World-famous, the Chrysler Building is a stunning art-deco skyscraper that was once the world’s tallest building – until the Empire State Building was erected.
About the Chrysler Building: A 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. 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.
The 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 Chrysler’s victory would only last for 11 months, when the Empire State Building passed it as the tallest building in the world.
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