street Crash on 24 and 29 October. Relatively far from Forty-second Street, the Empire State Building represented real estate speculation, with no ties to any major company. It is therefore not surprising that this new New York landmark stood empty for three quarters and was a money-loser for its owners until 1950.

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