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aug 26 2011

The Empire State Building turns 80

The Empire State Building is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, and the 20th-century icon has not only debuted some stunning cosmetic renovations, but has completed a super green upgrade that's setting the bar for commercial buildings around the world.

When visiting the ESB, the revamped lobby will make even hardened New Yorkers look up: A gold-leaf celestial ceiling mural was painstakingly recreated after spending years covered up by (shame!) a drop ceiling. And further inside, two Art Deco chandeliers that were originally planned for the building but never created have finally been designed and installed.

During my visit this summer, I was so impressed by the lengths that the restoration went to in order to stay true to original techniques. The replaced marble panels in the hallways, for example, have been installed according to the original method of "butterflying" the slabs. That is, imagine slicing through marble as you would a loaf of bread, then opening the slices like pages of a book—the result is a series of mirrored pairs that line the walls and showcase the veining pattern in the marble, like a gleaming set of Rorschach paintings.

It's this level of detail that makes the ESB's restored interior so gorgeous—even if you didn't know about butterflied marble and recommissioned chandeliers, the building's craftsmanship is evidently grand.

The main focus of the ESB overhaul, while not as superficially show-stopping, is making a huge impact: a sustainability retrofit, prompted in part by the Clinton Climate Initiative. From replacing every window (more than 6,000) to overhauling the radiators, to reassessing tenants' energy usage, the ESB has reduced its carbon emissions by 38%, and will save an estimated $4.4 million in energy costs per year.

The experience of visiting the Empire State Building has been streamlined as well: even in the high season, the average wait time is about 45 minutes—and once you reach the elevator bank, you'll shoot up to the 80th floor in 57 seconds. To shorten your wait by 20 minutes, book your tickets in advance online.

In January and February (with the exception of Valentine's Day) the wait time's much shorter, about 20 minutes total. And if spending a winter's day on the 86th floor's observation deck doesn't sound appealing, stay cozy in the enclosed 102nd-floor Observatory.

Or, try coming on the off-hours, any time of year. Early birds who arrive as the observation deck opens at 8 a.m. will have a much speedier trip to the top. The deck also stays open until 2 a.m. (the last elevator is at 1:15 a.m.), so those who saunter in after midnight will find the lines have dispersed. Bonus: Thursday through Saturday evenings, a wandering jazz-saxophone player will take your requests.

To learn more about the Empire State Building, from the color of tonight's lights to more green initiatives, visit esbnyc.com. Have you been to the ESB lately? Have a memorable moment from your visit that you'd like to share? Post in the comments below!

SEE MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL:

50 Reasons You Love New York City

Confessions of...A New York City Street-Food Vendor

16 Awe-Inspiring American Monuments

Get Inspired with more from BudgetTravel.com


Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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