YIMBY Tours the Empire State Building’s Newly Renovated Observatories

Midtown and Billionaires' Row from the Empire State Building's 102nd floor observatoryMidtown and Billionaires' Row from the Empire State Building's 102nd floor observatory. Photo by Michael Young

For more than 40 years, the Empire State Building‘s observatory reigned as the loftiest manmade place on Earth. Though no longer the pinnacle of New York, the Art Deco masterpiece’s Olympian mass still cuts an uncontested figure in the popular imagination as a symbol of the city and is an enduring emblem of human might and ingenuity. Today, as the supertall enters its tenth decade, it welcomes visitors with a fresh new face, the product of a four-year, $165 million renovation to improve the experience for the 10,000-odd guests that stream through its doors each day.

YIMBY got a look at the latest aspects of the observatories prior to the debut of the fourth and final phase of the Midtown landmark’s renovation in late November, including the chance to scope views of the rising skyline from the refreshed 102nd floor observatory.

Empire State Building's 80th Floor

The new 80th floor features viewfinders with 360-degree video shot in different locations throughout the city. Photo by Matt Pruznick

One of the main aims of the renovation was to reduce perceived wait times for the increasing number of visitors. Rather than simply queueing for elevators to the top, guests now progress through a series of exhibits on the building and the city.

After entering through a new lobby off 34th Street, visitors make their way up a staircase and through the second-floor museum that educates them on the building’s history. From there, they take an elevator not to the main 86th floor observatory, but to the 80th floor, which features interactive experiences for guests to pass through, further improving crowd control.

The first things visitors encounter on the 80th floor (besides views from windows from roughly 1,000 feet up) is a collection of kiosks that provide tourists with an itinerary of activities to do in New York. Powered by data from NYC & Company, they serve up suggestions based on visitors’ length of stay in the city and their interests.

Empire State Building 102nd Floor Observatory

Inside the Empire State Building’s 102nd floor observatory. Photo by Matt Pruznick

Guests then progress to a circle of viewfinders, much like the ones located on the outdoor observatory deck of the 86th floor. Inside of each is a 360-degree video shot in a different location throughout the city, including Grand Central Terminal, Central Park, and the Brooklyn Bridge. Using accelerometers and spatial audio, visitors can pan through immersive representations of city landmarks that are visible from the building.

After that, guests finally ascend to the main observatory level. From there, guests who have purchased the additional ticket for the upper observation take a separate elevator to the top of the crown.

Looking West from the Empire State Building's 102nd Floor Observatory

Looking west from the Empire State Building’s 102nd floor observatory. Photo by Michael Young

The 102nd floor observatory opened in October after ten months of renovations. The biggest improvement to the interior is its openness. Previously, the deck featured much smaller windows that only covered the upper two thirds of the wall. These have been replaced with floor-to-ceiling glass with minimal vertical framework, resulting in spectacularly unimpeded views. Other nonessential components were also removed, enabling sightlines from one side of the platform to the other.

At a height of 1,224 feet, the view of New York is second only in eminence to One World Observatory in One World Trade Center, which is just 44 feet higher. However, with its central location on the island and the ease with which one can circle around the perimeter windows, it is arguably the best public place to behold the city’s rising skyline.

To the north, visitors can see some of the most prominent products of last decade’s construction boom, including the Central Park Tower, 111 West 57th Street, and 432 Park Avenue on Billionaires’ Row, as well as One Vanderbilt. All of these projects easily surpass the height of the Empire State Building’s crown.

111 West 57th Street, 53 West 53rd Street, and 30 Rockefeller Center. Photo by Michael Young

111 West 57th Street, 53 West 53rd Street, and 30 Rockefeller Center. Photo by Michael Young

Bryant Park and the American Radiator Building from the Empire State Building

Bryant Park and the American Radiator Building. Photo by Michael Young

Toward the east, one can look down at Long Island City, which over the past five years has metamorphosed from an underdeveloped corridor into a bona fide cityscape worthy of a major metropolis, with skyscrapers like the Skyline Tower leading the way.

Midtown East and Long Island City from the Empire State Building's 102nd floor observatory. Photo by Michael Young

Long Island City. Photo by Michael Young

To the immediate south are the sprouting towers of NoMad including Madison House and Madison Square Park Tower; further downtown loom the skyscrapers of the Financial District and the supertalls of the World Trade Center complex; beyond and to the east is Downtown Brooklyn, which, with towers like City Point and the forthcoming 9 DeKalb Avenue, is vying with Long Island City for the most impressive skyline in the outer boroughs.

Finally, to the west, visitors can watch as nascent supertalls 50 Hudson Yards and 66 Hudson Boulevard round out the first phase of Hudson Yards, the largest private real estate development in U.S. history.

Hudson Yards from the Empire State Building's 102nd Floor Observatory

Hudson Yards. Photo by Matt Pruznick

Though it will likely remain unchallenged in its draw as a tourist destination, the Empire State Building is nonetheless facing increased competition in the observatory market, with Edge at 30 Hudson Yards set to open in March and One Vanderbilt’s observation deck to follow in 2021. With this latest set of renovations, the landmark has further cemented its status as the go-to choice for sky-high sightseeing for years to come.

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13 Comments on "YIMBY Tours the Empire State Building’s Newly Renovated Observatories"

  1. The tele-photo lens photos,while interesting, are NOT what the viewer actually sees. Far from it.
    Also it wouls seem that with the additional exhibits & kiosksbelow the actual viewing platforms,
    crowding would increase rather than steamlined or reduced.
    Finally, the added second few for the 102nd floor platform is a rip-off.
    Perhaps One Vanderbilt will be better in all respects when it opens.

  2. David in Bushwick | January 1, 2020 at 10:10 am | Reply

    Several years ago I took my family to the 102nd floor deck which had recently been opened. It was really dumpy with tiny windows, but we didn’t mind the extra cost given the one-time novelty of the visit. This renovated version is so much better that I may need to consider it again once most of the new towers and Skyprick Row are finished.
    Well done Empire State Building!

  3. The Empire State building was built during a time of American ingenuity now there’s new kids on the block if the Empire State Building wants to stay/ be relative it has to step up but don’t try to slow other people down like the sick NIMBY’s would love to do

    • Yes, there has been a dark side to the ESB and its supporters and surrogates. Much lobbying against projects that might slightly inhibit views or overshadow its prominence. The truncated 53W53 is Exhibit A.

      • ESB was sit empty for decades, even in 1945 was still empty. But it wasn’t built as another Greed Monument of Capitalism, it was built as a Symbol of New York State, United States Own Engineering Achievement and as A Symbol of Our Freedom and Our Dominance over Free World!!!
        The 102nd floor was designed as as waiting room of Airship ground on tip of the Mast.
        Turned after Hinderburg disaster into viewing platform, an Observatory on 102nd floor. But as result, designed with small window, and now after 89 years finally gets it’s renovation done and turned as competitor of WTC Observatory. One of tallest enclosed Observatory in America, after Willis Tower in Chicago.

        • Please no political harrangs here. Lets talk only architecturally. Marx, Lenin and John Ds. not welcome.

          ESB has NO RIVALS and will never have any. It is like saying a Picasso needs to compete with some of these Johnny come Latelies in order to stay relevant! Picasso is permanently relevant, as is ESB. The only thing I miss and I wish they bring back, is the outdoors observation deck.

  4. ESB is still King…

    • Old King, but he still reign, in being as the most popular in the World supertall skyscraper and still one 10 of tallest building in Western Hemisphere. Number 10 perhaps? Should be counted with his mast and antenna, 1454′?

  5. No more outdoorsy!

  6. During the 1950’s as a young boy I went up to the 102nd floor with my mom ..it was claustrophobic and dirty,more like being in a prison’s solitary confinement (I imagine)..I couldn’t wait to get back down to the outdoor observation deck.

  7. Jack Architekt | January 2, 2020 at 2:18 pm | Reply

    ESB sit empty for decade years after it’s completed in 1931, even in 1945 was still empty. But it was built by State Of New York as to attract people from across the World for New and Major Icon Landmarked Building of the Century in New York and overall in Western Hemisphere!!!
    This is a greatest achievement of American Architecture and a symbol of NYC/NJ Skyline, a Symbol of New York State, what is named as Empire State!!!
    World’s renowned 102 Observatory is now getting a Fresh 21 Century modern look for it’s almost 89 years history!!!

  8. OH NO! Did I miss something – is the outdoor observation deck closed, the one on the 86th floor?? Tell me no, then tell me why. That was a superb space – NOOOOO.

  9. Why are you people worried about the 86th floor observation deck,it’s not closed.This is a renovation of the 102nd floor.

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