Cupid’s Tower: The Empire State Building

Featured Article, On the Road, Traditions, Travel Destinations
on February 5, 2013
Empire State Building Hosts Valentine's Day Weddings
Courtesy of the Empire State Building Stephanie and John Wu, of Louisville, Ky., exchanged vows on Valentine’s Day in 2011 on the observation deck atop the Empire State Building in New York City.

A New York City landmark, the Empire State Building has endured for generations as a national symbol of romance, thanks to its breathtaking views of Manhattan and the popularity of romantic films such as “An Affair to Remember” (1957) and “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993), in which the iconic skyscraper played a pivotal role. This year, to mark the 20th anniversary of the release of “Sleepless in Seattle,” “American Profile” profiles four couples whose real-life relationships reached new heights atop Cupid’s tower.

First date

Lingering over a late-night dinner in Manhattan, Gregg Marchese smiled as he thought about surprising Lauren Petrizzo with two tickets to the observatory atop the Empire State Building. The couple was on their first date in 2009, and Gregg was enjoying Lauren’s company immensely.

Gregg, 37, of Mahwah, N.J., had purchased the observatory tickets after seeing on Lauren’s Facebook page that visiting New York’s historic skyscraper was on her “bucket list.” If they clicked during dinner, he planned to extend their date and help Lauren fulfill that desire.

They did click, and Lauren was impressed by Gregg’s attention to detail and penchant for romance.

When the pair arrived at 1 a.m., the observatory was deserted, allowing for an intimate first kiss on the 86th floor overlooking the city.

“I had a gut feeling, because it was so late at night, it would be less crowded. It was like “Sleepless in Seattle,” because there was nobody up there,” recalls Gregg, citing the movie’s climactic final scene in which two soul mates finally meet.

Gregg and Lauren are engaged to marry in 2014, and they credit their favorite skyscraper with helping to build a romantic foundation for their relationship.

“Whenever we pass it, we call it our building,” says Lauren, 27, of Staten Island, N.Y.

Valentines with a view

When Andrew Schrage flew Carly Stewart from Chicago to New York City to get her first glimpse of the Big Apple in February 2009, he had a destination in mind for their first Valentine’s Day as a couple.

“I chose the Empire State Building because of its amazing history and breathtaking views,” says Andrew, 26. “I thought it would be a neat place to take her for a date.”

It was too windy and chilly on the open-air 86th-floor observation deck, so the couple took an elevator to the 102nd floor, which houses a smaller enclosed observatory.

“It was stunning, amazing and a little scary all at the same time,” recalls Carly, 27. “I couldn’t believe I could actually see [five] different states, all from atop one building.”

Sightseeing may be a nontraditional way to spend Valentine’s Day, but Andrew and Carly say visiting the Empire State Building left them starry-eyed.

“We were able to share our private moments, our thoughts and feelings toward each other, in a very public venue—something that made this date even that much more meaningful,” Carly says.

Elevated engagement

An unforgettable rendezvous atop the Empire State Building forever sealed the relationship of Amanda and Doug Duca of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.

They’d been dating for three years by 2005, when Amanda’s cousin invited the couple to visit New York. Doug, 35, was ready to propose marriage to Amanda, 31, and was thrilled that the trip would offer him a memorable venue to pop the question.

“It was a perfect opportunity,” Doug says. “I don’t think you can be more romantic than the top of the Empire State Building.”

When they arrived, Doug was surprised to be sharing the observation deck with a throng of tourists and quickly realized there would be no private moment together. So while he and Amanda admired the view of Manhattan from every angle, Doug noted which of the observatory’s corners seemed emptiest.

Just before sunset, Doug walked Amanda to the quietest spot and told her that he loved her and wanted to spend his life with her. He got down on one knee and showed her an engagement ring, which she tearfully accepted. Moments later, a few onlookers walked over to offer congratulations.

“I don’t even remember if people were watching,” Amanda says with a smile, while recounting the monumental moment with her husband, whom she married in 2006.

“I had tunnel vision. It was just me and [him].”

Nuptials over New York

When Stephanie and John Wu, of Louisville, Ky., won a wedding at the top of the Empire State Building in 2011, they were delighted—and shocked.

“We’ve always received requests from couples wanting to get married [here],” explains Jean-Yves Ghazi, the building’s observatory director. “To accommodate some of these hopeful couples, we hold a contest every year and select couples to get married or renew their vows at the romantic landmark on February 14th.”

Stephanie, 34, hadn’t mentioned to John, 27, that she’d entered the contest months earlier because she thought their chances of winning were remote. But once selected, the couple was thrilled to marry more than a thousand feet above Manhattan.

The ceremony was conducted in a glass-enclosed portion of the observation deck, allowing for spectacular views without chilly breezes. Stephanie wore a gown she’d picked out with her mother. John, a U.S. Air Force captain, wore his formal military uniform. The occasion began at 7 a.m., before the observatory opened to the public.

“It was almost magical, because our ceremony was beginning as the sun was rising,” Stephanie recalls. “It created a special glow in the room.”

Their wedding was shown live on local television news. After a brief reception of cupcakes and champagne atop the skyscraper, the newlyweds—still in their wedding attire—headed to brunch at a local restaurant, where their presence caused a stir.

“People said, ‘Oh my God, we just saw you on TV!’” Stephanie says. “We felt like celebrities.”