Black and white photo empire state building

The Empire State building turned 85 this month, reaching the heart of its octogenarian years. Visited by thousands of tourists each year and the source of much creative, if kitschy, inspiration, the building has always occupied an iconic place in New York City’s skyline and history. It goes without saying that the Empire State Building is one of the founding pillars of the skyline as we know it today, but was by no means the first tallest building on the scene.

Do You Know Your Empire State Building History?

Before the Empire State, we had the Woolworth Building, which was built in 1913 and is the true grandpappy when it comes to local skyscrapers. The Woolworth Building’s status as tallest building in the city at 792 feet, however, was soon overshadowed by the competition for the title of world’s tallest building.

In 1929, 40 Wall Street and the Chrysler Building were simultaneously under construction and in a head-to-head competition for the title. The original design for 40 Wall would easily blow the Woolworth Building out of the water with a 135-foot lead, but it would only ultimately edge out the Chrysler Building by two feet. Fearful that the Chrysler Building would pull ahead, the architects of 40 Wall Street changed their designs and added an additional three stories to give their tower a more aggressive lead. It wasn’t enough. The Chrysler Building played a sneaky trick and tacked on a stainless steel spire, which added an extra 125 feet, thereby nosing out 40 Wall. Despite their competing strategies and sneaky calculations, neither 40 Wall nor the Chrysler Building locked in the title as the world’s tallest building for long.

Construction of Empire State Building

Iron worker at the Empire State construction site in 1930. The Chrysler Building’s Spire can be seen to the right.

By March of 1930, the construction of the Empire State Building broke ground and the legacy of our city’s skyline took another turn. Under the guidance of the architecture firm Shreve, Lamb and Harmon Associates, all 102 stories of the building were erected in just 15 months. By May of the following year (1931), the Empire State Building was completed 12 days ahead of schedule, beating out the Chrysler Building (1,046 feet) and 40 Wall Street (927 feet) in the competition for the title of world’s tallest building at 1,250 feet. President Herbert Hoover performed the inaugural duty of flipping on the lights for the Empire State Building for the first time ever.

Although the Empire State Building was successful in laying claim to the title of world’s tallest building, it was less successful in locking in tenants. The building was completed in 1931 — smack dab in the middle of the throes of the Great Depression. Commercial activity in the city was struggling and due to the Empire State’s location – just far enough from the major transit hubs of Grand Central and Penn Station to make the walk inconvenient – the building had an unexpectedly high vacancy rate. Even today, the Empire State Building is criticized for its less-than-stellar location, but thanks to its incredibly iconic light shows and ever-present specter, it has locked in an inestimable place in the city’s skyline.

Apartments with Great Views of the Empire State

Views of the building are coveted by tourists and locals alike. Many head to the top of the Rock to take in the view from up there. Others prefer to avoid the lines and post up by Madison Square Park and Fifth Avenue to wait for a lull traffic in order to snap some street level shots.  Many of the best views, however, are not publicly accessible and are found from the living rooms, balconies and roof decks of private homes.

Here are 12 apartments currently on the market that show the building at its finest.

Penthouse view of Empire State Building

You can take in the full height of the Empire State looking northwest from the living room of this penthouse at 39 East 29th Street. Listed for $4.795M


Empire State Building View Vesta

The view of the Empire State Building from the living room at the penthouse at the Vesta in West Chelsea. Listed for $6.7M.

Midtown South view of empire state building

You can get a dead-on view of the Empire State Building from the private terrace of this three-bedroom apartment in Midtown South. Listed for $3.25M.

Vesta View of Empire State Building

Many units at the Vesta have views of the Empire State Building, including this three-bedroom penthouse. Listed for $6.595M.

West Chelsea terrace views of Empire State Building

The best part of the wraparound terrace at this West Chelsea penthouse? Hands down, the views of the Empire State Building. Listed for $11.45M.

Penthouse view 50 United Nations Plaza

A nice deep soak and view of the Empire State (and the Chrysler) from the penthouse of 50 United Nations Plaza.

Chelsea Penthouse Empire State Building View

The view of the Empire State Building is all yours from the private terrace of this penthouse in Chelsea. Listed for $4M.

Nomad penthouse empire state building view

If you stand in the middle of the living room of this Nomad penthouse, the tip of the tower is just out of sight. But if you stick your nose up against the window and crane your neck you’ll get a great view. Listed for $4.5M.

Nomad view of empire state building

The skylight at this Nomad penthouse looks like it was built just to give you a killer view of the Empire State. Listed for $5.5M.

Baccarat penthouse midtown empire state building view

Only at a condo as swanky as the Baccarat would the powder of your penthouse feature a soaking tub and a view of the Empire State Building. Listed for $54M.