Wanna hear a tall tale? Standing proud at 314 feet since 1929, the Reynolds Building has been a Winston-Salem icon for almost a full century. But as many local architecture fans know, it also served as inspiration for a certain King Kong-sized skyscraper up north. New York architectural firm Shreve and Lamb designed the local tower for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company — then contributed similar art deco plans for the Empire State Building that same year. But exactly how closely are the two related? Let’s take a look and see.
The Reynolds Building design came first and quickly grabbed the attention of architects around the world. With its ornate panels and stately facade, the tower won the National Architectural Association’s Building of the Year Award in 1929 and was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. Not to brag or anything.
Planners involved with Shreve and Lamb’s Empire State Building drew inspiration from the firm’s Reynolds design — in addition to the Carew Tower in Cincinnati, which was also built around the same time. The New York landmark highlights elements of both the Reynolds’ ziggurat-style top part and needle + the Carew Tower’s base.
As some people tell it, the Empire State Building owes so much to Winston-Salem’s iconic tower that it sends a Father’s Day card every year to the Reynolds Building. But that was only a one-time thing.In 1979, Robert L. Timber — the Empire State Building’s general manager at the time — did send a nice message on the 50th anniversary of the Reynolds Building, with an opening line that said, “Happy Anniversary, Dad.”
Paternal relationship or not, we’re still in awe of the building that now houses the Kimpton Cardinal Hotel, the Katharine Restaurant, and residential apartments. It built quite the rep on its own.