"THE new exhibition at the Keith de Lellis Gallery, “New York: A Bird’s-Eye View,” has a striking assortment of aerial views of the city. No image is more arresting than that of the Navy dirigible Los Angeles docking at the mooring post of the Empire State Building, a giant cigarlike cylinder coming nose-to-nose with the tallest building in the world.

"That the photograph is a composite, a fake, is disappointing but not surprising: no airship ever docked there, and indeed the whole mooring mast concept was a bit of a stunt itself.

"In late 1929, Alfred E. Smith, the leader of a group of investors erecting the Empire State Building, announced that they were increasing the height of the building to 1,250 feet from 1,050. Mr. Smith, a past governor of New York, denied that competition with the 1,046-foot-high Chrysler Building was a factor. “We are measuring its rise by principles of economic investment rather than spectacular standards,” he told The New York Times.

"The extra 200 feet, it was announced, was to serve as a mooring mast for dirigibles so that they could dock in Midtown, rather than out in Lakehurst, N.J., the station used by the German Graf Zeppelin. Mr. Smith said that at the Empire State Building, airships like the Graf, almost 800 feet long, would “swing in the breeze and the passengers go down a gangplank”; seven minutes later they would be on the street.

"But the Germans, who dominated dirigible technology, had not asked for a docking station, and passenger traffic on dirigibles was still minuscule. The mast camouflaged the quest for boasting rights to the world’s tallest building, an ambition to which it seemed indecent to admit.

"Dr. Hugo Eckener, the commander of the Graf Zeppelin and the world’s expert on dirigibles, said flatly that the Empire State project was not practical. Zeppelin landings required scores of ground crewmen, retaining ropes fore and aft, and even then landings were sometimes dicey. Dr. Eckener had trained the dirigible crews for the bombing raids over London in World War I.

"The dirigible docking project was still up in the air in March 1931, when Dr. Eckener visited the tower, after which all he had to say was that the matter required further study. The Skyscraper Museum has photographs of the construction of the Empire State Building online.

"The tallest building in the world opened that May; the developers acknowledged that the apparatus for winching the airships had not yet been designed. In December the Navy airship J-4 flew from Lakehurst and hovered around the tower at the request of a newsreel company. The 30-mile-an-hour winds, described as “treacherous” by The Times, made the approach difficult.

"In mid-September another dirigible was able to jury-rig a three-minute connection to the top of the building, in 40-mile-an-hour winds. Two weeks later the Goodyear Blimp Columbia picked up a stack of Evening Journals from the newspaper’s plant at 210 South Street and lowered them on a 100-foot-line to a man on the tower, who was able to cut the bundle free.

"The Columbia tried to connect again the next day, but could not. That was the last recorded attempt to make contact of any sort; in the same year NBC began broadcasting from the tower.

"In 1936 Dr. Eckener passed over the Empire State Building at night on his way to Lakehurst. In command of the new dirigible Hindenburg, he resisted Nazi efforts to take over the airship program, and by May of the following year had been replaced. That was when the Hindenburg burned and crashed in Lakehurst, effectively ending commercial passenger travel in airships.

"Donald Friedman, a structural engineer who contributed an essay to the 1998 book “Building the Empire State,” edited by Carol Willis, said that strictly from a structural standpoint the notion of securing an airship to the Empire State Building, even at the very top, was a reasonable one. John Tauranac, the author of the 1995 “The Empire State Building,” agrees.

"But the notion that passengers would be able to descend an airport-style ramp from a moving airship to the tip of the tallest building in the world, even in excellent conditions, beggars belief.

"The original docking level is one floor above the 102nd-floor observatory, up some steep stairs behind an unmarked door. The stairs lead to a circular room perhaps 25 feet across.

"A door leads out to the circular terrace where passengers fresh from Europe or South America — and their steamer trunks — were to have set foot on American ground.

"The terrace is perhaps two and a half feet wide, and the parapet could not be any higher than that; it’s like standing on the raised lip of a Campbell’s soup can, a quarter-mile up.

"And because the terrace is circular, each side disappearing left and right, there is an uncomfortable sensation of being pushed outward. Were I arriving from Germany, I would have opted for blinders before leaving the nose. But it is an intoxicating view."