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The Empire State Building: The Making of a Landmark

Overview

John Tauranac tells the intricate story of one of our premier icons, blending architectural history with the human and technological drama of how the skyscraper was created. The idea for the Empire State Building emerged from the culture and politics of New York in the early twentieth century, as Democratic presidential candidate Al Smith spearheaded plans to erect the world's tallest skyscraper in the heart of Manhattan. Drawing on extensive archives, Tauranac contextualizes the building within the history of ...
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The Empire State Building: The Making of a Landmark

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Overview

John Tauranac tells the intricate story of one of our premier icons, blending architectural history with the human and technological drama of how the skyscraper was created. The idea for the Empire State Building emerged from the culture and politics of New York in the early twentieth century, as Democratic presidential candidate Al Smith spearheaded plans to erect the world's tallest skyscraper in the heart of Manhattan. Drawing on extensive archives, Tauranac contextualizes the building within the history of skyscrapers, showing how technological developments allowed the structure to rise as high as it did, and how the builders brain-stormed to solve the specific problems they encountered. The construction of the Empire State Building became one of the great sights of the city, watched as eagerly as a tight pennant race between the Dodgers and the Giants. Planned during the boom of the 1920s, the skyscraper took less than a year to erect - at an astonishing rate of four and a half floors per week - only to open for business during the Depression. Its resulting low occupancy earned it the sobriquet "The Empty State Building," and the structure teetered on the brink of bankruptcy until World War II. After the war, its image became a familiar one throughout the country - on T-shirts and theater programs, in television commercials and feature films.

For the millions who throng annually to this great architectural wonder, the Empire State Building not only epitomizes the skyscraper, it defines New York--just as its original architect and promoters intended. Tauranac shows how the Empire State Building emerged from the culture and politics of New York in the 1920s, and provides the first full-scale history of it. Photos.

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Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
"Although the Empire State Building is no longer the tallest building in the world (or even in New York City), it remains mythical, iconic. This entrancing book is at once an appreciation of the structure as a practical work of art and an exploration of the building's role in the city and the world." --The New Yorker, January 8, 1996
The New York Chronicle
"John Tauranac's Essential New York and marvelous Elegant New York were overtures to this masterpiece of architectural and city history. Like a great novel, The Empire State Building: The Making of a Landmark is a complex and fascinating tale of men inspired by titanic visions of planning, financing, designing, and erecting this icon of New York." --The New York Chronicle, Spring, 1996
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
When the 1250-foot Empire State Building opened in the Depression year of 1931, it was the world's tallest building. Today, though it ranks only fourth in the world, it retains a special place in the hearts of New Yorkers. Tauranac tells of the ``odd couple'' responsible for the ESB: millionaire John J. Raskob and his troubleshooter, Alfred E. Smith, former governor of New York. Both had come from humble backgrounds and were progressive Irish Catholic Democrats who were pro-business and anti-prohibition. We are shown the frantic ``race'' for height with the neighboring Chrysler Building, also under construction, and how the ESB finally won out. Among the facts cited here about the ESB: it sits on the site of the original Waldorf Astoria hotel; its mast was designed to moor dirigibles; it has appeared in about 90 movies, including King Kong; it was only 50% rented until WWII; in heavy fog in 1945, a B-25 bomber crashed into it, killing 14; it has its own post office; and, virtually unique in Manhattan, its 13th floor is appropriately numbered. Tauranac (Essential New York) has written an informative and exciting biography of Manhattan's most famous building. Photos not seen by PW. (Nov.)
Library Journal
Surprisingly enough, the Empire State Building, "the world's greatest skyscraper" and formerly the world's tallest until the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center and Chicago's Sear's Tower took that distinction away, has never before received book-length treatment. Tauranac is a native of New York City and an accomplished architectural historian. He is the author of two previous books on the city's architecture, Essential New York (LJ 10/1/79. o.p.) and Elegant New York (Abbeville, 1985. o.p.). He has researched his subject thoroughly, even in the famous Avery Library Archive. His book covers almost all aspects of the great monument, from planning and conception through design and construction to the unfolding of its subsequent reputation. Anyone interested in architecture will find this book entertaining and informative. It is a welcome addition to book collections on skyscrapers, New York City, and Art Deco architecture.-Peter Kaufman, Boston Architectural Ctr.
Booknews
The Empire State Building is still the heart of Manhattan, skyscraper of skyscrapers, and the favorite meeting place for Hollywood's eclectic romantic liaisons from King Kong to Sleepless in Seattle. Tauranac is faithful to the myth while surgically dissecting the design and construction of the famous building, showing how technological developments allowed the structure to rise in the midst of the Depression, and detailing its iconic emergence from the lowly dubbed "Empty State Building" due to low occupancy rates in the 1930s to its contemporary symbolic status appearing on everything from tee shirts to theater programs. Includes photographs. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
From the Publisher
"The title of this book suggests that it is about an extraordinary building, but that suggestion is as modest as the promise of a bologna sandwich and decaf for lunch when, in fact, one will be served an eight-course meal with a bottle of 1949 Chateau Lafite." —Roger Starr, Book News

"Although the Empire State Building is no longer the tallest building in the world (or even in New York City), it remains mythical, iconic. This entrancing book is at once an appreciation of the structure as a practical work of art and an exploration of the building's role in the city and the world." —The New Yorker

"A building that is a movie star unto itself deserves a writer of such contagious enthusiasm as Tauranac...A fascinating, self-propelling, and definitive history of the building." —Booklist

"A masterpiece of architectural and city history. Like a great novel, The Empire State Building: The Making of a Landmark is a complex and fascinating tale of men inspired by titanic visions of planning, financing, designing, and erecting this icon of New York." —The New York Chronicle

"Mr. Tauranac knows the architecture and buildings of New York as few do. He takes us through the story of the skyscraper as a form, the zoning that emerged to control the tall buildings, the real-estate boom of the twenties, the history of the site, the careers of John J. Raskob and Al Smith and the architects and builders who designed and erected the building, and the building's subsequent career." —Nathan Glazer, The New York Times

"A methodically researched, richly informative account of the raising of the world's most famous skyscraper." —The Chicago Tribune

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801479397
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2014
  • Edition number: 1
  • Sales rank: 291,418
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

John Tauranac is the author of Elegant New York and Essential New York and a freelance writer. A graduate of Columbia and New York Universities, Tauranac teaches at NYU's School of Continuing Education. He lectures widely and has been a guest curator at the Museum of the City of New York. Wearing another hat, Tauranac designed the award-winning subway map in 1979 that is still in use by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and he still designs maps. He lives with his wife, Jane Bevans, and their daughter, Maggie, on Manhattan's Upper West Side and in West Cornwall, Connecticut.

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Table of Contents

1. The Building
2. The Skyscraper
3. Zoning the City
4. The Boom of the Twenties
5. The Odd Couple
6. The Firm
7. The Site
8. The Style
9. The Design
10. The Contractors
11. The Mooring Mast
12. Building the Building
13. The Opening
14. The Staff and the Tenants
15. The Bust of the Thirties
16. The War
17. Since the War
Epilogue: After 9/11

Bibliography
Index

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