Empire State Building's 75th Birthday

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The Empire State Building in the early evening light as seen from the Brooklyn Bridge on April 28, 2006 in New York City.
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It soars more than 1,200 feet in the sky — 102 stories — a symbol of New York that by day welcomes office workers and tourists to breathtaking views. At dusk, it becomes a beacon for New Yorkers, a lighthouse for the city.

"It's the sense that you're on top of the world, that you can see forever," says Carol Willis, a historian with the skyscraper museum. "That you're in a place which is sort of beyond the daily life."

In this city of skyscrapers, New Yorkers are celebrating its king. CBS' Charles Osgood reports it will be 75 years old Monday.

It was an ambitious project from the start. John J. Raskob, then head of General Motors, and New York Governor Al Smith conceived the building in the 1920s. At the time, rival Chrysler Corporation was designing its own skyscraper. It became a race for the sky.

"Both buildings wanted to be the tallest building in the world," says Columbia University's historian Ken Jackson. "And so they waited until the Chrysler Building topped out and then they made the Empire State Building yet larger."

Construction began in March 1930. At its peak in the midst of the Depression, 3,500 men built four floors a week.

One year and 45 days after groundbreaking, the Empire State Building opened its doors. For good measure, a 200-foot stainless steel spire was added to the original design. The mast was intended to serve as a dock for passenger airships.

"We still call it the mooring mast," says Lydia Ruth the Empire State Building's spokeswoman.

A tiny space is where passengers would have unloaded, nearly a quarter-mile above the streets of Manhattan.

"People were going to come off the blimp, go down the ladder, maybe have a couple of cocktails, come back up here and climb back in the blimp," Ruth says. "I just can't believe people thought that would happen."

The feat, perhaps wisely, was never tempted. But the building's romance has captured the imagination of Hollywood, such as in the film "An Affair To Remember." When asked if the lovers should meet at the Empire State Building, Terry — played by Deborah Kerr — says "Why yes, it's the closest thing to Heaven we have in New York City."

It's most memorable star turn came in the 1933 film "King Kong." Who can forget when the great ape climbs the tallest tower to fight off the incoming planes?

But it's not all been glitter and glamour. More than 30 people have leapt to their deaths from here. And on one frightening day in 1945, a disoriented Army Air Corps pilot crashed his B25 into the 79th floor, killing 14.

It reigned as the world's highest building for 40 years, until the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center rose in downtown New York in 1972. After Sept. 11, the Empire State Building regained its crown as New York's tallest.

"It's triumph and tragedy brought together," says Willis. "The Empire State stands again as the symbol of New York."

A bittersweet icon now of a city that refuses to bow its head.