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If King Kong's great-great-grandson were to visit the place where his late relation made it to the top of the heap (briefly), he would find a modern spin on the Art Deco masterpiece, still one of the focal points of the New York City skyline (with or without great ape clutching blonde).

The Empire State Building opened its doors on May 1, 1931, just a year and 45 days after its start, rising 4½ stories a week during the early days of the Great Depression, bringing jobs and income to a city struggling with the aftermath of the Crash of 1929. At 1,454 feet, it was the tallest building in the city.

In 2011, it draws thousands of visitors a day to its observatories on the 86th and 102nd floors, and houses hundreds of businesses, continuing to help drive the NYC economy in tough financial times. It's also (again) the tallest building in the city.

The recipient of a $550 million renovation/retrofit in 2009, the ESB has reduced the building's carbon emissions by more than 38%, and saves over $4 million a year in energy bills. You can learn all about it while you wait on line to ride the elevator up to the 86th floor observatory, from the interactive, multi-media Sustainability Exhibit on the second floor.

An additional bit of good news is that you won't have as long to look at it: the waiting time for visitors has been reduced to about 90 minutes at maximum during the high season (mid-summer), according to ESB staff, through redesign of the public areas, as well as patrons being able to purchase tickets online, bypassing the ticket windows. (There's also an "Express Pass" deal available online, which allows purchasers to go directly to the head of the line for an additional fee).

Here are a few more fun facts about the Birthday Building:

  • Look up when you're in the lobby: in the refurbishment, a drop-ceiling was removed and artisans restored the iconic celestial ceiling mural made of aluminum leaf and 23-karat gold to its original splendor
  • Over 220 couples have been officially married at the Empire State Building as part of ESB's annual Valentine's Weddings event. The 86th floor observatory is also a popular spot for proposals, and there's a strolling saxophonist playing on it Thursday through Saturday evenings from 10pm to 1am. ("Moon River," according to an ESB staffer, is a great song to propose to).
  • The annual ESB "Run-Up" is held in February each year. Thomas Dold of Germany took the 2011 stair-climb competition (his sixth consecutive win!), running up the 86 flights in 10 minutes, 10 seconds. The fastest time up the stairs was by Australian Daniel Crake, who ran it in 9:33 in 2003.
  • You can "like" the ESB on Facebook (www.facebook.com/EmpireStateBuilding) and follow it on Twitter (@ESBObservatory)
  • Nine different colors can be used to the light the building including blue, red, green, yellow, white, black, orange, pink and purple resulting in 405 possible color combinations. (To see the combination/occasion for the lights, visit www.esbnyc.com)
  • The ESB offers a discounted ticket ($19.00 per person) to all active military personnel (U.S. and international). Military personnel in uniform are admitted free and may go to the front of the lines.
  • Catch the last elevator up at 1:15am. The observatories stays open until 2 in the morning, 365 days a year.