Empire

East River Skyline, c. 1955

East River Skyline, c. 1955

The Manhattan Skyline viewed from Roosevelt Island in 1955 looks strikingly familiar to a contemporary viewer. The art deco spires of the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building spear the sky, and the cigarette-box-shaped United Nations waits impassively for the better world its construction was supposed to help usher in. But the majestic giants of the second half of the Twentieth Century are conspicuously absent. The Citigroup Center, the Bear Stearns Building, the MetLife Building, and many others have yet to replace their smaller, forgotten predecessors.

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The Empire State Building Under Construction, 1930

The Empire State Building Under Construction, 1930

At the time of this photo, the Empire State Building was just surpassing the Chrysler Building as the tallest in the world. Completed in 1931, the Empire State Building was for forty years the pinnacle of skyscraper architecture. The portion that is still being constructed in this photo is not the familiar antenna that we know today, but what was intended to be a mooring mast and dock for airships. The first few attempts proved the impracticality of this idea. Imagine being a passenger disembarking across a gangplank 102 stories above Fifth Avenue.

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