Arguably, the most iconic Art Deco skyscraper, the Chrysler Building was unofficially opened by Walter Chrysler on April 15, 1930. Designed by William Van Alen, it was briefly the tallest building in the world and the first building taller than the Eiffel Tower. The race to build the tallest building in the world reach a fever pitch in 1929. Two architects, once partners that had become bitter rivals, were battling each other to give their respective clients the prize of world’s tallest. H. Craig Severance was building The Manhattan Company Building at 40 Wall Street and he was determined to beat William Van Alen. When Van Alen announced that the Chrysler Building was to be 808 feet tall, Severance informed the press The Manhattan Company Building would be 840 feet. The battle was on, each architect changing their design to make it the highest. Here is an illustration showing the changes the Chrysler Building took during its construction.
In the summer of 1929 Van Alen announced to the press that the final height of the Chrysler Building would be 850 feet. Severance announced his building would be 925 feet, making it the world’s tallest, it would eventually top out at 927 feet. But Van Alen had a trick, not up his sleeve, but inside the top of the building – the 185 foot spire that tops the dome, was built in secret and hoisted into place on October 23, 1929. The spire, which Van Alen called the Vertex, brought the height of the Chrysler Building to 1,046 feet.
The first tenants moved into The Chrysler Building in March of 1930, a few weeks before Walter Chrysler unofficially opened the building to the public. New Yorkers immediately fell in love with the building, which was officially opened in June. But the critics were divided about the design; some thought it daringly modern, while other thought it too excessive with the vertex being a cheap trick which should not be included in the final height of the building. After 85 years, the Chrysler Building is the supreme example of late 1920’s skyscraper architecture. The lobby is a magnificent public Art Deco space.
Unfortunately, other public spaces have been closed and destroyed. There was a Chrysler automobile showroom on the ground floor, that was very moderne in style.
The Cloud Club on the 66th – 68th floors was a private dining room, bar and lounge for the executives in the building. The Cloud Club survived until the 1970’s. Today the club is gutted and nothing remains of this wonderful Deco space.
Another short-lived, long gone, public space was the observation lounge on the 71st floor. The price of admission was fifty cents. But after the opening of the Empire State Building the next year, the days of the Chrysler Building’s observation lounge were numbered. It finally closed in 1945 and the space gutted shortly afterwards for CBS television transmitters. In my opinion, the Chrysler observatory was the most fanciful in all of Manhattan, it is a shame it wasn’t considered worthwhile saving.
The Chrysler Building has been one of my favorite buildings since I was a small boy. But I have very few collectibles of the it. As a child I always wanted a white metal souvenir of the Chrysler Building, but they were no longer made. I finally got one on Ebay in 1999, while not great in quality, it does date from the 1930’s.
My only other souvenir is a commemorative book from 1930. I picked it up at the long gone Route 1 Flea Market in New Brunswick, New Jersey in 1984 for one dollar, I don’t know what the value of the book is today.
The next time your in New York City, stop by the Chrysler Building at Lexington Avenue and 42nd Street, it’s worth the trip.
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