The Empire State Building – Now in the Shadow of a Tower Designed by a Russian Firm

At 102-stories, standing 1,454 feet tall, it was once the world’s tallest building. Its Art Deco architecture and observation decks have made it a must-see for new arrivals and tourists. It was named one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil engineers. It has been seen in more than 250 TV shows and films. After An Affair to Remember and Sleepless in Seattle, it became one of the most romantic spots for couples. Recognizable, iconic, stately, timeless – there aren’t enough adjectives to describe its presence. 

It is, of course, the Empire State Building. And, if we can’t agree on much these days, New Yorkers can agree that it is an enduring symbol of our city. Now, however, this much beloved building is being obscured by what can only be described as an ugly tower designed by the Russian firm, Meganom. Neighbors who once had the pleasure of gazing out their windows at this glorious skyscraper, now are forced to look upon a symbol of corporate greed. Although 262 Fifth Avenue will have 56 stories, it will contain just 26 apartments. 

Let’s go back. This construction didn’t just pop up out of nowhere. It was approved by the New York City Council back in 2010, by the overwhelming vote of 47 to 1. Although owners of the Empire State Building lobbied hard to stop the rival tower, even, according to the New York Times, proposing a one-third mile zone that would protect the popular New York building from encroachment, the council members barely listened. They were won over by the developer, Vornado Realty Trust’s proposal to spend $100 million on improvements to subway entrances and tunnels at Penn Station. The council vote came as the city was facing a lack of construction in the city, although it would be years until ground would be broken for the new building. Now, as 262 takes shape, there is no shortage of buildings going up. 

It’s interesting that Penn Station figured into the council’s thinking, since the demolition of the original station in 1963 led to a movement to save other New York landmarks. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis led the charge to preserve Grand Central, something that might not have happened without her intervention. Ever since then, the city has tried to compensate for replacing what was an amazing Penn Station, with what can only be called an eyesore. The new Moynihan Train Station on Eighth Avenue, where Amtrak now operates, has gone a long way towards making up for the demolition of the old station. But old timers still remember what was lost that could never be replaced.

New York’s skyline is changing. Just one look at what’s happening on Central Park South is an indication that tall, skinny, and charmless is now the order of the day. And at a time when we need more affordable housing, we are opting for multi-million dollar apartments that can only be afforded by the rich and powerful, many of them corporate or foreign owners.

There may be no way to stop what the City Council put into action back in 2010. But going forward, we can push our current council members to make better decisions about what we build and how we protect what we already have. If you need proof, head down to 34th Street and look up. It may no longer be the tallest, but to some, as Deborah Kerr once said, “it’s the closest thing to heaven.”

Bigstock Photo: The Empire State Building is a 102-story landmark skyscraper and was the world’s tallest building for more than 40 years. May 30, 2011 in Manhattan, New York City.

About Charlene Giannetti (690 Articles)
Charlene Giannetti, editor of Woman Around Town, is the recipient of seven awards from the New York Press Club for articles that have appeared on the website. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Charlene began her career working for a newspaper in Pennsylvania, then wrote for several publications in Washington covering environment and energy policy. In New York, she was an editor at Business Week magazine and her articles have appeared in many newspapers and magazines. She is the author of 13 non-fiction books, eight for parents of young adolescents written with Margaret Sagarese, including "The Roller-Coaster Years," "Cliques," and "Boy Crazy." She and Margaret have been keynote speakers at many events and have appeared on the Today Show, CBS Morning, FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and many others. Her last book, "The Plantations of Virginia," written with Jai Williams, was published by Globe Pequot Press in February, 2017. Her podcast, WAT-CAST, interviewing men and women making news, is available on Soundcloud and on iTunes. She is one of the producers for the film "Life After You," focusing on the opioid/heroin crisis that had its premiere at WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival, where it won two awards. The film is now available to view on Amazon Prime, YouTube, and other services. Charlene and her husband live in Manhattan.