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Chrysler Building

Chrysler Building

The Chrysler Building is an Art Deco–style skyscraper located in the Turtle Bay neighborhood on the East Side of Manhattan, New York City, near Midtown Manhattan, at the intersection of 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue. At 1,046 feet (318.9 m), the structure was the world's tallest building for 11 months before it was surpassed by the Empire State Building in 1931.[7][13] It is the tallest brick building in the world with a steel framework. As of 2018, the Chrysler is the eighth-tallest building in the city, tied with The New York Times Building.[14]

Originally, a project of real estate developer and former New York State Senator William H. Reynolds, the building was constructed by Walter Chrysler, the head of the Chrysler Corporation, and served as the corporation's headquarters from 1930 until the mid-1950s. The Chrysler Building's construction was characterized by a competition with 40 Wall Street and the Empire State Building to become the world's tallest building. Although the Chrysler Building was built and designed specifically for the car manufacturer, the corporation did not pay for its construction and never owned it; rather, Walter Chrysler decided to pay for it himself so that his children could inherit it.

When the Chrysler Building opened, there were mixed reviews of the building's design, ranging from its being inane and unoriginal to that it was modernist and iconic. Perceptions of the building have slowly evolved into its now being seen as a paragon of the Art Deco architectural style; and in 2007, it was ranked ninth on the List of America's Favorite Architecture by the American Institute of Architects.

Chrysler Building
Record height
Tallest in the world from May 27, 1930[2][3] to May 1, 1931[4][I]
Preceded by40 Wall Street
Surpassed byEmpire State Building
General information
Architectural styleArt Deco
Location405 Lexington Avenue, Manhattan, New York 10174
Coordinates40°45′6.12″N 73°58′31.08″W [261]
GroundbreakingSeptember 18, 1928[5]
CompletedMay 27, 1930[2][3]
OwnerLand: Cooper Union
Building: SIGNA Group
and RFR Holding LLC[6]
Antenna spire1,046 ft (318.9 m)[7]
Roof925 ft (282 m)
Top floor899 ft (274 m)[7]
Technical details
Floor count77[7][8]
Floor area1,196,958 sq ft (111,201.0 m2)[7]
Design and construction
ArchitectWilliam Van Alen
Chrysler Building
U.S. National Historic Landmark
NYC Landmark
Chrysler Building is located in New York City
Chrysler Building
Location in New York City
Chrysler Building is located in New York
Chrysler Building
Chrysler Building (New York)
Chrysler Building is located in the United States
Chrysler Building
Chrysler Building (the United States)
Architectural styleArt Deco
NRHP reference #76001237 [262]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP1976[10]
Designated NHLDecember 8, 1976[11]
Designated NYCLExterior and interior: September 12, 1978[9]



The Chrysler Building from the Empire State Building, both erected as part of New York City's 1920s building boom

The Chrysler Building from the Empire State Building, both erected as part of New York City's 1920s building boom

In the mid-1920s, New York's metropolitan area surpassed London's as the world's most populous metropolitan area[15] and its population exceeded ten million by the early 1930s.[16] The era was characterized by profound social and technological changes. Consumer goods such as radio, cinema, and the automobile—whose use grew exponentially in the 1920s—became widespread.[17] In 1927, Walter Chrysler's automotive company, the Chrysler Corporation, became the third-largest car manufacturer in the United States, behind Ford and General Motors.[18][19] The following year, Chrysler was named Time magazine's "Person of the Year".[20][21]

The economic boom of the 1920s and speculation in the real estate market fostered a wave of new skyscraper projects in New York City.[21] The Chrysler Building was built as part of an ongoing building boom that resulted in the city having the world's tallest building from 1908 to 1974.[22] Following the end of World War I, European and American architects came to see simplified design as the epitome of the modern era and Art Deco skyscrapers as symbolizing progress, innovation, and modernity. The 1916 Zoning Resolution restricted the height that street-side exterior walls of New York City buildings could rise before needing to be setback from the street.[1][25] This led to the construction of Art Deco structures in New York City with significant setbacks, large volumes, and striking silhouettes that were often elaborately decorated.[26][27] Art Deco buildings were constructed for only a short period of time; but because that period was during the city's late-1920s real estate boom, the numerous skyscrapers built in the Art Deco style predominated in the city skyline, giving it the romantic quality seen in films and plays.[28] The Chrysler Building project was shaped by these circumstances.[21]

The land on which the Chrysler Building stands was donated to The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in 1902.[29][30] The site is roughly a trapezoid with a 201-foot-long (61 m) frontage on Lexington Avenue; a 167-foot-long (51 m) frontage on 42nd Street; and a 205-foot-long (62 m) frontage on 43rd Street.[31] The site bordered the old Boston Post Road,[32][33] which predated, and ran aslant of, the Manhattan street grid established by the Commissioners' Plan of 1811. As a result, the east side of the building's base is similarly aslant.[34]


A view of the Chrysler Building from 42nd Street

A view of the Chrysler Building from 42nd Street

Originally, the Chrysler Building was to be the Reynolds Building, a project of real estate developer and former New York State Senator William H. Reynolds.[9][35] Prior to his involvement in planning the building, Reynolds was best known for developing Coney Island's Dreamland amusement park. When the amusement park was destroyed by fire in 1911, Reynolds turned his attention to Manhattan real estate, where he set out to build the tallest building in the world.[9][36]

In 1921, Reynolds rented a large plot of land at the corner of Lexington Avenue and 42nd Street with the intention of building a tall building on the site.[9][35] In 1927, after several years of delays, Reynolds hired the architect William Van Alen to build a forty-story building there.[37]

Van Alen was respected in his field for his work on the Albemarle Building at Broadway and 24th Street, designing it in collaboration with his partner H. Craig Severance.[38][39] Van Alen and Severance complemented each other, with Van Alen being an original, imaginative architect and Severance being a shrewd businessperson who handled the firm's finances.[40] However, the relationship between them became tense over disagreements on how best to run the firm.[37] The breaking point came after a 1924 article, in the Architectural Review, that praised the Albemarle Building's design, which the article attributed to Van Alen, while ignoring Severance's role altogether. The architects' partnership dissolved acrimoniously several months later, with lawsuits over the firm's clients and assets lasting over a year.[41][42] This ended up being decisive for the design of the future Chrysler Building, since Severance's more traditional architectural style would otherwise have restrained Van Alen's more modern outlook.[43]


By February 2, 1928, the proposed building's height had been increased to 54 stories, which would have made it the tallest building in Midtown.[44] The proposal was changed again two weeks later, with official plans for a 63-story building.[45] A little more than a week after that, the plan was changed for the third time, with two additional stories added.[46] By this time, 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue were both hubs for construction activity, due to the removal of the Third Avenue Elevated's 42nd Street spur, which was seen as a blight on the area. The 52-story Chanin Building, diagonally across the intersection from Reynolds's proposed building, was also under construction. Because of the elevated spur's removal, real estate speculators believed that Lexington Avenue would become the "Broadway of the East Side", causing a ripple effect that would spur developments farther east.[47]

In April 1928, Reynolds signed a 67-year lease for the plot and finalized the details of his ambitious project.[48] Van Alen's original design for the skyscraper called for a base whose first-floor showroom windows would be triple-height, and above would be 12 stories with glass-wrapped corners, to create the impression that the tower was floating in mid-air.[35][49] Reynolds's main contribution to the building's design was his insistence that it have a metallic crown, despite Van Alen's initial opposition;[8] the metal-and-crystal crown would have looked like "a jeweled sphere" at night.[50] Originally, the skyscraper would have risen 808 feet (246 m), with 67 floors.[12][51][49] These plans were approved in June 1928.[52] Van Alen's drawings were unveiled in the following August and published in a magazine run by the American Institute of Architects (AIA).[53]

Eventually, this design would prove too advanced and expensive for Reynolds.[5] He instead devised an alternate design for the Reynolds Building, which was published in August 1928. The new design was much more conservative, with an Italianate dome that a critic compared to Governor Al Smith's bowler hat, and a brick arrangement on the upper floors that simulated windows in the corners, a detail that remains in the current Chrysler Building. This design almost exactly reflected the shape, setbacks, and the layout of the windows of the current building, but with a different dome.[35]

Construction and finalization of plans

One of the radiator cap–themed ornaments

One of the radiator cap–themed ornaments

With the design complete, groundbreaking for the Reynolds Building took place on September 19, 1928,[5] but Reynolds did not have the means to carry on construction.[54][36] Reynolds sold the plot, lease, plans, and architect's services to Walter Chrysler for $2 million on October 15, 1928.[54][31] That same day, the Goodwin Construction Company began demolition of what had been built.[55][31] A contract was awarded on October 28,[56] and demolition was completed on November 9.[55] Chrysler's initial plans for the building were similar to Reynolds's, but with the 808-foot building having 68 floors instead of 67. The plans entailed a ground-floor pedestrian arcade, a facade of stone below the fifth floor, a brick-and-terracotta facade above, and a "three-story observation dome" with "bronze and glass" at the top.[31] However, Chrysler wanted a more progressive design, and he worked with Van Alen to redesign the skyscraper to be 925 ft (282 m) tall.[57][5] At the new height, Chrysler's building would be taller than the 792-foot (241 m) Woolworth Building, a building in lower Manhattan that was the world's tallest at the time.[58][31]

From late 1928 to early 1929, modifications to the design of the dome continued.[37] In March 1929, the press published details of an "artistic dome" that had the shape of a giant thirty-pointed star, which would be crowned by a sculpture five meters high.[59][35][60] The final design of the dome included several arches and triangular windows.[37] Lower down, the design was affected by Walter Chrysler's intention to make the building the Chrysler Corporation's headquarters, and as such, various architectural details were modeled after Chrysler automobile products, such as the hood ornaments of the Plymouth (see § Designs between setbacks).[35][12] The building's gargoyles on the 31st floor and the eagles on the 61st floor, were designed to signify flight,[61] and to exemplify the machine age of the 1920s.[35][12] Even the topmost needle was built using a process similar to one Chrysler used to manufacture his cars, with precise "hand craftmanship".[62] In his autobiography, Chrysler says he suggested that his building be taller than the Eiffel Tower.[63][9]

Meanwhile, excavation of the new building's 69-foot-deep (21 m) foundation began in mid-November 1928[64][65] and was completed in mid-January 1929, when bedrock was reached.[55] A total of 105,000,000 pounds (48,000,000 kg) of rock and 36,000,000 pounds (16,000,000 kg) of soil was excavated for the foundation, equal to 63% of the future building's weight.[65] Construction of the building proper began on January 21, 1929.[55] The Carnegie Steel Company provided the steel beams, the first of which was installed on March 27; and by April 9, the first upright beams had been set into place.[65] The steel structure was "a few floors" high by June 1929, 35 floors high by early August,[65] and completed by September.[21] Despite a frantic steelwork construction pace of about four floors per week,[5] no workers died during the construction of the skyscraper's steelwork.[5][66] Chrysler lauded this achievement, saying, "It is the first time that any structure in the world has reached such a height, yet the entire steel construction was accomplished without loss of life".[66] In total, 391,881 rivets were used, and approximately 3,826,000 bricks were manually laid[5] to create the non-loadbearing walls of the skyscraper.[67] Walter Chrysler personally financed the construction with his income from his car company.[68] The Chrysler Building's height officially surpassed the Woolworth's on October 16, 1929, thereby becoming the world's tallest structure.[69]

The same year that the Chrysler Building's construction started, banker George L. Ohrstrom proposed the construction of a 47-story office building at 40 Wall Street downtown. Shortly thereafter Ohrstrom modified his project to have 60 floors, but it was still below Woolworth and the 808-foot Chrysler Building project as announced in 1928.[58] H. Craig Severance, Van Alen's former partner and the architect of 40 Wall Street, increased 40 Wall's height to 840 feet (260 m) with 62 floors in April of that year. It would thus exceed the Woolworth's height by 48 feet (15 m) and the Chrysler's by 32 feet (9.8 m).[58] 40 Wall Street and the Chrysler Building started competing for the distinction of "world's tallest building".[70][71] The Empire State Building, on 34th Street and Fifth Avenue, entered the competition in 1929. The "Race into the Sky", as popular media called it at the time, was representative of the country's optimism in the 1920s, which helped fuel the building boom in major cities.[72] The 40 Wall Street tower was revised from 840 feet (260 m) to 925 feet in April 1929, which would make it the world's tallest.[73] Severance increased the height of his project and then publicly claimed the title of the world's tallest building.[74] Construction of 40 Wall Street began in May 1929 at a frantic pace, and it was completed twelve months later.[58]

In response, Van Alen obtained permission for a 125-foot-long (38 m) spire[75][76] and had it secretly constructed inside the frame of his building.[73] The spire was delivered to the site in four different sections.[75] On October 23, 1929, one week after surpassing the Woolworth Building's height and one day before the catastrophic Wall Street Crash of 1929 started, the spire was assembled. According to one account, "the bottom section of the spire was hoisted to the top of the building's dome and lowered into the 66th floor of the building."[58] Then, within 90 minutes the rest of the spire's pieces were raised and riveted in sequence,[77] helping raise the tower's height to 1,046 feet.[78][79] Van Alen, who witnessed the process from the street along with its engineers and Walter Chrysler,[78] compared the experience to watching a butterfly leaving its cocoon.[79]

In "The Structure and Metal Work of the Chrysler Building", an article published in the October 1930 edition of Architectural Forum, Van Alen explained the design and construction of the crown and needle:[80][21]

A high spire structure with a needle-like termination was designed to surmount the dome. This is 185 feet high and 8 feet square at its base. It was made up of four corner angles, with light angle strut and diagonal members, all told weighing 27 tons. It was manifestly impossible to assemble this structure and hoist it as a unit from the ground, and equally impossible to hoist it in sections and place them as such in their final positions. Besides, it would be more spectacular, for publicity value, to have this cloud-piercing needle appear unexpectedly.

The steel tip brought the Chrysler Building to a height of 1,046 feet (319 m), greatly exceeding 40 Wall Street's height.[81] However, contemporary news media did not write of the spire's erection, nor were there any press releases celebrating the spire's erection. Even the New York Herald Tribune, which had virtually continuous coverage of the tower's construction, did not report on the spire's installation until days after the spire had been raised.[82]

Chrysler realized that his tower's height would exceed the Empire State Building's as well, having ordered Van Alen to change the Chrysler's original roof from a stubby Romanesque dome to the narrow steel spire.[73] However, the Empire State's developer John J. Raskob reviewed the plans and realized that he could add five more floors and a spire of his own to his 80-story building,[83] and subsequently acquired the nearby plots needed to support that building's height extension.[84][85] Two days later, the Empire State Building's co-developer, former Governor Al Smith, announced the updated plans for that skyscraper, with an observation deck on the 86th-floor roof at a height of 1,050 feet (320 m), higher than the Chrysler's 71st-floor observation deck.[83]


The Chrysler Building in 1932

The Chrysler Building in 1932

In January 1930, it was announced that the Chrysler Corporation would maintain offices in the Chrysler Building during Automobile Show Week,[86] and the first leases by outside tenants were announced in April 1930, before the building was officially completed.[87][2] The building was formally opened on May 27, 1930, in a ceremony that coincided with the 42nd Street Property Owners and Merchants Association's meeting that year. In the lobby of the building, a bronze plaque that read "in recognition of Mr. Chrysler's contribution to civic advancement" was unveiled. Former Governor Smith, former Assemblyman Martin G. McCue, and 42nd Street Association president George W. Sweeney were among those in attendance.[2][3] By June, it was reported that 65% of the available space had been leased.[88] By August, the building was declared complete, but the New York City Department of Construction did not mark it as finished until February 1932.[2]

The added height of the spire allowed the Chrysler Building to surpass 40 Wall Street as the tallest building in the world and the Eiffel Tower as the tallest structure.[83] The Chrysler Building was thus the first man-made structure to be taller than 1,000 feet (300 m);[89] and as one newspaper noted, the tower was also taller than the highest points of five states.[90] The Chrysler Building was appraised at $14 million, but was exempt from city taxes per an 1859 law that gave tax exemptions to sites owned by the Cooper Union.[91] The city had attempted to repeal the tax exemption, but Cooper Union had opposed that measure.[92] Because the Chrysler Building retains the tax exemption, it has paid Cooper Union for the use of their land since opening.[93]

Van Alen's satisfaction at these accomplishments was likely muted by Walter Chrysler's later refusal to pay the balance of his architectural fee.[35] Chrysler alleged that Van Alen had received bribes from suppliers, and Van Alen had not signed any contracts with Walter Chrysler when he took over the project.[36][37] Van Alen sued and the courts ruled in his favor, requiring Chrysler to pay Van Allen $840,000, or 6% of the total budget of the building.[94] However, the lawsuit against Chrysler markedly diminished Van Alen's reputation as an architect, which, along with the effects of the Great Depression and negative criticism, ended up ruining his career.[36][37] Van Alen ended his career as professor of sculpture at the nearby Beaux-Arts Institute of Design and died in 1954. According to author Neal Bascomb, "The Chrysler Building was his greatest accomplishment, and the one that guaranteed his obscurity."[37]

The completed Chrysler Building garnered mixed reviews in the press. Van Alen was hailed as the "Doctor of Altitude" by Architect magazine, while architect Kenneth Murchison called Van Alen the "Ziegfeld of his profession", comparing him to popular Broadway producer Florenz Ziegfeld Jr..[38][95] The building was praised for being "an expression of the intense activity and vibrant life of our day", and for "teem[ing] with the spirit of modernism, ... the epitome of modern business life, stand[ing] for progress in architecture and in modern building methods."[96][97][98] An anonymous critic wrote in Architectural Forum's October 1930 issue: "The Chrysler...stands by itself, something apart and alone. It is simply the realization, the fulfillment in metal and masonry, of a one-man dream, a dream of such ambitions and such magnitude as to defy the comprehension and the criticism of ordinary men or by ordinary standards."[21][99] Negative critics included journalist George S. Chappell, who called the Chrysler's design "distinctly a stunt design, evolved to make the man in the street look up", and Douglas Haskell, who said that the building "embodies no compelling, organic idea."[38] Others compared the Chrysler Building to "an upended swordfish",[100][101] or claimed it had a "Little Nemo"-like design.[100] Lewis Mumford, a supporter of the International Style and one of the foremost architectural critics of the United States at the time, despised the building for its "inane romanticism, meaningless voluptuousness, [and] void symbolism".[17][102][96]

The Chrysler Building's distinction as the world's tallest building was short-lived. John Raskob realized the 1,050-foot Empire State Building would only be 4 feet (1.2 m) taller than the Chrysler Building,[83] and Raskob was afraid that Walter Chrysler might try to "pull a trick like hiding a rod in the spire and then sticking it up at the last minute."[103] Another revision brought the Empire State Building's roof to 1,250 feet (380 m), making it the tallest building in the world by far[104][105] when it opened on May 1, 1931.[4] However, the Chrysler Building is still the world's tallest steel-supported brick building.[12] The Chrysler Building fared better commercially than the Empire State Building did: by 1935, the Chrysler had already rented 70% of its floor area,[106] while the Empire State had only leased 23% of its area[107] and was popularly derided as the "Empty State Building".[108]

Contrary to popular belief, the Chrysler Corporation was never involved in the construction or ownership of the Chrysler Building, although it was built and designed for the corporation and served as its headquarters until the mid-1950s. It was a project of Walter P. Chrysler for his children.[35] In his autobiography, Chrysler wrote that he wanted to erect the building "so that his sons would have something to be responsible for".[63][9]

Later history

Height comparison of buildings in New York City

Height comparison of buildings in New York City

The Chrysler family inherited the property after the death of Walter Chrysler in 1940, with the property being under the ownership of W.P. Chrysler Building Corporation.[109] In 1944, the corporation filed plans to build a 38-story annex to the east of the building, at 666 Third Avenue.[110] In 1949, this was revised to a 32-story annex costing $9 million.[111] The annex building, designed by Reinhard, Hofmeister & Walquist,[112][113] had a facade similar to that of the original Chrysler Building. The stone for the original building was no longer manufactured, and had to be specially replicated.[114] Construction started on the annex in June 1950,[115] and the first tenants started leasing in June 1951.[116] The building itself was completed by 1952,[112] and a sky bridge connecting the two buildings' seventh floors was built in 1959.[117]

The family sold the building in 1953 to William Zeckendorf[118] for its assessed price of $18 million.[119] The 1953 deal included the annex and the nearby Graybar Building, which along with the Chrysler Building sold for a combined $52 million.[120][121] In 1957, the Chrysler Building, its annex, and the nearby Graybar Building, across 43rd Street, was sold for $66 million in what was reported to be the largest real estate sale at the time.[122] In 1960, the complex was purchased by Sol Goldman and Alex DiLorenzo,[123] who received a mortgage from the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company.[124] In 1961, the building's stainless steel elements, including the needle, crown, gargoyles, and entrance doors, were polished for the first time.[125][126] A group of ten workers steam-cleaned the facade below the 30th floor, and manually cleaned the portion of the tower above the 30th floor, for a cost of about $200,000.[126]

Massachusetts Mutual obtained outright ownership in 1975 after Goldman and DiLorenzo defaulted on the mortgage.[124][127] The company purchased the building for $35 million.[127] In 1978, they devised plans to renovate the facade, heating, ventilation, air‐conditioning, elevators, lobby murals, and Cloud Club headquarters in a $23 million project.[127] This renovation was completed in 1979.[128][129] They delegated the leasing of the building's space to the Edward S. Gordon Company, which leased 750,000 square feet (70,000 m2) of vacant space within five years.[130] During Massachusetts Mutual's ownership of the Chrysler Building, the tower received two historic designations. The building was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1976,[11][131] and as a New York City Landmark in 1978,[9] although the city only landmarked the lobby and facade.[132] Massachusetts Mutual had opposed the city landmark designation because it "would cause 'inevitable delay' in moving new tenants into the skyscraper".[133] At the time, the building had 500,000 square feet (46,000 m2) of vacant floor space, representing 40% of the total floor area.[127] In September 1979, the building was sold again, this time to entrepreneur and Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke, in a deal that also transferred ownership of the Los Angeles Kings and Lakers to Jerry Buss.[129][134]

The spire underwent a restoration that was completed in 1995. The joints in the now-closed observation deck were polished, and the facade restored, as part of a $1.5 million project. Some damaged steel strips of the needle were replaced and several parts of the gargoyles were re-welded together.[135] The cleaning received the New York Landmarks Conservancy's Lucy G. Moses Preservation Award for 1997.[136] Cooke died in 1997, and creditors moved to foreclose on the estate's unpaid fees soon after.[137] Tishman Speyer Properties and the Travelers Insurance Group bought the Chrysler Center in 1997–1998 for about $220 million (equal to $340 million in 2018) from a consortium of banks and the estate of Jack Kent Cooke. Tishman Speyer Properties had negotiated a 150-year lease from the Cooper Union, and the college continues to own the land under the Chrysler Building.[118] Cooper Union's name is on the deed.[93]

In 2001, a 75% stake in the building was sold, for US$300 million (equal to $420 million in 2018), to TMW, the German arm of an Atlanta-based investment fund.[138] In June 2008, it was reported that the Abu Dhabi Investment Council was in negotiations to buy TMW's 75% economic interest, a 15% interest from Tishman Speyer Properties in the building, and a share of the Trylons retail structure next door for US$800 million.[139] In July 2008, it was announced that the transaction had been completed, and that the Abu Dhabi Investment Council was now 90% owner of the building, with Tishman Speyer retaining 10%.[140][141]

From 2010 to 2011, the building's energy, plumbing, and waste management systems were renovated. This resulted in a 21% decrease in the building's total energy consumption, a 64% decrease in water consumption, and an 81% rate of waste being recycled. In 2012, the building received a LEED Gold accreditation from the U.S. Green Building Council, which recognized the building's environmental sustainability and energy efficiency.[142]

The Abu Dhabi Investment Council and Tishman Speyer put the Chrysler Building on sale again in January 2019.[143][144] It was reported in March 2019 that Aby Rosen's RFR Holding LLC, in a joint venture with the Austrian SIGNA Group, had reached an agreement to purchase the Chrysler Building,[6][145] albeit at a steeply discounted price.[146]


The building's distinctive Art Deco crown and spire

The building's distinctive Art Deco crown and spire

The Chrysler Building is considered a leading example of Art Deco architecture.[147][148] It is constructed of a steel frame in-filled with masonry, with areas of decorative metal cladding. The structure contains 3,862 exterior windows.[12] Approximately fifty metal ornaments protrude at the building's corners on five floors reminiscent of gargoyles on Gothic cathedrals.[149] The 31st-floor contains gargoyles[61] and replicas of the 1929 Chrysler radiator caps,[100][150] the 61st eagles,[61] a nod to America's national bird.[151]

The Chrysler Building uses bright "Nirosta"[152] stainless steel extensively in its design, an austenitic alloy developed in Germany by Krupp[153][154] (a German acronym for nichtrostender Stahl, meaning "non-rusting steel").[35][155] It was the first use of this "18-8 stainless steel" in an American project,[156] composed of 18% chromium and 8% nickel.[155] Nirosta was used in the exterior ornaments, the window frames, the crown, and the needle.[157] The steel was an integral part of Van Alen's design, as E.E. Thum explains: "The use of permanently bright metal was of greatest aid in the carrying of rising lines and the diminishing circular forms in the roof treatment, so as to accentuate the gradual upward swing until it literally dissolves into the sky...."[149][158] Stainless steel producers used the Chrysler Building to evaluate the durability of the product in architecture. In 1929, the American Society for Testing Materials created an inspection committee to study its performance, which regarded the Chrysler Building as the best location to do so; a subcommittee examined the building's panels every five years until 1960, when the inspections were canceled because the panels had shown minimal deterioration.[151]



Eagles (61st floor)

Eagles (61st floor)

Hubcaps and fenders(31st floor)

Hubcaps and fenders(31st floor)

Hood ornaments(31st floor)

Hood ornaments(31st floor)

The Chrysler Building's height and legally mandated setbacks influenced Van Alen in his design.[154] The walls of the lowermost sixteen floors rise directly from the sidewalk property lines, except for a recess on one side that gives the building a "U"-shaped floor plan above the fourth floor. There are setbacks on floors 16, 18, 23, 28, and 31, making the building compliant with the Zoning Law of 1916. This gives the building the appearance of a ziggurat on one side and a U-shaped palazzo on the other.[159] Above the 31st floor, there are no more setbacks until the 60th floor, above which the structure is funneled into a Maltese cross shape[160] that "blends the square shaft to the finial", according to author and photographer Cervin Robinson.[159]

The floor plans of the first sixteen floors were made as large as possible to optimize the amount of rental space nearest ground level, which was seen as most desirable. The U-shaped cut above the fourth floor served as a shaft for air flow and illumination. The area between floors 28 and 31 added "visual interest to the middle of the building, preventing it from being dominated by the heavy detail of the lower floors and the eye-catching design of the finial. They provide a base to the column of the tower, effecting a transition between the blocky lower stories and the lofty shaft."[159]

Designs between setbacks

The ground floor exterior is covered in polished black granite from Shastone, while the three floors above it are done in white marble from Georgia. There are two main entrances, on Lexington Avenue and on 42nd Street, each three floors high with Shastone granite surrounding each proscenium-shaped entryway. At some distance into each main entryway, there are revolving doors located "beneath intricately patterned metal and glass screens", designed so as to embody the Art Deco tenet of amplifying the entrance's visual impact. A smaller side entrance on 43rd Street is only one story high.[154][161] There are storefronts consisting of large Nirosta-steel-framed windows at ground level, with office windows on the second through fourth floors.[154]

The west and east elevations of the building contain the air shafts above the fourth floor, while the north and south sides contain the receding setbacks.[154] Below the 16th floor, the facade is clad with white brick interrupted by white-marble bands in a manner similar to a basket weaving.[162] The windows, arranged in grids, do not have window sills, the frames being flush with the facade.[154] Between the 16th and 24th floors, the exterior exhibits vertical white brick columns that are separated by windows on each floor. This visual effect is made possible by the presence of aluminum spandrels between the columns of windows on each floor. There are abstract reliefs on the 20th through 22nd-floor spandrels, while the 24th floor contains 9-foot (2.7 m) decorative pineapples.[154]

Above the third setback, consisting of the 24th through 27th floors, the facade contains horizontal bands and zigzagged gray-and-black brick motifs. Above the fourth setback, between the 27th and 31st floors, the shaft starts to appear.[154] At each corner of the 31st floor, large car-hood ornaments made of Nirosta steel serve as visually striking objects that make the base look larger. These corner extensions help counter a common optical illusion seen in tall buildings with horizontal bands, whose taller floors would normally look larger.[159][160] The 31st floor also contains a gray and white frieze of hubcaps and fenders,[8] which symbolizes both the Chrysler Corporation and serves as a visual signature of the building's Art Deco design.[35][12] The bonnet embellishments take the shape of Mercury's winged helmet and resemble hood ornaments installed on Chrysler vehicles at the time.[160]

The shaft of the tower was designed to emphasize both the horizontal and vertical: each of the tower's four sides contains three columns of windows, each framed by bricks and an unbroken marble pillar that rises along the entirety of each side. The spandrels separating the windows contain "alternating vertical stripes in gray and white brick", while each corner contains horizontal rows of black brick.[96]


The interior of the building contains several innovative elements. The partitions between the offices are soundproofed and divided into interchangeable sections, so that the layout of any could be changed quickly and comfortably. Pipes under the floors carry both telephone and electricity cables.[96]


Futuristic digital clock

Futuristic digital clock

Entrance doors

Entrance doors

Art Deco lamp

Art Deco lamp



The triangular-shaped lobby[163][161] is regarded as a paragon of the Art Deco style, with clear influences of German Expressionism.[8] Chrysler wanted the design to impress other architects and automobile magnates, so he imported various materials without giving consideration to the extra costs incurred.[164] He covered the walls with huge slabs of African red granite.[164][93] On the floor, he marked a path from the entrances to the elevators using travertine from Siena.[165][163] Originally, Van Alen's plans for the lobby included four large supporting columns, but they were removed after Chrysler objected on the grounds that the columns made the lobby appear "cramped".[163]

The lobby has dim lighting that gives it a somewhat subdued quality, although the appliqués of the lamps are striking and iconic. Both combine to create an intimate atmosphere and act to highlight the place.[164] Vertical bars of fluorescent light are covered with Belgian blue marble and Mexican amber onyx, which soften and diffuse the light, to both illuminate and blend with the red marble walls.[166] The lobby also contains four elevator banks, each with a different design.[148][163]

The ceiling contains a 110-by-67-foot (34 by 20 m) mural named "Transport and Human Endeavor", commissioned by Edward Trumbull in 1930. The mural's theme is "energy and man's application of it to the solution of his problems", and it pays homage to the Golden Age of Aviation and the Machine Age.[167][163] The mural is painted in the shape of a "Y" with ocher and golden tones. The central image of the mural is a "muscled giant whose brain directs his boundless energy to the attainment of the triumphs of this mechanical era", according to a 1930 pamphlet that advertised the building. The mural's Art Deco style is manifested in characteristic triangles, sharp angles, slightly curved lines, chrome ornaments, and numerous patterns.[167] The mural depicts several silver planes, including the Spirit of St. Louis, as well as furnaces of incandescent steel and the building itself.[168][8] There is a wall panel dedicated to the work of clinchers, surveyors, masons, carpenters, plasterers, and builders. Fifty different figures were modeled after workers who participated in its construction.[168] In 1999, the mural was returned to its original state after a restoration that removed the polyurethane coating and filled-in holes added in the 1970s.[167]

Presently, the lobby is the only publicly accessible part of the Chrysler Building.[169] [] [93] When the building opened, the first and second floors housed a public exhibition of Chrysler vehicles.[165][170][171] This exhibition was closed before World War II.[165]


Elevator interior with inlaid wood

Elevator interior with inlaid wood

Closed doors

Closed doors

Open doors

Open doors

There are 32 elevators in the skyscraper, clustered into groups of six or eight.[172] At the time of opening, 28 of these elevators were for passenger use.[173] Each bank serves different floors within the building, with several "express" elevators going from the lobby to a few landings in between, while "local" elevators connect the landings with the floors above these intermediate landings.[174] As per Walter Chrysler's wishes, the elevators were designed to run at a rate of 900 feet per minute (270 m/min),[59] despite the 700-foot-per-minute (210 m/min) speed restriction enforced in all city elevators at the time.[96] This restriction was loosened soon after the Empire State Building opened in 1931, as that building had also been equipped with high-speed elevators.[175] The Chrysler Building also had three of the longest elevator shafts in the world at the time of completion.[96]

Over the course of a year, Van Alen painstakingly designed these elevators with the assistance of L.T.M. Ralston, who was in charge of developing the elevator cabs' mechanical parts.[172] The cabs were manufactured by the Otis Elevator Company,[176][177] while the doors were made by the Tyler Company. The dimensions of each elevator were 5.5 feet (1.7 m) deep by 8 feet (2.4 m) wide.[172] The doors are made of metal and covered with eight types of exotic woods.[36] When the doors are closed, they resemble "tall fans set off by metallic palm fronds rising through a series of silver parabolas, whose edges were set off by curved lilies" from the outside, as noted by Curcio. However, when a set of doors is open, the cab behind the doors resembles "an exquisite Art Deco room".[172] These elements were influenced by Egyptian designs, which significantly impacted the Art Deco style.[173] According to Vincent Curcio, "these elevator interiors were perhaps the single most beautiful and, next to the dome, the most important feature of the entire building."[172]

Even though the woods in the elevator cabs were arranged in four basic patterns, each cab had a unique combination of woods. One writer stated that "if anything the building is based on patterned fabrics, [the elevators] certainly are. Three of the designs could be characterized as having 'geometric', 'Mexican' and vaguely 'art nouveau' motifs, which reflect the various influences on the design of the entire building."[172] The roof of each elevator was covered with a metal plate whose design was unique to that cab, which in turn was placed on a polished wooden pattern that was also customized to the cab. Hidden behind these plates were ceiling fans.[173] Curcio wrote that these elevators "are among the most beautiful small enclosed spaces in New York, and it is fair to say that no one who has seen or been in them has forgotten them".[172] Curcio compared the elevators to the curtains of a Ziegfeld production, noting that each lobby contains lighting that peaks in the middle and slopes down on either side.[172] The decoration of the cabs' interiors was also a nod to the Chrysler Corporation's vehicles: cars built during the building's early years had dashboards with wooden moldings.[8] Both the doors and cab interiors were considered to be works of extraordinary marquetry.[178]


On the 42nd Street side of the Chrysler Building, a staircase from the street leads directly under the building to the New York City Subway station at Grand Central–42nd Street.[179][180] It is part of the structure's original design.[181] The Interborough Rapid Transit Company, which at the time was the operator of all the routes serving the 42nd Street station, originally sued to block construction of the new entrance because it would cause crowding,[182] but the New York City Board of Transportation pushed to allow the corridor anyway.[183] Chrysler eventually built and paid for the building's subway entrance.[96] Work on the new entrance started in March 1930[184] and it opened along with the Chrysler Building two months later.[185]

The basement also had a "hydrozone water bottling unit" that would filter tap water into drinkable water for the building's tenants. The drinkable water would then be bottled and shipped to higher floors.[186]

Above the 60th floor

Cloud Club

The private Cloud Club formerly occupied the 66th through 68th floors.[132] It opened in July 1930 with some three hundred members, all wealthy males who formed the city's elite.[156][187][188] Its creation was spurred by Texaco's wish for a proper restaurant for its executives prior to renting fourteen floors in the building. The Cloud Club was a compromise between William van Alen's modern style and Walter Chrysler's stately and traditional tastes.[187] A member had to be elected, and if accepted, paid an initial fee of $200, plus a $150 to $300 annual fee.[189]

There was a Tudor-style foyer on the 66th floor with oak paneling, and an old English-style grill room with wooden floors, wooden beams, wrought-iron chandeliers, and glass and lead doors.[156][187] The main dining room, located on the 67th floor, was connected to the 66th floor by a Renaissance-style marble and bronze staircase and had a futuristic appearance, with polished granite columns and etched glass appliqués in Art Deco style.[188] There was a mural of a cloud on the ceiling, and a mural of Manhattan on the dining room's north side.[187] It is believed that the dining room was an inspiration for the Rainbow Room and the Rockefeller Center Luncheon Club, both located at 30 Rockefeller Center.[190] On the same floor, Walter Chrysler and Texaco both had private dining rooms.[188] The 68th floor mainly contained service spaces.[188]

In the 1950s and 1960s, members left the Cloud Club for other clubs. Texaco, whose executives comprised most of the Cloud Club's membership, moved to Westchester County in 1977,[191] and the club closed two years later.[187] Although there have been several projects to rehabilitate the club or transform it into a disco or a gastronomic club, these plans have never materialized,[188][192] as then-owner Cooke reportedly did not want a "conventional" restaurant operating within the old club.[193] Tishman Speyer rented the top two floors of the old Cloud Club.[194] The old staircase has been removed, as have many of the original decorations,[188] which prompted objections from the Art Deco Society of New York.[192]

Private offices

Originally, Walter Chrysler had a two-story apartment on the 69th and 70th floors with a fireplace and a private office. The office also contained a gymnasium and the loftiest bathrooms in the city.[36] Chrysler also had a unit on the 58th through 60th floors, which served as his residence.[195] However, Chrysler did not use his gym much, instead choosing to stay at the Chrysler Corporation's headquarters in Detroit.[93] Later, the 69th and 70th floors were converted into a dental clinic.[192] In 2005, a New York Times report found that one of the dentists, Charles Weiss, had operated at the clinic's current rooftop location since 1969.[196] The office still had the suite's original bathroom and gymnasium.[192]

Observation deck

From the building's opening until 1945 it contained a 3,900 square feet (360 m2) observation deck on the 71st floor, called "Celestial".[197][189] For fifty cents visitors could transit its circumference through a corridor with vaulted ceilings painted with celestial motifs and bedecked with small hanging glass planets.[8][189][198] The center of the observatory contained the toolbox that Walter P. Chrysler used at the beginning of his career as a mechanic;[132][21][96][199] it was later preserved at the Chrysler Technology Center in Auburn Hills, Michigan.[200] An image of the building resembling a rocket hung above it.[189] According to a contemporary brochure views of up to 100 miles (160 km) were possible on a clear day;[198] but the small triangular windows of the observatory created strange angles that made viewing difficult, depressing traffic. When the Empire State Building opened in 1931 with two observatories at a higher elevation the Chrysler observatory lost its clientele.[21]

After the observatory closed it was used to house radio and television broadcasting equipment.[201] Since 1986 the old observatory has housed the office of architects Harvey Morse and Cowperwood Interests.[201][202]


Detail of the Art Deco ornamentation at the crown

Detail of the Art Deco ornamentation at the crown

The Chrysler Building is renowned for, and recognized by, its terraced crown, which is an extension of the main tower.[159] Composed of seven radiating terraced arches, Van Alen's design of the crown is a cruciform groin vault of seven concentric members with transitioning setbacks, mounted one behind another.[203] The entire crown is clad with Nirosta steel, ribbed and riveted in a radiating sunburst pattern with many triangular vaulted windows, transitioning into smaller segments of the seven narrow setbacks of the terraced crown.[35][204] Due to the curved shape of the dome, the Nirosta sheets had to be measured on site, so most of the work was carried out in workshops on the building's 67th and 75th floors.[21]

According to Robinson, "Its 'dormers', each smaller and higher than the previous one, continue the wedding-cake layering of the building itself. This concept is carried forward from the 61st floor, whose eagle gargoyles echo the treatment of the 31st, to the spire, which extends the concept of 'higher and narrower' forward to infinite height and infinitesimal width. This unique treatment emphasizes the building's height, giving it an other worldly atmosphere reminiscent of the fantastic architecture of Coney Island or the Far East."[159]


Illumination of the building at night

Illumination of the building at night

Above the 71st floor, the stories of the building are designed mostly for exterior appearance, functioning mainly as landings for the stairway to the spire and do not contain office space.[99] They are very narrow, have low and sloping roofs, and are only used to house radio transmitters and other mechanical and electrical equipment.[35] For example, the 73rd floor houses the motors of the elevators and a 15,000-US-gallon (57,000 L) water tank, of which 3,500 US gallons (13,000 L) are reserved for extinguishing fires.[202]

Television station WCBS-TV (Channel 2) originated its transmission from the top of the Chrysler Building in 1938.[205] WCBS-TV transmissions were shifted to the Empire State Building in 1960[206] in response to competition from RCA's transmitter on that building.[207] For many years WPAT-FM and WTFM (now WKTU) also transmitted from the Chrysler Building, but their move to the Empire State Building by the 1970s ended commercial broadcasting from the structure.[206]

The crown and spire are illuminated by a combination of fluorescent lights framing the crown's distinctive triangular windows and colored floodlights that face toward the building, allowing it to be lit in a variety of schemes for special occasions.[12] The V-shaped fluorescent "tube lighting" – hundreds of 480V 40W bulbs framing 120 window openings[208] – was added in 1981, although it had been part of the original design.[50][132] Until 1998 the lights were turned off at 2 a.m., but New York Observer columnist Ron Rosenbaum convinced Tishman Speyer to keep the lights on until 6 a.m.[209] Since 2015, the Chrysler Building and other city skyscrapers have been part of the Audubon Society's Lights Out program, turning off their lights during bird migration seasons.[210]

Chrysler Center

Chrysler Trylons

Chrysler Trylons

Chrysler East (at left), seen next to the original building

Chrysler East (at left), seen next to the original building

Chrysler Center is the name of the building complex consisting of the Chrysler Building, Chrysler Building East, and the commercial pavilion located between the two, called Chrysler Trylons. In 1998, Tishman Speyer acquired the entire complex[118] and proceeded to renovate it completely over the next two years.[211]

The Chrysler Building annex at 666 Third Avenue, also known as the Kent Building at the time, was renovated and renamed Chrysler Building East.[211] This International Style building, built in 1952,[112] is 432 feet (132 m) high and has 32 floors.[212][213] The mechanical systems were modernized and the interior was modified. Renowned architect Philip Johnson replaced the glass facade with darker glass and added a 135,000 square feet (12,500 m2) extension.[213][214] After the addition, the total area of this building was 770,000 square feet (72,000 m2).[215]

Finally, a new building, which was also designed by Philip Johnson, was built between the original skyscraper and the annex.[216] This became the Chrysler Trylons, a commercial pavilion three stories high with a retail area of 22,000 square feet (2,000 m2). Its design, consisting of three triangular glass pyramids that intersect each other, was inspired by the triangular windows of the Chrysler Building's crown. The building's design was so complex that a replica was built at Rimouski, Quebec. Johnson designed Chrysler Trylons as "a monument for 42nd Street [...] to give you the top of the Chrysler Building at street level."[211]

After these modifications, the total leasable area of the complex was 2,062,772 square feet (191,637.8 m2).[215] The total cost of this project was about one hundred million dollars.[211] This renovation has won several awards and commendations, including an Energy Star rating from the Environmental Protection Agency;[217] a LEED Gold designation;[142] and the Skyscraper Museum Outstanding Renovation Award of 2001.[218]

Representation and influence

Critical reception

George H. Douglas writes that the building "remains one of the most appealing and awe-inspiring of skyscrapers".[89] Architect Le Corbusier called the building "hot jazz in stone and steel".[163] Ada Louise Huxtable, an architectural critic, noted that the building had "a wonderful, decorative, evocative aesthetic", while another architectural critic, Paul Goldberger, noted the "compressed, intense energy" of the lobby, the "magnificent" elevators, and the "magical" view from the crown.[219] The city's Landmarks Preservation Commission said that the tower "embodies the romantic essence of the New York City skyscraper".[9] The travel guide Frommer's gave the building an "exceptional" recommendation, with author Pauline Frommer writing, "In the Chrysler Building we see the roaring-twenties version of what Alan Greenspan called 'irrational exuberance'—a last burst of corporate headquarter building before stocks succumbed to the thudding crash of 1929."[220]

As icon

The Chrysler Building appears in several films set in New York[221] and is widely considered one of the most positively acclaimed buildings in the city.[222][35] A 1996 survey of New York architects revealed it as their favorite, and the New York Times described it in 2005 as "the single most important emblem of architectural imagery on the New York skyline".[17] In the summer of 2005, the Skyscraper Museum in Lower Manhattan asked 100 architects, builders, critics, engineers, historians, and scholars, among others, to choose their 10 favorites among 25 of the city's towers. The Chrysler Building came in first place, with 90% of respondents placing it on their ballots.[223] In 2007, the building ranked ninth among 150 buildings in the AIA's List of America's Favorite Architecture.[224]

The Chrysler Building is widely heralded as an Art Deco icon. Fodor's New York City 2010 described the building as being "one of the great art deco masterpieces"[169] [] which "wins many a New Yorker's vote for the city's most iconic and beloved skyscraper".[169] [] Frommer's states that the Chrysler was "one of the most impressive Art Deco buildings ever constructed".[220] Insight Guides' 2016 edition maintains that the Chrysler Building is considered among the city's "most beautiful" buildings.[225] Its distinctive profile has inspired similar skyscrapers worldwide including One Liberty Place in Philadelphia[226] and the Al Kazim Towers in Dubai.[227]

While seen in many films, the Chrysler Building almost never appears as a main setting in them, prompting architect and author James Sanders to quip it should win "the Award for Best Supporting Skyscraper".[221] The building was supposed to be featured in the 1933 film King Kong, but only makes a cameo at the end thanks to its producers opting for the Empire State Building in a central role.[221] The Chrysler Building notably appears in the background of The Wiz (1978); as the setting of much of Q - The Winged Serpent (1982); in the initial credits of The Shadow of the Witness (1987); and during or after apocalyptic events in Independence Day (1996), Armageddon (1998), Deep Impact (1998), Godzilla (1998), and A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001).[221] The building also appears in other films, such as Spider-Man (2002),[228] Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007),[229] Two Weeks Notice (2002),[221] The Sorcerer's Apprentice (2010)[230] and Men in Black 3 (2012).[231]

The Chrysler Building is frequently the subject of photographers. In December 1929, Walter Chrysler hired the famed Margaret Bourke-White to capture it for publicity purposes. She took the images from a scaffold 400 feet (120 m) high[232][233] and worked in a studio at ground level[234] until she was evicted in 1934.[219] According to one account, Bourke-White wanted to live in the building for the duration of the photo shoot, but the only person able to do so was the janitor, so she was instead relegated to co-leasing a studio with Time Inc.[219] In 1930, several of her photographs were used in a special report on skyscrapers in the then-new Fortune magazine.[235] In 1934, Bourke-White's partner Oscar Graubner took a famous photo called "Margaret Bourke-White atop the Chrysler Building", which depicts her taking a photo of the city's skyline while sitting on one of the 61st-floor eagle ornaments.[236] On October 5, 1998, Christie's auctioned the photograph for $96,000.[237] In addition, during a January 1931 dance organized by the Society of Beaux-Arts, six architects, including Van Alen, were photographed while wearing costumes resembling the buildings that each architect designed.[238][239]

The building is also mentioned in the lyrics of several songs,[240] as well as in the number "It's the Hard Knock Life" for the musical Annie.[241]


The Chrysler Corporation moved into the building as an anchor tenant in 1930,[86] using its space as its divisional headquarters until the 1950s.[242] Time, Inc. and Texaco oil were also original tenants.[242] Needing more office space,[243] Time moved to Rockefeller Center in 1937.[244][245] Texaco relocated to Purchase, New York in 1977 in favor of a more suburban workplace.[191]

Notable modern tenants include:

See also

  • Architecture of New York City

  • List of buildings and structures

  • List of New York City Landmarks

  • List of tallest buildings and structures in the world

  • List of tallest buildings in the United States

  • List of tallest buildings in New York City

  • List of tallest freestanding structures in the world

  • National Register of Historic Places listings in New York County, New York


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