Monday, December 9, 2013

Have The Valet Bring My Zepplin Up.

The Empire State Building is perhaps the iconic skyscraper. It has stood the test of time as a classic piece of art deco architecture, and has continued to dominate the city's skyline ever since its completion. Recently, the Empire State Building has gotten an update. There has been a new antenna put on and most notably are the new LED lights that illuminate the New York Skyline every night. So it got me thinking, what is something most people don't know about the Empire State Building. I could talk about the Astoria Hotel, which once stood where the Empire State Building sits now, the beautiful five story lobby, how a B-25 crashed into the building in 1945, that the building has been visited by numerous celebrities since 1931 including Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Pope Pius XII, Fidel Castro and Queen Elisabeth II to name a few, or that at the cornerstone laying, only one man in New York City declined to go, Walter P. Chrysler. But then I thought, I need something better and bigger. So I looked to the higher floors of the building, and did you know, when the Empire State Building was completed, it was fully equipped with a zeppelin mooring station, aka a parking spot for a blimp.

The idea of making it possible for zeppelins, blimps, dirigibles or whatever you like to call them docking at the Empire State Building came in 1929. The theory came from the investors who backed the building and were, well looking for more investors and money, a 1250 foot and 2 inch building doesn't come cheap you know. They even had an image produced of the US Navy's airship Los Angeles docked on the antenna (shown above), using the 1929 version of Photoshop. Now the building itself was originally supposed to be only 1050 feet high, but the idea of docking a blimp forced the designers to add an addition 200 feet, also they really wanted to dwarf the Chrysler Building, which in my opinion is a much better building, but that's another story. The idea was also brought up thinking trans Atlantic travelers would be much happier "landing" at the Empire State Building, hop in an elevator and be on the city streets in just a few minutes, instead of landing in New Jersey. the funny thing though is, no zeppelin, blimp or dirigible company even asked for this, and the market for those traveling across the Atlantic on airships was still just a small number, as travel by sea was more affordable. So you really have to ask, why even bother?

BIG DREAMS! That's why even bother! It's New York City at the onset of the Great Depression and if anywhere in the US was not going to be affected by poverty it was going to be New York. We all know this not to be completely true, but the Empire State Building was a huge deal back in 1930. It was setting a president for which all future skyscrapers would be measured to, so of course it needed a dock for airships. But here is what really happened. I think it was a grand dream of the designers and an even bigger venture by the owners to do something not only different but unique and that would generate tons of cash for the building. The idea of people flying into New York, getting out and being in their hotel, or business meeting or whatever they were doing there in a matter a minutes was an idea that would change the construction of buildings forever. But sadly it would never happen, and mainly because the dominating airship companies found it to be not practical. Dr. Hugo Eckner, of Graf Zeppelin the world leader in airship travel at the time, pointed out numerous flaws and found that trying to connect to a building would be impossible. So the dream of zeppelins landing at the Empire State Building was dead...or was it?

We all know that when American's have an idea we stick to it, I mean Americans invented the light bulb, the Colt Revolver, the internet, the rainy day cigarette holder, the curved barrel machine gun and the Slap Chop. So certainly they could figure out how to attach a zeppelin to a building. They never did. They made several attempts but nothing ever proved to be successful. The Naval Airship J-4, the Goodyear Blimp, the airship Columbia and several other tried. The most success came from a smaller blimp owned privately which connected for only 3 minutes and unloaded no passengers or goods. The problem was, first, the winds. Wind gusts at the top of the Empire State Building reach between 40 and 50 MPH. Second, it takes more than a few ropes to hold a blimp in place. Third, no airship company wanted it. And lastly, it was too dangerous, I mean we all know what happened to the Hindenburg, now imaging that, over New York City, not a good idea. In theory docking an airship there may be one of the coolest ideas in history. But it would never happen.

The idea of getting off on the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building, walking on a small ramp to the observation deck that gives you a sensation of being pushed off the building, doesn't sound like something people would sign up for. I know I'd need to be blindfolded and guided off with a safety harness on in order to do something like that. But I don't think that is what stopped the venture from happening. I think it was just viewed as impractical by the airship companies and simply easier to land in a field than to risk attaching to a building. Today building engineers look back at the daring idea and see that it was possible, with a little tweaking. The idea was a grand one and is pretty sad to see that it never came to be. Today we are left with some doctored photos and some records of what could have been. The Empire State Building has always been viewed as before it's time and the idea of docking a blimp to it just adds to the buildings legacy and the allure of  the Empire State Building. A mooring station would have paved the way for the city of tomorrow, well a city of tomorrow in the 1930s sense, but image the impact it would have had on the Big Apple today.

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