Its awesome view, its architectural beauty - and yes, the Hollywood ape - have made the Empire State Building one of New York's best-known sights.

But Jack Brod, a tenant who has done business in the building all of its 60 years, says its real appeal can be summed up in a word: character."It's got history woven into it," says Brod, 81. "It IS the Big Apple."

The building turned 60 Wednesday with a party complete with an Empire State-shaped birthday cake and Fay Wray, who helped immortalize the building in the 1933 movie "King Kong." The big ape himself also was expected to make an appearance, "with his party hat on," said party publicist Joe Carella.

Though its fame as the world's tallest building was usurped 20 years ago - first by the World Trade Center (1,350 feet), which was succeeded by Chicago's Sears Tower (1,450 feet) - the 1,250-foot Empire State is one of the most identifiable spots in New York.

It draws 2.5 million visitors each year, 30,000 each weekend. Since it opened May 1, 1931, an estimated 75 million have traveled to the top of the 102-story limestone and granite building to absorb its dazzling view: 80 miles and five states on a clear day.

"You truly can almost see forever," says Brod, who moved into the building two months before its official opening and now has a diamond company on the 66th floor.

"When I came in, there were still boards down in the lobby, no terrazzo floor. It was still under construction and only the first 20 floors were actually open."

The building, on Fifth Avenue between 33rd and 34th streets, was built at the onset of the Depression. While other projects were being canceled, Empire State founder John Jacob Raskob pushed forward.