On March 17 of 1930, on the site of the old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, the construction of the Empire State Building was begun. The preliminary excavation had begun on January 22, even before the old Waldorf-Astoria was completely demolished. The site took up 83,860 square feet of land, with the building firm of Starrett Brothers & Eken, Inc labouring for 14 months to complete the massive skyscraper, employing a workforce of up to 3400 people.

Total building time was 7 million man hours, 1 year and 45 days work, including Sundays and holidays. Progress was rapid, with the framework rising at the rate of 4 1/2 stories per week.

When it was completed in May, 1931, the Empire State Building, at 102 stories, was the tallest building in the world until the completion of the first tower of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan in 1972.

The project was expected to cost in excess of $50 million, but due to the Great Depression building was completed for "only" $24,718,000 (1931 dollars). The additional cost of the land brought total costs up to $40,948,900 (1931 dollars).

The cornerstone was laid on September 17, 1930 by Alfred E. Smith, former governor of New York and the official opening ceremony was held on May 1, 1931 with President Herbert Hoover pressing a button in Washington, D.C. to turn on the building's lights.

note that this writeup is meant to fit with perdedors excellent writeup. It is designed to minimize redundancy and therefore does not restate things he has already covered
Some sources for this writeup include the official Empire State Building homepage at http://www.esbnyc.com/ as well as http://www.greatbuildings.com/buildings/Empire_State_Building.html
THE LIGHTS OF THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING

Visitors and residents of New York City may notice that in the evening, the top part of the Empire State Building is illuminated. The more observant among them may also notice that the colors change depending on the day (Well, they used to, anyway; see below for more details). These light patterns are used to celebrate different holidays and observances.

HISTORY OF THE LIGHTS

The idea of shining lights from the top of the building dates back to at least 1932, when a light was shone from the top to announce Franklin D. Roosevelt's presidency. In 1956, four rotating beacons were placed atop the tower, supposedly to represent "not only a welcome to this country but also the unlimited opportunities in America and the hopes and prayers of the American people for peace". How this was supposed to be represented by four really bright lights shining into the sky is beyond the scope of this node. Supposedly, the lights could be seen up to 300 miles away (as a reference, both Boston and Washington, DC are less than 300 miles from NYC).

These lights, somewhat unsurprisingly, drew many complaints. It became impossible to simply view the night sky, since the floodlights washed everything out. Astronomy professors from as far away as Yale (about 80 miles) complained about the lights interfering with their research. At some helpfully unmentioned date, the lights were abandoned in favor of simply lighting the top of the building, and new spotlights were installed outside the 72d floor for this purpose.

The first obvious mention of the lighted tower was in 1964 for the World's Fair, hosted that year in New York. The colors didn't start until 1976, when the tower was lit red, white, and blue for the American bicentennial celebration. A more local touch was added in 1977, when, as perdedor (now saved by toalight) mentioned, the New York Yankees' colors of blue and white were shown to celebrate the team's World Series victory. As the years went by, the designers went more and more insane, up until today (ok, a year ago) where there are over 30 different schemes for different parts of the year.

THE COLOR SCHEMES

The Director of Public Relations (Lydia Ruth, as of this writing), chooses the colors for each event and when the building should be lit, with help from building management. As mentioned, there are over 30 color schemes used within the year, along with additional schemes for events that might happen (such as the national victory of a local team, or other such wondrous events). There are three sections to the tower, each able to take one color. The schedule planned for 2002 was as follows:
(note: all colors bottom to top)

March of Dimes (16 Jan): all three green; green is supposed to represent folic acid (no, really).
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (21 Jan): red, black, and green
Valentine's Day (14 Feb): red
President's Day (18 Feb): red, white, and blue
St. Patrick's Day (17 Mar): green
Greek Independence Day (25 Mar): white and blue
Rain Forest Day (April, unspecified): green
Easter Week/Spring: white and yellow
Israel Independence Day (28 Apr): blue, white, and blue
Armed Forces Day (18 May): red, white, and blue
Memorial Day (27 May): red, white, and blue
Police Memorial Day (May, unspec.): blue (the NYPD color)
Portugal Day (10 June): red, yellow, and green
Flag Day (14 June): red, white, and blue
Stonewall Anniversary (21-23 June): lavender and white
Independence Day (4 Jul): red, white, and blue
India Independence Day (13-15 Aug): green, white, and yellow
Pakistan Independence Day (24-26 Aug): green and white
Labor Day (1-3 Sep): red, white, and blue
Brazil Independence Day (7 Sep): yellow and green
Pulaski Day (Sep, unspec.): white and red ( trainman says this is probably the Revolutionary War hero Pulanski, but thinks it should be in October)
Breast Cancer Awareness (Sep, unspec.): white and pink
German Reunification Day (3 Oct): black, yellow, and red
United Nations Day (24 Oct): white and blue
Autumn (early November): yellow and red
Veterans' Day (10-11 Nov): red, white, and blue
Chanuka: blue, white, and blue
Aids Awareness "Night Without Lights" (1 Dec): black (i'm guessing this means "off")
Holiday Season: (1 Dec - 7 Jan): red and green

The lights are usually left on until midnight except for five days when they are lit until 3 AM: Christmas Eve and Day, New Year's Eve and Day, and St. Patrick's Day; the latter celebrated because ground was first broken for the building on 17 March, 1930. The lights are also turned off during migrating season, so that birds won't fly into the building. Recently, the blue lights have been left on all night due to work being done in the area.

The colors are changed much as one would expect: the spotlights are covered with gels, much like in theatre work. The tower itself contains five panels of fluorescent lights, each one havingfive colors (red, yellow, green, blue, and white); a switch is turned to rotate the panels to display the appropriate color. All this is performed by the building's staff electricians.

WHAT NOW

Of course, most of this color switching did not happen in 2002. Instead, most of the year the tower was lit red, white and blue mostly** in memoriam of the attacks on the World Trade Center in September 2001. The lights were changed for Valentine's Day (i believe) and for Police Memorial Day in May, but most of the rest of the calendar has been ignored. The tower was also lit purple and gold in celebration of Queen Elizabeth's Golden Jubilee (3 June) and, in a rare breach of policy aimed at bringing businesses back to New York, the tower was lit yellow for Snapple, who apparently brought the most business back. The building management claims that the building will return to its normal schedule very soon.

** I say "mostly" in memoriam because it is not purely out of magnanimity that the tower remains in the American colors. After the attacks, many of the television broadcasting companies were forced to move their antennas to the Empire State Building, and the easiest place to put them was among the lighting equipment. The lights have thus remained unchanged for fear that the electricians might damage the equipment while changing the gels. The management hopes to rectify the situation soon.


Sources:
http://www.esbnyc.com/tourism (esp. the Tourism FAQ)
http://glasssteelandstone.home.att.net/USA-NY.html
http://www.raymondloewyfoundation.com/about/casestudy/freedomlights.html
www.notfortourists.com/pdf/182.pdf
(quote from http://www.raymondloewyfoundation.com/about/casestudy/freedomlights.html)

Located at 350 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, New York City, standing 448 metres tall at the tip of its broadcast antennae/lightning rod is the Empire State Building. On its opening day on May 1, 1931 during the height of the depression, it was affectionately dubbed The Empty State Building due to an initial lack of tenants. Aside from being an instantly recognizable monument and an excellent navigational aid, it has been featured in countless movies including the original King Kong and Sleepless in Seattle.

It was designed by architects Shreve, Lamb & Harmon Associates. The exterior is Indiana limestone and granite trimmed with chrome-nickel steel from the 6th floor right up to the top.

The top floors are seasonally lit, reflecting holidays and special occasions. This tradition began in 1977 in honor of the New York Yankees becoming Baseball World Champions.

On July 28, 1945 in very thick fog, a B-25 Mitchell bomber aircraft got lost and smacked full speed into the 78th and 79th floor, killing 14 people and injuring several others as the interior of the building became engulfed in flames. The building itself never flinched at the impact though, a testament to the superior engineering that went into this skyscraping masterpiece.


Note: a writeup similar to this was originally submitted by perdedor. It was rewritten and submitted by me for the sake of database completeness and the fact that other writeups in this node refers to this one.

Like the ancient temples of Egypt, China, and India, the Empire State Building had all its stones quarried from the same location. The uniformity of the building material in the ancient temples ensured a balance of good qi. Perhaps this wasn't the intent of the architects Shreve, Lamb & Harmon Associates when they planned the building, but the effect is the same.

One wonders if the men from the Indiana Limestone Company who spent time at Empire Quarry breaking up stones felt a little like they were digging a hole to China. 207,000 cubic feet of limestone (18,630 tons) were quarried and shipped from the quarry in Bloomington, Indiana, to the site of the Empire State Building in Manhattan, New York.

The Empire Quarry was abandoned after procuring all the limestone needed for the building, leaving what seems to almost be a bottomless abyss in the ground. It is "as if the skyscraper as we know it, upside down, had been extracted from that place whole. Now the shaft is filled with rainwater. People used to swim in it, and many had drowned until they erected a railing around it -- much like the railing atop the building to prevent people from jumping" (Christopher, Nicholas. 2000. Veronica.).

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