Imagine for a minute that you are a film maker. You have five seconds of stock footage in order to set the scene. If the action takes place in Paris, you are likely to choose a shot of the Eiffel Tower, if London, then probably the Houses of Parliament. If New York, then what? Until 2011, you would probably have chosen the twin towers of the World Trade Center, but before that, and probably even today, you might well choose the Empire State Building.
As we only had one day in the city, this was very much on our itinerary. After lunch and the Staten Island Ferry ( see An Englishman in New York), we hopped in a cab and headed north to the tower. I will admit that for me, this was the highlight of the day, it’s such an iconic building and probably the first thing anyone would ask about. It did take some time to find the right entrance as it’s still a working building and one can’t simply have tourists wandering aimlessly around the ground floor looking for an elevator to the 84th floor. I’m sure the door staff are heartily sick of being asked the same question every twenty seconds of every day, but I suppose if you apply for that job, you pretty much know what you are letting yourself in for.
The lobby is beautifully maintained and all the staff are impeccably dressed in uniforms which I’m sure are very similar to the original style, which I thought was a very nice touch. We were directed up a short flight of stairs to the airport style security station that is sadly now such a common feature of important public places. We arrived in the early afternoon as a quick web search had suggested this as good time to avoid the crowds, and our decision paid off. The area was pretty quiet, and it was nice to learn that we wouldn’t need to pay an extra $40 to avoid any potential lines. There is a long and confusing walk to the elevators, as the direction is rather poorly signposted, but I realised that this was due to the fact that most times of day there is a long wait involved.
To this end, the walls are covered with pictures, screens and signs telling the history of the tower’s construction in a very coherent and entertaining manner, much like the lines at Disneyland offer distractions to help keep kids and parents alike amused as they wait for their four minute ride. Of course, there is a very heavy emphasis on King Kong, with lots of original movie posters on display, and an equally heavy presence in the gift shop. The first elevator took us most of the way to the top, where we spent several minutes looking out of the windows at the view. Reflections from the glass made taking pictures problematic, but it gave us a good idea of what to expect. A short wait in line took us to the next elevator bank, which looked like they had been maintained in their original condition. Of course, these were much smaller than many modern elevator cabins, so it made for a cozy trip. I will say, however, that the uniformed staff who operated the elevators did a fantastic job keeping the line moving and making sure no one had to wait very long.
Finally, the top! The lobby at the top of the building looks new, with lots of signs pointing towards famous landmarks and tall windows providing an unobstructed view. Of course, we made our way straight outside, as there’s no point in coming all that way just to stare out of a window. As you would expect, the balcony was more than a little crowded, but not unbearably so, so we had no trouble finding a spot at the parapet from which to view the city. It really is a most impressive sight, to see such a huge city laid out like an architect’s model. We took our time making our way around, taking plenty of pictures. One of the sights I had most wanted to see was the Flatiron Building. I don’t know why this particular building fascinates me so much, but it does. We had talked about walking over to see it, but the time involved would have made it impractical, so instead I settled for a view from above.
Maybe it’s the shape, maybe it’s because it is a great use of space, but I just love it. I took plenty of other pictures, but I won’t add them here, but suffice it to say that the Chrysler Building looks even more impressive when seen from above. Central Park is another obvious tourist site, but seeing as it’s a day in itself, I had to be content with this view
Not great, but better than nothing, and it does give an idea of what a vast space it is in such a crowded city. We overheard one of the guides giving his group an explanation of the history of the various bridges and buildings, and I wish we could have heard more, but it was not to be. I did, however, have one stereotype reinforced, as it turned out that he had been an amateur boxer, crossing daily into New Jersey to train alongside several boxers who went on to find fame in the ring. I won’t use the term “Guido”, but this guy very much fitted the stereotypical image that his mannerisms and speech suggested. After this great view of the city, we exited via the gift shop. I picked up tee shirts for myself and the kids and made sure to buy a postcard to send to my Dad. My sweetheart, who grew up in the city bought herself two shirts! I was quite surprised, but seeing as we were in full tourist mode, it made sense, I mean, when will we be back in the building?
I should point out that the ESB is still a working structure, and for many people, entering the building is no more special than going into a standard neo-brutalist office block, so I have great sympathy for those who have to dodge hordes of gawping tourists just to get to their cubicle. I also learned that my sweetheart’s Mother once worked in the building, originally on the 34th floor and then on the 16th when she was an accountant, which gave the trip a more personal touch.