I defy anyone not to marvel at the New York skyline.
So familiar from every episode of Kodak, Sex in the City and Friends, an endless film location starring in You’ve Got Mail, When Harry Met Sally, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Taxi Driver, etc. etc. The lofty skyline so cruelty and devastatingly diminished by 9.11 yet less than fifteen years later rising phoenix-like from the ashes. The skyline is not the star of the City but it’s undoubtedly the supporting cast.
The one building that I still think best sums up my fascination which New York, stemming from an era when the “My Skyscraper Is Bigger Than Your Skyscraper” ethos was at its most potent and ambitious, is The Chrysler Building. It is simply the most beautiful, charismatic and iconic of the standalone skyscrapers.
An Art Deco-style masterpiece, The Chrysler Building is located at the intersection of 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue, it stands 1,046 feet (318.9 m) and for eleven months in 1931 – before the completion of the Empire State Building – it held the title of the world’s tallest building. It still is the world’s tallest brick structure.
Designed by architect William Van Alen, who was engaged Walter P. Chrysler, who decided that he, rather than the Chrysler Corporation that he ran, would pay for the construction allowing it to be inherited by his children. Chrysler’s purchased the land in 1928 although since 1902 Cooper Union (a degree conferring Institute dating from 1859 known for the The Advancement of Science and Art) has held the ownership of the land.
Chrysler’s modest additions to Van Alen’s plans included additional floors and the corner ornamentation on the 31st floor comprising replicas of the 1929 Chrysler radiator caps.
It was erected at four floor per week such was the competition at the time to build tallest and to get be there quickest. To compete with a rival project at 40 Wall Street which had threatened to force The Chrysler into second place, Van Alen obtained permission to add a spire. It measured a total of 197 ft (60m) and was secretly delivered to the site in sections. Following the bottom section being hoisted into place the completed spire was erected in just ninety minutes. This meant a victory for the Chrysler Building by the time of its completion in May 1930.
The Chrysler Corporation occupied the building from 1930 until the mid-1950s and had a car showroom on the first and second floors. The 71st floor which was decorated with a celestial ceiling and was, until it closed in 1945, the highest observation deck in the building. Until the late 1970’s, floors 66 to 68 comprised a private club – the Cloud Club with beautiful dining rooms favoured by New York’s wealthiest.
In 1953, the Chrysler family sold the building and following extensive dealings over several years the building is now owned by the Abu Dhabi Investment Council (90%) and Tishman Speyer (10%).