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Empire State Building Pioneer Dies

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Empire State Building Pioneer Dies

Remembrances

Empire State Building Pioneer Dies

Empire State Building Pioneer Dies

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In Depth

NPR spoke to Jack Broad in 2002 as part of a story exploring the creation of the Empire State Building. Read and hear that story.

Jack Broad, the last "original" tenant of the Empire State Building who still worked there, died this month at age 98. He started a business in the New York landmark soon after the building opened in 1931. He loved the building, which he called a "cathedral of commerce."

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Jack Broad died earlier this month. For years, he bragged that he was the last living original tenant of the Empire State Building that was still working there. In 1931, when he and his father opened a collection agency in the building, only a little more than a dozen floors were even ready for occupancy. It was the height of the Depression. Folks called the landmark the Empty State Building.

As people started handing the Broads gold and diamonds to make good on their debts, the men changed their focus from collections to jewelry. Jack Broad was an early user of toll-free numbers - dial-a-diamond, he called it. He guaranteed that engagement rings could be returned. Cost you nothing, he said, if she dumps you within 60 days.

Jack Broad's brash talk worked. His business grew. And in an interview with NPR five years ago, he told how he moved up in the Empire State Building at the same time.

Mr. JACK BROAD (Owner, Empire Diamond Company): We moved from the seventh floor up to the 14th and up to the 15th and up to about 25, 30 years ago, we moved up to the 66th floor.

SIMON: For eight decades, Mr. Broad ruled the elevators, higher and higher. His last office was on the 76th floor. Jack Broad loved the Empire State Building. One Valentine's Day, he gave wedding bands to couples who were getting married on the building's observation deck. And in 1996, the building honored him by lighting the tower gold - an appropriate color not only for Mr. Broad's business but because, for Jack Broad, the Empire State Building was business.

Mr. BROAD: You see I call it a cathedral of commerce. And I put in the same class as St. Patrick's Cathedral or St. John's Cathedral. But this is a type of building that I don't think will ever be built again because it's too expensive per square foot.

SIMON: Over the years, Jack Broad witnessed plenty of real drama at 34th Street in Fifth Avenue. He remembered the day in 1945 when a B-25 bomber accidentally crashed into the building. Three decades later, robbers tied him up and dashed off with $600,000 worth of jewelry. And twice a year, Mr. Broad recharge his romantic feeling for the signature skyscraper in which he work by watching a famous old movie in which a giant gorilla hung to the skyscraper with a beautiful girl in the palm of his hand.

(Soundbite of movie, "King Kong")

Mr. ROBERT ARMSTRONG (Actor): (As Carl Denham) Oh, no, it wasn't the airplanes. It was beauty who killed the beast.

SIMON: Jack Broad was 98 years old when he died. No cause of death was given.

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