A. The Empire State Building, New York City, soars more than a quarter of a mile above the heart of Manhattan. Excavations on the site - which previously housed the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel - began in January, 1930, and the framework on the mighty building rose at a rate of 4.5 storeys a week. Alfred E Smith laid the cornerstone on 17 September, 1930, and the masonry was finished that November. A total of 7 million man-hours went into the building, which cost $40.948 million (including land) and took one year and 45 days. The building is in the art deco style and the exterior needd 200,000 cu ft of Indiana Limestone, plus 10,000 sq ft of Rose Famosa and Estrallante marble. Not bad, huh
Q. Indeed. What about the actual height
A. The building stands on about two acres and is 1,454ft to the top of lightning rod. It's 1,050ft to the observatory on the 86th floor and 1,224ft to the top of the 102nd floor tower. There are 1,860 steps from street level to 102nd floor. I used the lift. There are 73 of them, including six freight elevators, operating at speeds from 600 to 1,400ft per minute. It takes as little as 45 seconds to ride from lobby to 80th floor.
Q. So it's worth going to the top
A. What an understatement! It's magnificent! On a clear day, you will be able up to 80 miles, including the neighbouring states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts, as well as New York. And best if all, you can see the Chrysler building, possibly the most beautiful object in America. And look out for the Flat Iron Building, too. Be careful up there, though - there's so much static electricity at certain times that lovers might find their lips crackling with electric sparks as they kiss.
Q. And there's something special about the mast
A. Yes - it was originally a dirigible mast for mooring airships. One attempt to moor a blimp was successful for three minutes. But during a second attempt, in September, 1931, a navy airship was almost upended and nearly swept away. The idea was abandoned and the mast is now the base of a TV tower.
Q. It's been used in quite a few films
A. Many. The most famous is of course King Kong, who misbehaved on the top of the Empire State in 1933. Then there's An Affair to Remember, when Cary Grant waited in vain for Deborah Kerr. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan made their fateful meeting on the observation floor in Sleepless in Seattle. There's also, among many dozens: Annie Hall, Ball of Fire, FBI Story, Independence Day, Kramer vs Kramer, Manhattan, North By Northwest, On the Waterfront, Prisoner of Second Avenue, Saboteur, Serpico, Shaft, Superman II, Sweet Charity, Taxi Driver and When Harry Met Sally. But not all the dramas were cinematic. It, too, was hit by a plane.
A. No - a tragic accident. On 28 July, 1945, an Army Air Corps B-25, lost in the fog, crashed into the 79th floor. Fourteen people died. Betty Lou Oliver, an elevator operator, plunged more than 1,000ft to the basement when the cables snapped - but survived.
Q. And now
A. In May, 1981, the building was declared a New York City Landmark and five years it was recognised as a National Historic Landmark.
Q. And we can still visit
A. Extra security is being taken in light of the World Trade Center atrocity and it's worth checking on the building's website (http://www.esbnyc.com/) before you set out.
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By Steve Cunningham