The Empire State Building and Macy’s

Nibbling the Big Apple VI

Empire State building from the corner of Broadway and 34th west street

It’s easy to slide between fantasy and reality when walking around in New York. The city has featured in so many movies that you begin to recognize places you’ve never actually visited in real life, places that render you a feeling of déjà vu, when really, it isn’t.

One such place is the Empire State Building. Cult movies such as the 1933 version of King Kong, placed the Empire State Building on the world map. The movie was remade in 2005 by Peter Jackson, with good reviews too. Another movie, Sleepless in Seattle (1993) with Tom Hanks – one of my favourite actors – also made me want to explore the Empire State Building when in New York, wondering if the place could possibly be the Eiffel Tower of New York.

From the Roosevelt Hotel, we asked the cab driver to drop us pretty much where the gorilla landed on the street when it fell from the top of the Empire State Building. It is unclear if he understood the reference or if he had heard it so often it wasn’t fun anymore:

Short film clip with the famous scene with Fay Wray and King Kong at the top of Empire State Building, 1933 (colourized).

We soon reached the Empire State Building and whatever romantic notions portrayed in the movies about the place, sadly disappeared at its ticketing booth. Far from Eiffel Tower romance, I began to realize there and then, that the Empire State Building was more reel.

The entire commercial set up around and inside the Empire State Building was contrived, bordering on cheesy. From ticketing to security checks to streaming of visitors through endless cordoned queues, intercepted by map sellers and souvenir shops and a compulsory green screen photo session for all visitors, the situation was all too low-end amusement park in style for me to feel comfortable.

To top off this straight jacketed visiting experience, the weather was something to be desired when we reached the top deck of the building. It was very cold, very dreary and very windy!

Most visitors at the top that day could as well at once forget about taking good pictures of any New York city skyline. Whilst the fog reduced skyline visibility, the heavy fencing all around the top of the building added greater unwield, if one wanted to take pictures of what laid beyond.

C-c-c-c-c-cold and windy with raindrops on the camera lens. The winds were playful that day and made my skirt do a Marilyn Monroe on me several times over. I finally had my skirt under control, when I backed up against the wall for this picture.

The view from the top deck of the Empire State Building, was not as interesting as that from the Rockefeller Center. But it did have some pluses, such as a splendid exploration sight of Macy’s department store from above. The department store occupies the entire block, sans the small building under the red Macy’s billboard.

Macy’s as seen from the top of the Empire Building.

It was in 1924 that an additional building was added, making Macy’s one million square feet of selling space. Macy’s ties with London’s Harrods in terms of selling space but perhaps does not carry as many top branded goods as the latter.

A moving story about Macy’s is Isidor Straus, a curio and the longtime co-owner of Macy’s, who was one of the most well-known casualties on the infamous sinking of the Titanic in 1912. Although Straus and his wife Ida had a chance to board one of the lifeboats, Isidor refused, saying that he would not go ahead of the younger men. And Ida, not wanting to leave her husband behind, stayed with him on the ship.

To me, Macy’s as a project, a corporation, as a building even, harbours the story of a legend.

On the way down from the top of the Empire State Building, what I found most interesting was its interior design, with its marbled walls and metallic tiled floors. The lamps along the corridors casting a warm golden yellow glow where they stood.

A corridor in the Empire State Building, coming down from the top.

Today, the Empire State Building is still office space with the section that leads to the top deck cordoned off for visitors. And visitors are most welcome to walk around the ground floor of the building, where they have shops and delis, to explore further.

Step out onto the street and a better view of Macy’s comes into sight:

On street level: The eye-catching red Macy’s billboard actually and funnily enough stands on top of almost the only building in the entire block that does not belong to Macy’s.

Reel or real that causes this déjà vu when walking the streets of New York, the city does have a history apart from what is reflected from the movie studios. And it’s the history of the place that brings forth and speaks the heart and soul of this city.

On a more grounded side to the here and now, the prices at Macy’s are alright too, to be Midtown New York.

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