Chrysler Building

Chrysler Building Spire, 2010 by James Maher.

(*I write these articles because I love the city and the incredible stories behind each grand structure.  You can help support my photography by purchasing an archival print of the Chrysler Building for your home.  Photos with links below them are for sale.  Architectural detail shots and lobby shots below.)

The Chrysler Building is an example of a building caught up in the quest to become the tallest in the world, which it obtained briefly for 11 months before it was surpassed by the Empire State Building.  But because of its iconic and beautiful design, the height of the building never really mattered. classic example of Art Deco architecture, the Chrysler Building is considered by many contemporary architects to be one of the finest buildings in the world.  In 2005, New York's Skyscraper Museum asked one hundred architects, builders, critics, engineers and historians to choose their 10 favorite New York towers.  The Chrysler Building came in first place with 90% of people ranking it #1.


The project for the Chrysler Building began as a collaboration between architect William Van Alen and contractor William H. Reynolds.  Van Alen's original design was very ambitious, containing a decorative 'diamond' crown, showroom windows that were tripled in height and topped with a 12 story section of glass corners, lightening the look of the building.  But his designs proved to be too expensive and advanced for Reynolds' tastes, who sold the design and lease to industrialist Walter P. Chrysler.

Chrysler saw an opportunity in the project.  The east 42nd street area, once glamorous in the time that Grand Central Station was completed, had become commercially cheap with lots of available space.  Chrysler believed that he could breath life back into the area with a brand new iconic building.  So much so that Van Alen's design turned out to be not ambitious enough, and he had Van Alen redesign his plans to add additional stories.  

They were to go for the title of tallest building in the world. building also shifted its aesthetic to represent the Chrysler automobile and the machine age of the 1920s.  Gargoyles and eagles ornamented the building like the hood ornaments of the Plymouth automobile.  The corner ornaments were made to look like the 1929 Chrysler radiator caps.

The idea to become the tallest building in the world came out of Walter P. Chrysler's hubris.  It was, in his mind, a huge monument to himself.  The project was financed out of his own pocket, ensuring that his sons would get ownership.  He was to have an office suite and apartment with a exquisite dining room at the top and asked his builders to make sure his toilet was the highest in Manhattan, so that he could look down and as an observer put it, "shit on Henry Ford and the rest of the world."

The quest for height supremacy continued in secret.  Being built simultaneously, 40 Wall Street was also boasting of becoming the tallest building in the world.  Financed by a 34 year old banker nicknamed "the kid", and designed by Craig Severance, Van Alen's estranged former partner, 40 Wall Street's spire was lengthened by 60 feet to push it to 925 feet, or 85 feet taller than the Chrysler building's plan.

So Chrysler and Van Alen decided to add a surprise 186 foot spire.  They hoisted 4 parts of the spire secretly to the top and riveted them together in 90 minutes.  40 Wall Street even held a celebration for being the tallest building in the world, without realizing that they had been passed.

But Chryler's victory would only last for 11 months, when the Empire State Building passed it as the tallest building in the world.  But here we see that the quest for the world's tallest building didn't really matter, as buildings will always be built taller.  In the end, it was Van Alen's design that is most iconic.  It may not be the tallest building in New York, but it is the best looking.

Grand Central Station and Chrysler Building, 2012 by James Maher

Chrysler Building from 42nd Street, 2012 by James Maher  


The Lobby

The Chrysler Building Lobby is possibly the most ornate and expensive lobby in the entire city. When walking in, the first thing that hits you is the amazing mural that covers the entire ceiling. A tribute to the age in which it was created, it is filled with Deco triangles, sharp angles, slightly curved lines, chrome detailing, and a multitude of patterns.  

The lobby shows scenes primarily of the workers that created the building, as well as tributes to the airplane and the age of flight.

The gorgeous walls of the lobby are made with a very expensive African marble.  It is clear that no expense was spared when creating the building.  The random yet repeated patterns play off the style of the rest of the lobby extremely well.

The lighting in the lobby was fairly sparse and somewhat dim, even though the fixtures were powerful and iconic.  Both factors created wonderful mood lighting and enhanced the scene.  


- Floors: 77

- Elevators: 34

- Tallest building in the world from 1930 to 1931

- Cost: $15 million

- The Chrysler Corporation sold the building in the mid 1950s

- 391,831 rivets used


Frequently Asked Questions:

1. When was the Chrysler Building built?

The Chrysler Building was completed on May 28th, 1930.

2. How Tall is the Chrysler Building?

The Chrysler Building was the first man-made structure to stand taller than 1,000 feet.  It stands at 1,048 feet (319.5 meters) high.

3. How many floors is the Chrysler Building?

The Chrysler Building has 77 floors.

4. Why was the Chrysler Building built?

The Chrysler Building was designed by architect William Van Alen, but it really was industrialist Walter P. Chrysler that pushed the building to what it became.  Chrysler saw an opportunity for the area to grow substantially, but mainly he wanted the building to be a personal monument to himself.

5. Who designed the Chrysler Building?

The Chrysler Building was designed by architect William Van Alen but pushed to become the tallest building in the world by financier and industrialist Walter P. Chrysler.  Many of the design elements of the building are directly related to Chrysler automobiles.

6. What is the Chrysler Building address?

The Chrysler Building is located at the intersection of 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue.


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