New York City is famous for many things, but primarily it is known as the city of skyscrapers. It all started with the religious cathedrals – its oldest “skyscraper” was the Trinity Church, which was 280ft tall at the time of its completion, in 1846. The “construction craze” for the highest, competing, commercial building began sometime in the late nineteenth century. Since that time many beautiful buildings have sprang up – piercing the sky, while advancing the image of Manhattan as the city with the most iconic towers.
Some of the older buildings have been demolished in the past, making way for the new constructions. Two of New York’s most famous sky-rises (the WTC’s Twin Towers) were savagely destroyed during the 9/11, though a new, elegant and glassy tower (One World Trade Center) has went up in their place.
In this list we included the top 10 most iconic skyscrapers in New York – which are not only the most famous buildings in the city, but are also the most historically (or symbolically) significant too. So let’s review them!
1. The Empire State Building
- Built: 1931
- Address: 350 Fifth Ave, New York, NY 10118
- Website: http://www.esbnyc.com
The Empire State Building was completed in 1931, built in just a little over a year, since its foundation was laid in January of 1930. It took the title of the World’s tallest skyscraper away from the Chrysler Building (sight #2) and held it for almost 40 years (the longest period in history).
At the time of its completion, the building had struggled to fill in its office space with commercial occupants, which led to its infamous nickname – “The Empty State”. Of course, it was during the dark times of the Great Depression. What saved the building from the doom, were the millions of visitors, who bought a ticket, and flocked to its top observation deck.
Nowadays, the Empire State Building is still famous for its incredible panoramic views, as well as its neon lights, which change due to an occasion, and are shining bright each night, after dark.
2. The Chrysler Building
- Built: 1930
- Address: 405 Lexington Ave, New York, NY, 10174
The Chrysler Building is one of the most highly recognized structures, not only in New York, but in the entire World. It was designed in a beautiful Art Deco style, fashionable at the time of its construction in the 1930s. Like the Empire State Building, it also used to offer a top observation deck, though it was permanently closed to visitors in 1945.
The Chrysler Building also held the World’s tallest building title, though for a little less than a year, before it was surpassed by the Empire State Building. At the time of its completion, there was another building competing for the title, located at 40 Wall Street. Since both – the 40 Wall Street and the Chrysler buildings were constructed at the same time, the architect of the Chrysler Building had built a hidden, narrow spire (125-foot, or 38 meter tall) inside the summit.
Once the 40 Wall Street had officially opened to a big fanfare in April 1930, earning the “World’s tallest building” status, the Chrysler Building has raised its steel spire from inside the crown, just several weeks later, snatching the fame and the title away from its less clever competitor. (And that’s why we call it the “construction craze”!).
3. The Flatiron Building
- Built: 1902
- Address: 175 5th Ave, New York, NY 10010
The Flatiron Building was originally called the Fuller Building, in the name of its owner and builder, George A. Fuller, the founder of the Fuller company. It was one of the tallest buildings upon its completion, and it was also one of the first skyscrapers to be made of steel frame. Until this day, it is still an active office building, occupied by numerous commercial tenants, though there are plans to convert it into a high-end luxury hotel, at some point, by its current owner.
The building has acquired much criticism when it was introduced to the public – as well as its present name, which started as a nickname, “the flat iron building”. Some locals did not believe that the structure will survive very long, and were making bets as to when it will be knocked down by one of the strong gusts of wind, which are common to the city. Evidently, the building “survived” and quickly became one of the most iconic and widely popular sights in Manhattan.
4. One World Trade Center (aka ‘The Freedom Tower’)
- Built: 2013
- Address: 285 Fulton St, New York, NY 10007
- Website: https://oneworldobservatory.com
One World Trade Center is one of the newest sky-rises completed in Manhattan. It was built at the site of the destroyed World Trade Center, and it’s currently the tallest building not only in New York, but in the entire Western Hemisphere. Just like the Empire State Building, it offers astonishing panoramic views from above, including that of the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Lower and Midtown parts of Manhattan, downtown Brooklyn, and the Empire State Building itself.
This beautiful tower has a very significant, symbolic meaning, especially for the New Yorkers. It represents hope, growth, a new beginning, as well as the strong will and the tough resilience of the city, in the face of evil terrorism, destruction and horror. It was designed with enhanced security features inside, and in a beautiful layout, which will undoubtedly make it one of the most recognizable and popular sights in due time.
5. The Woolworth Building
- Built: 1912
- Address: 233 Broadway, New York, NY 10007
The Woolworth Building is the National Historic Landmark and for a very good reason – it is one of the most iconic, and historically important structures in the city. It was built by a brilliant innovator, and a self-made millionaire, Frank Woolworth, who at one point, used to own more than a thousand retail stores.
Designed in a striking Gothic style, the building was once called “The Cathedral of Commerce”, with its marble floors and stairs, gargoyle heads, and a gorgeous mezzanine – it is definitely worth a short guided tour with a quick overview of its history, hidden treasures, and the overall significance.
The Woolworth Building was also one of the tallest buildings in the World, from 1913 (the year it was opened) to 1930. The day it was opened, the current U.S. president at the time – Woodrow Wilson, had participated in its inauguration ceremony, by sending a telegram from the White House. The President’s message was the starting signal to turn on the illumination of the Woolworth Building, for the first time – which included more than eighty thousand lights.
Until this day, it is still a functioning office building, though some of its upper floors have been converted into high-priced penthouses, offered for sale to rich buyers.
6. 30 Rock – Rockefeller Plaza
- Built: 1933
- Address: 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10020
30 Rockefeller Plaza (or simply 30 Rock) is one of the most famous buildings that belong to the massive Rockefeller Center located in Midtown Manhattan. The center was built by the famous American billionaire family, by the name Rockefeller. It includes 19 buildings spread around 4 blocks (between 48th and 51st streets, and 5th and 6th Avenues).
The 30 Rockefeller Plaza is the tallest building on sight, standing tall at 70 stories high – it also offers breathtaking views across Manhattan. Its top deck, called ‘The Top of the Rock’, is located at the 70th floor, on an open-air, 360-degree panoramic platform.
Since the 30 Rockefeller Plaza was built in the early 1930s, it was also designed in a magnificent Art Deco style common to that period. It is definitely worth a visit for its gorgeous decorations and murals alone, including those located in front of the building, such as the beautiful bronze gilded Statue of Prometheus.
Inside the tower, there are some famous offices and studios occupied by the NBC, the Saturday Night Live show, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, the Late Night with Seth Meyers and many others.
7. The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company Tower (‘Met Life Tower’)
- Built: 1909
- Address: 1 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10010
This beautiful building was also once the tallest building in the World, for almost four years, from 1909 to 1913, until the title was transferred to the Woolworth Building (sight #5). It is located in the Madison Square Park, and it stands close to the Flatiron Building (sight #3). It also holds the honorable designation as the National Historic Landmark.
The Met Life Tower’s striking centerpiece is a large, four-dial clock located in its summit, which is one of the largest of its kind in the World. In fact, it is even larger than that of the famous Big Ben tower’s in London. This beautiful skyscraper was modeled after the famous Campanile tower, located in Venice, Italy.
It has been recently repurposed from an office building into a luxury hotel, called the New York Edition Hotel in 2015. It is an especially alluring sight during the nighttime – when its summit glows and illuminates the sky.
8. Manhattan Municipal Building
- Built: 1914
- Address: 1 Centre St, New York, NY 10007
The David N. Dinkins Municipal Building, as it is now called, is a beautiful 40-stories high building, located right across the City Hall. It was built after the consolidation in 1898 of the five separate towns – Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Bronx and the Staten Island, formed one huge metropolis, called the New York City. The newly integrated municipal governments need a bigger space to host its expanded departments and hence the Municipal Building came into existence.
One interesting legend about the Municipal Building states that the famous Russian dictator, Josef Stalin, fell in love with it upon seeing it in a photograph. It later inspired him to build numerous buildings across the Soviet Union in a similar ‘Stalinist’ style, such as the central building of the Moscow University.
The beautiful golden statue that sits on top of the Municipal Building is called Civic Fame. It holds a crown with one hand (which represent the five boroughs) and a shield with the New York City Coat of Arms in another, and it was made of gilded copper.
9. New York Life Insurance Building
- Built: 1928
- Address: 51 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10010
The New York Life Insurance Building is a beautiful Gothic Revival tower famous for its amazing pyramid summit, which was built with 25,000 gold-leaf tiles. It is the headquarters of the New York Life Insurance Company, hence its name. It is also located right next to the Madison Square Park and the The Met Life Tower (sight #7). The building occupies an entire block area, and it is also listed as the National Historic Landmark.
The New York Life Insurance Building’s talented architect was none other than Cass Gilbert, who also designed the famous Woolworth Building (sight #5). There’s a small visitor center inside the main lobby, which provides a brief history into this marvelous structure, which is definitely worth a quick stop.
10. The E.V. Haughwout Building
- Built: 1857
- Address: 488-492 Broadway, New York, NY 10012
Upon glancing at this five-story building your first reaction might be – why is it on the ‘skyscrapers’ list? Well, it is not only because the E.V. Haughwout Building is the oldest building on the list, which predates all of the above skyscrapers, it is also because of its great historic significance – it is home to the World’s very first passenger elevator! The elevator was installed by an American inventor, Elisha Graves Otis, who designed the original safety mechanism that would prevent elevators from falling, even if its supporting cables failed at once.
The building is located in a chic downtown neighborhood, called SoHo, which is home to numerous artists, celebrities as well as a great amount of various small and big department stores. It was made of cast-iron – an innovation at the time of its completion.
It used to be home to the original Eder V. Haughwout’s megastore that sold very expensive and delicate china, silverware, chandeliers and more. Among its rich and famous clientele was Mary Todd Lincoln, the wife of the legendary President Abraham Lincoln, who bought a set of beautiful, new china to decorate the White House.