With all the property acquisition of famous buildings over the last thirty years there is still, thankfully, one that has retained its original name: The Chrysler Building.
Though the Chrysler Corporation, long since acquired by Daimler-Benz, moved out in the mid-1950s, the building that bears its name remains one of the world’s most recognizable structures.
Its distinctive Art Deco design represents the pinnacle of that architectural movement. A 77-story rectangular building, the upper floors are a wonderland of steel-clad arches garnished with automotive-themed gargoyles. Those arches form a narrowing cascade to the building’s once-record breaking 1,048-foot peak, where a spire caps the work.
The 185 ft spire, delivered and raised to the top in secrecy was installed in 90 minutes to beat contemporary competitors also reaching for ‘the world’s tallest’ status.
Only photographs can begin to do the image justice, but the best option is to stand a few blocks away up Lexington north of the 42nd Street site on a sunny day.
In this way, the visitor can best see the entire seven story pinnacle of shining arches. From this distance the spire and blue-steel and aluminum facade gleam, while the flying wings – emblematic of Chrysler hood ornaments, are clearly visible.
From the wings on the 31st floor to eagle heads at the 61st the corners are bedecked with reminders of an age when autos were among the latest technological innovations.
The interior is no less impressive.
On the lobby walls, are Art Deco murals of several different designs. The mosaics carry out the building’s theme, but in much darker colors – an alternating array of browns and blacks that provide the interior its more serious side.
The dark onyx and amber African marble, alternating with shining chrome, is rich and well-maintained, befitting its status as part of one of the world’s icons.
Completed in 1930, the building briefly held the record for the world’s tallest structure – intentionally surpassing the Eiffel Tower – until it was in turn surpassed by The Empire State Building four months later.
But to this day it retains the prize as one of the top 10 architectural marvels of the modern age and is still the tallest brick building in the world.
Commissioned by the chairman of Chrysler, the building grew in 1928 and 1929 at the rate of four floors per week. Not even the beginning of the Depression was able to dampen enthusiasm for the construction project. Though the economic downturn did have one victim – the observation floor, which later turned into a restaurant that also subsequently closed.
At one point nearly 3,000 workers were employed simultaneously on the $20 million project. The building was constructed using nearly 21,000 tons of steel, 400,000 rivets, and almost four million bricks. Even for such a large building (over 111,000 square meters) it has a substantial number of elevators, 32.
The building has a varied history. Chrysler refused to pay architect van Alen’s fee on the grounds he’d bribed contractors. Even the original lighting design was only finally discovered and installed in the 1980s.
But whatever its checkered past, the results remain one of the must-see destinations for every visitor to a city already crowded with competing sights.
The building is easily reached via bus or subway to Lexington and 42nd Street.