“Welcome to the top of the world”, says Jean-Yves Ghazi as we step onto the 103rd floor observation deck of New York City’s most iconic building. As Director of the Empire State Building Observatory, Mr. Ghazi is tireless in ensuring that the building’s daily visitors have the experience of a lifetime and a view that’s unmatched anywhere in the city. He’s passionate about his work, highly respected by his staff, and a wealth of knowledge regarding the building’s unique history. NYC Monthly was honored to speak with him recently.
NYCM: We understand that the Empire State Building underwent major renovations recently. What inspired the change?
JYG: In 2006, under the leadership of Anthony Malkin, this building began a transformation. The original ceiling had been covered, probably sometime in the 50s and 60s, with ceiling tiles and neon lights – so the original ceiling was completely destroyed. When I joined the company in 2008, the lobby was nothing but scaffolding because we had begun the restoration of the ceiling to its original condition. And, the idea was that we want to celebrate our heritage – we want to return this building to its original glory. So, under Tony’s leadership, we were able to take this building and move it forward with over $550 million worth of investment to restore it to its original image.
NYCM: In 2010 you launched your “sustainability exhibit” demonstrating your groundbreaking “green” initiatives. What other exhibits do you have and where can we find them?
JYG: Located on the 80th floor, The “Dare to Dream” Exhibit celebrates the construction of the Empire State Building. There are three core themes that made the Empire State Building such a remarkable achievement: Speed – It was built in a year and forty-five days; Scale – It was the tallest building in the world at the time; and Steel – the amount of steel that we used – everything’s interconnected using over 57,000 tons of steel. In fact, the demand was so high that the steel arriving daily from the factory in Carnegie Pennsylvania was still warm to the touch.
NYCM: We understand that there’s an area called “Celebrity Walk”. Can you talk more about that?
JYG: Celebrity Walk is only open to visitors during low visibility days and we surprise them with it, so we don’t actively promote it as part of the experience. But, if somebody comes in and it’s their last day in New York City, visibility is poor, and they come into the building and go up to the top anyway – they don’t get a great view, and what we deliver to them is this added factor of the celebrity corridor – we open that up for them. We say, ‘Hey you guys, enjoy, come and see that you’ve shared this space with famous celebrities like Mariah Carey, Tom Cruise, and Justin Bieber.’
NYCM: Have any movies been filmed here recently?
JYG: Absolutely. Have you seen Oblivion? Some of the scenes were shot here in June 2012, a year before the movie was released. Tom Cruise was here for a few days and that was great fun. Certainly, the building itself is prominently featured in most movies about NYC. But Oblivion was the most recent one we were a part of. And, the story was fantastic because it was about romance. This is one of the experiences we sell: romance. The most romantic moment. People proposing all the time, it happens everyday.
NYCM: Speaking of romance, Valentine’s Day is approaching. Are there any celebrations or special ways you’re honoring it?
JYG: There are. Once a year there’s a Valentine’s Day contest, and we select winners and marry a certain number of couples on the 86th floor. Well, they have a ceremony in the building and we take them up to the 86th floor to celebrate. But, I’m more fascinated by the non-official events. The one’s that take place everyday. Spontaneous proposals like the guy getting down on his knees and asking, ‘Will you marry me?’ I mean, wow, it’s terrific – that’s what it’s about.
NYCM: How would you describe the view from the top?
JYG: It’s truly a unique 360-degree experience of New York City. Nowhere else will you ever experience this. You’re in the heart of Manhattan – can’t match that. You can see up to five states on a clear day. When somebody asks, ‘Can you describe the views?’ It’s hard to describe. Images don’t do it justice. I don’t care what photo you have or what camera you have. You really have to live it.