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The Empire State Building with Austrian participation

In 1997, I was the hotel director on the Silver Wind.

The Silver Wind had a capacity of 296 guests and 225 employees.

On a 10-day Caribbean cruise from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to the Caribbean and back to Fort Lauderdale, Florida we had a Jewish clan of about 30 family members on board. The reason for the cruise was that the patriarch couple was celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary on board.


In the winter months, the Caribbean is totally overrun with cruise ships. But the small, fine ones get to places where the big ones can't and aren't allowed to go. Most of the time these are also the most expensive islands in the Caribbean archipelago. I'll give you a few examples.

Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands.

Basseterre, St. Kitts and Nevis.

Mayreau Island, Grenadines.


Le Gosier, Guadeloupe.

These are my personal favorites in the Caribbean.


But now back to my Jewish passengers.

In the evening, when the 'Iron Wedding' was celebrated on board, the patriarchs with their oldest 3 children (all between 60 and 70 years old) sat with partners at my table in the restaurant. Unfortunately, I have forgotten the name of the family.

When I introduced myself, the old gentleman said to me that we could speak German because he was a native of Vienna, Austria. I then asked if they had fled the Nazi terror. He laughed and told me that his family had already emigrated to America in 1908, but that he was still born in Vienna. However my English was better than his German.

During the dinner conversation, the gentleman told me that as a young banker he had been in the investment consortium that financed the Empire State Building. He had a private bank at the time and had helped finance the Empire State Building.

This story had totally fascinated me at that time and therefore I would like to share it with you.


After Black Thursday on October 24, 1929 on the New York Stock Exchange began the world economic crisis. From that moment on, the banks took refuge in real estate, as money became less valuable every day.


The history of the Empire State Building.

The state of New York was called Empire State at that time.


In 1893, the Waldorf Astoria Hotel opened in midtown Manhattan.

The Waldorf Astoria Hotel around 1901.

The hotel closed in 1929 and was later rebuilt by the Astor family on Park Avenue.


At first, it was planned to build an office building with 25 floors next to the hotel.

Almost at the same time the so-called 'race to the sky' started. It was about who would have the highest building in the world.

There were plans for a building with 50 floors, then with 60 and finally with 80 floors. All of these plans called for the Waldorf Astoria Hotel to be demolished.

Time was running out; construction had already begun on the Chrysler Building and the Bank of Manhattan Building.

In December 1929, they were able to acquire more land to enlarge the base of the building. This allowed the building to be built even higher. It was then agreed on a height of 380 meters to have the highest building in the world for sure.


My table neighbor then explained how difficult it was for the architects at the time to deal with this height. Where did they put the cranes on the building, which was getting higher all the time, and how did they bring them down again? Another problem was the cement. The cement mix in this grade was only produced in Europe at that time and had to be brought across the Atlantic by ship.

Good experience had already been gained with the riveted steel construction method used at the time. Above all, it was a fast construction method.

The timing also had its advantages. At that time, there were enough good and cheap workers who had slid into unemployment due to the world economic crisis.


On January 22, 1930, excavation had begun. With 2 twelve-hour shifts and 300 men, the excavation was carried out and the 17-meter-deep foundations were built.

On March 17, 1930, the steel construction was started. The steel elements arrived on site prefabricated from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


From now on, things went rapidly upwards. In 10 days, 14 floors were built. Cafes with toilets were repeatedly built for the workers on the finished floors so that they did not have to leave the construction site. Exterior elevators were used to transport the crew and building materials.

On July 27, 1930, half of the steel structure was already in place.

In order to speed up the construction process, the burnt brick walls had been dispensed with and prefabricated limestone elements from Indiana had been installed instead.


You couldn't be afraid of heights during this work.


On September 10, 1930, the steel structure was as good as finished.


To the right, the completed shell of the Chrysler Building.


Take a break.


The tip was originally planned as a docking station for the nascent airship industry.


Construction progress July 1930 to November 1930.


During the following winter month, all the interior work was done.

On peak days, up to 3500 workers were working on the construction site.


On May 1, 1931, the Empire State Building was officially opened.

This was 45 days ahead of schedule.

The architect William F. Lamb had planned a timeless building in Art Deco style, which is still one of the most beautiful tall buildings in the world.

The budgeted construction budget of 60 million US dollars was undercut. At that time, the Empire State Building cost a good 44 million US dollars.

14 workers lost their lives on the construction site.

In the first year after the opening, only 23 percent of the total capacity could be rented out.

As early as 1931, 1 million visitors took the elevator up to the Observation Platform.


The antennas were installed only in 1953. Thus, the current height is 443 meters.

The Empire State Building in 1932.


Now the global economic crisis caught up with the operators again. It took years until the Empire State Building was completely rented out.

Midtown Manhattan in 1932.


As early as 1933, the Empire State Building achieved worldwide fame with the hit movie King Kong.

Later films such as Superman II, Independence Day and Sleepless in Seattle also used the Empire State Building as a backdrop.

It was not until the 1950s that the project became profitable.


In the meantime, dessert was served at the table. I had learned a lot of new things again. The (children) went off to the show. The old lady went to bed and waived the wedding night. The old gentleman accepted my invitation and we disappeared to the bar.

Over two big snifters of Louis XIII and two fat Cohibas, the conversation continued.


In 1961, the owners learned that the World Trade Center would probably be approved. They would strive to make this skyscraper even taller.

Without further ado, the Empire State Building was sold that same year to Lawrence A. Wien and Harry B. Helmsley for $66 million. The old gentleman mentioned only Mr. Wien as the buyer. I asked him if Helmsley had not also been involved. The old man was astonished.


I had just read a book called 'The Rise and Fall of Harry & Leona'.

Harry Helmsley was a well-known, staid investor who, in his old age, took his secretary Leona as his wife in 1972. The Helmsley Hotel Group had a good two dozen hotels in the United States by the early 1980s.

In 1980, Harry Helmsley made his wife president of the hotel group.

Leona, who was known for her stinginess and treated her employees like dirt, was in the headlines almost daily at the time. Her saying 'Only the little people pay taxes' went down in history.


The Empire State Building - timeless and beautiful.

We still talked until the bar closed. It was an unforgettable evening for me.


As always, the best comes always at the end.

Leona Helmsley, now known as the Queen of Mean, went to prison in 1992 for two years for tax evasion. She also had to pay 8 million US dollars in taxes and fines.


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All my blog posts are free of charge. But I would be very happy about a visit in my little bar in Egg, Großdorf.

Klaus Riezler.



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