History of the Chrysler Building

A New York Icon

An American Icon: The Fabulous Chrysler Building
The magnificent Chrysler building. Source
There is something both mesmerising and unique about the gleaming Chrysler building, thrusting upwards in its art deco glory - a monument to modernism, industry and early 20th century optimism. One of the great skyscrapers of New York, it still dominates the Manhattan skyline, if not in height, then in style and certainly, fame.

Designs for the building on the corner of Lexington Avenue and 42nd Street were originally commissioned by a land-developer, William Reynolds, before being passed on to automobile magnate and industry-grandising visionary, Walter P Chrysler, who worked with architect William Van Alen to create one of the most significant buildings of the modern age.

It was a period of great skyscraper fever and one of Van Alen's briefs was to design the tallest building in the world - for months there was a rivalry between the Bank of Manhattan Company's emerging structure and Chrysler's building, with each eagerly checking on the others progress during construction. The Chrysler Building was opened to the public on may 27th, 1930, taller by 128 feet than it's rival, due to the surprise 185 foot spire added at the last moment.

The beautiful Chrysler Building has many different moods

The Glory of the Car

Walter P Chrysler and car
Chrysler wanted the building to stylistically reflect the auto-industry, which was at that time gathering a glorious commercial momentum and had indeed made Chrysler an extremely wealthy man.  Between two world wars, it was also a period of great faith in modernism, despite the looming spectre of the Great Depression and design-wise, exhuberantly rich. The art deco style was in full creative flight and this influence can be seen in the impression of a classic deco 'sunburst' pattern incorporated into the windows of the top seven floors.

There is a resplendent glamour about the striking metallic facade of sheet metal that sits perched at the apex of the building, along with the chevrons which were part of the Chrysler Co. logo.  At the edges of the 40th floor, there is a frieze of car wheels and four sculptures of radiator caps with wings, made from polished steel. The entire building is suggestive of  a kind of  shining optimism, pushing itself upward toward  bigger and better things. It really is a marvellous structure.

Elaborate design on the Chrysler Building's elevator doors

Inside the Chrysler Building
Rich contrast panelling inside an elevator
Luxurious black marble frames the main entrance to the building on Lexington Avenue and upon entering the lobby, an exotic feast confronts the visitor: red Moroccan marble walls, art deco fittings, an impressively large ceiling mural and gorgeous elevator doors with rich, contrast woods and fabulous designs and detail. There are 32 elevators in all, servicing 77 floors and in their day they were highly innovative in style, speed and shaft length.

In days gone by, in the floors beneath the shining spire was the exclusive The Cloud Club, where the bigwigs of industry would gather for private functions and business tête-à-têtes and Walter P Chrysler's private dining-room, complete with a striking frieze of auto-industry workers fashioned from polished black glass. A reminder of his empire as he elegantly supped on fine wine and food?

Although the building housed the Chrysler Corporation HQ from the 1930 until the 50s, the structure itself was not owned by the corporation but by Walter P Chrysler himself, who wanted to hand it down to his children. Nice inheritance eh? It was one man's vision, rather than a corporate view and by today's standards seems impossibly indulgent and even perhaps, excessively egotistical. If so, Chrysler's grandiose posturings have resulted in posterity's gain.
Inside the lobby of the Chrysler Building

Chrysler building side door. Every aspect of the decor is rich and detailed
Even the air vents in the Chrysler Building are a design triumph

Chrysler building -Art Deco ceiling light

Detail of an art deco lamp inside the Chrysler Building

Lexington Avenue entrance
Size Matters
Detail of the hubcaps which adorn the Chrysler Building
At 1048 feet high, including its 185 foot spire, the building once held the distinction of being the world's tallest, however, this claim to fame was brief and lasted less than a year before it was surpassed by style rival, the Empire State Building, in 1931. Rumour has it that a set of tools was at one point placed at the foot of the Chrysler building's spire but they were removed on the day the Empire State building was named the tallest. 

Such is the nature of skyscrapers; an eternal struggle to construct the biggest, most dominating erection on the cityscape. Interestingly, prior to the 20th century, the largest, most magnificent, awe-inspiring buildings were public ones: cathedrals, libraries, museums, places of government etc. Then skyscrapers emerged as gigantic monuments to commerce and they became the great capitalist symbols of the age.

The Chrysler building dwarfs the surrounding landscape,  as photographed in the early  20th century
The Hoover Building