The Chrysler Building is an Art Deco-style skyscraper located on the East Side of Midtown Manhattan in New York City, at the intersection of 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue in the Turtle Bay neighborhood of Manhattan. 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. It is the tallest brick building in the world with a steel structure. As of 2015, the Chrysler is the fifth-tallest building in the city.
Originally a project of real estate developer and former New York State Senator William H. Reynolds, the structure was built by Walter Chrysler, the head of the Chrysler Corporation. 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. The building served as the corporation's headquarters from 1930 until the mid-1950s. Although the building was built and designed specifically for the car manufacturer, the corporation did not pay for its construction and never owned it, as Walter P. Chrysler decided to pay for it himself, so that his children could inherit it.
Upon opening, there were mixed reviews of the building's design, ranging from inane and unoriginal to modernist and iconic. However, the Chrysler Building has slowly evolved into 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.
|Tallest in the world from May 27, 1930 to May 1, 1931[I]|
|Preceded by||40 Wall Street|
|Surpassed by||Empire State Building|
|Architectural style||Art Deco|
|Location||405 Lexington Avenue, Manhattan, New York 10174|
|Groundbreaking||September 18, 1928|
|Completed||May 27, 1930|
|Owner||Abu Dhabi Investment Council (90%)
Tishman Speyer (10%)
|Antenna spire||1,046 ft (318.9 m)|
|Roof||925 ft (282 m)|
|Top floor||899 ft (274 m)|
|Floor area||1,196,958 sq ft (111,201.0 m2)|
|Design and construction|
|Architect||William Van Alen|
Location in New York City
|Architectural style||Art Deco|
|NRHP reference #||76001237|
|Added to NRHP||1976|
|Designated NHL||December 8, 1976|
|Designated NYCL||Exterior and interior: September 12, 1978|
The Chrysler Building was built as part of New York City's building boom, with the city hosting the world's tallest building from 1908 to 1974. The surrounding land was divided by the old Boston Post Road, which predated the Commissioners' Plan of 1811 that formed a street grid for Manhattan. As a result, the east wall of the base, out of which the tower rises, runs at a slant to the Manhattan street grid. 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. The land on which the Chrysler Building stands was donated to The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in 1902.
In the mid-1920s, New York's metropolitan area surpassed London's as the world's most populous metropolitan area. New York City's metropolitan area exceeded ten million by the early 1930s. The economic boom of the 1920s and the great speculation of the real estate market fostered a new wave of skyscraper projects in the city. The 1916 Zoning Resolution restricted the height that the street-side exterior walls of New York City buildings could rise before they needed to incorporate setbacks that recessed the buildings' exterior walls away from the streets.[a] This led to the construction of Art Deco structures in New York City with significant setbacks, large volumes, and striking silhouettes that were often decorated elaborately.
Following the end of World War I, European and American architects started characterizing the modern era by simplifying styles and reducing material usage. Art Deco skyscrapers were seen as particularly pertinent because they symbolized progress, innovation and modernity. In New York City, buildings in that style were only constructed for a short time, but was used during the city's late-1920s real estate boom. The numerous skyscrapers built in this style defined the city and its skyline and gave them the romantic quality seen in films and plays.
The era was also 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. In 1927, Walter Chrysler's automotive company, Chrysler Corporation became the third-largest car manufacturer in the United States, behind Ford and General Motors. The following year he was named Time magazine's "Person of the Year". The Chrysler Building project was shaped by these circumstances.
Originally, the Chrysler Building was the Reynolds Building, a project of real estate developer and former New York State Senator William H. Reynolds. Prior to his involvement in planning the building, Reynolds was best known for developing Coney Island's Dreamland amusement park. However, when the amusement park was destroyed in a fire in 1911, Reynolds turned his attention to Manhattan real estate, where he set out to build the tallest building in the world.
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. After several years of delays, Reynolds hired the architect William Van Alen in 1927 to build a forty-story building on the plot.
Van Alen was respected in his field for his work at the Albemarle Building at Broadway and 24th Street, designed in collaboration with his partner H. Craig Severance. 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. However, the relationship between them became tense because of their disagreements on how best to run the firm. The breaking point came after a 1924 article in the Architectural Review that praised the building's design, giving attribution to Van Alen while ignoring Severance's role altogether. Their association dissolved acrimoniously several months later, with lawsuits over the firm's clients and assets that lasted over a year. This ended up being decisive for the design of the future Chrysler Building, since Severance had a more traditional architectural style and Van Alen had a more modern style.
By February 2, 1928, the proposed building's height had been increased to 54 stories, making it the tallest building in Midtown. The proposal was changed again two weeks later, with official plans showing a 63-story building for the plot. A little more than a week afterward, the plan was changed for the third time, with two additional stories added. 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 spurred developments further east.
In April 1928, Reynolds signed a 67-year lease for the plot and finalized the details of his ambitious project. Van Alen's original design for the skyscraper called for a base in which the showroom windows were tripled in height and topped by 12 stories with glass-wrapped corners, creating an impression that the tower was floating in mid-air. Reynolds's main contribution to the building's design was his insistence that it have a metallic crown, despite Van Alen's initial opposition; the metal-and-crystal crown would have looked like "a jeweled sphere" at night. Originally, the skyscraper would have risen 808 feet (246 m), with 67 floors. These plans were approved in June 1928. Van Alen's drawings were unveiled in the following August and published in a magazine run by the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
Eventually, this design would prove too advanced and expensive for Reynolds. He instead devised an alternate design of 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.
Groundbreaking on the existing plot began on September 19, 1928. With the design already done, Reynolds sold the plot, lease, plans, and architect's services to Walter Chrysler for $2 million on October 15, 1928, since Reynolds did not have the means to carry out construction. The same day, the Goodwin Construction Company began the demolition of the existing building on the plot. A contract was awarded on October 28, and demolition of the building was completed on November 9. Chrysler's original plans for the building were similar to Reynolds's, with the 808-foot building having 68 floors instead of 67. They entailed a "three-story observation dome" with "bronze and glass" on the top; a facade of stone below the fifth floor and a brick-and-terracotta facade above that floor; and a ground-floor pedestrian arcade. However, Chrysler wanted a more progressive design, and he worked with Van Alen and redesigned the skyscraper to be 925 ft (282 m) tall. With 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.
From late 1928 to early 1929, modifications of the design of the dome continued. In March 1929, the press offered details of an "artistic dome" in the shape of a giant thirty-pointed star, which would be crowned by a sculpture five meters high. The final design of the dome had several arches and triangular windows. The design was affected by Walter Chrysler's intention to make the building into the Chrysler Corporation's headquarters in his capacity as the corporation's chairman, and as such, various architectural details were modeled after Chrysler automobile products like the hood ornaments of the Plymouth (see § Designs between setbacks). The building's gargoyles on the 31st floor and the eagles on the 61st floor, designed to signify flight, exemplify the machine age in the 1920s. Even the needle was built using a process similar to the one Chrysler used to manufacture his cars, with a precise "hand craftmanship". In his autobiography, Chrysler says he suggested that his building be taller than the Eiffel Tower.
Meanwhile, excavation of the 69-foot-deep (21 m) foundations began in mid-November 1928 and was completed in mid-January 1929, when the bedrock was reached. 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, representing 63% of the future building's weight. Construction of the building proper began on January 21, 1929. 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. The steel structure was "a few floors" high by June 1929, but the frame was at 35 floors by early August and completed by September. Despite a frantic steelwork construction pace of about four floors per week, no workers died during the construction of the skyscraper's steelwork. 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". In total, 391,881 rivets were used and approximately 3,826,000 bricks were manually laid, to create the non-loadbearing walls of the skyscraper. Walter Chrysler personally financed the construction through the income he got from his car company. The Chrysler Building's height officially surpassed the Woolworth's on October 16, 1929, thereby becoming the world's tallest structure.
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, announced in 1928. 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). The two structures started competing for the distinction of "world's tallest building". The Empire State Building on 34th Street and Fifth Avenue would enter the competition in 1929, when plans The "Race into the Sky", as popular media called it at the time, was representative of the country's optimism in the 1920s, fueled by the building boom in major cities. The 40 Wall Street tower was revised from 840 feet (260 m) to 925 feet in April 1929, making it the world's tallest. Severance increased the height of his project and then publicly claimed the title of the world's tallest building. Construction of 40 Wall Street began in May 1929 at a frantic pace, and it was completed twelve months later.
In response, Van Alen obtained permission for a 125-foot-long (38 m) spire and had it secretly constructed inside the frame of the building. The spire was delivered to the site in four different sections. 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 manufactured. 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." Then, the rest of the spire's pieces were raised and riveted in sequence within 90 minutes, helping raise the tower's height to 1,046 feet. Van Alen, who witnessed the process from the street along with its engineers and Walter Chrysler, compared the experience to watching a butterfly leaving its cocoon.
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:
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. 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.
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. 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, and subsequently acquired the nearby plots needed to support that building's height extension. 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.
The Chrysler Corporation's regional offices in the building opened in January 1930, and the building saw its first tenants in April 1930, before it was officially completed. The Chrysler Building was formally opened on May 27, 1930, in a ceremony that coincided with the 42nd Street Property Owners and Merchants Association's meeting for the year. In the lobby of the building, a bronze plaque was placed "in recognition of Mr. Chrysler's contribution to civic advancement". Former Governor Smith, former Assemblyman Martin G. McCue, and 42nd Street Association president George W. Sweeney were among those in attendance. By June, it was reported that 65% of the available space had been leased. By August, the building was declared complete, but the New York City Department of Construction did not mark it as finished until February 1932.
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. The Chrysler Building was thus the first man-made structure to be taller than 1,000 feet (300 m), and as one newspaper noted, the tower was also taller than the highest points of five states. The new Chrysler Building, appraised at $14 million, was also exempt from city taxes as per an 1859 law that gave tax exemptions to sites owned by the Cooper Union. Although the city had attempted to repeal the tax exemption, Cooper Union opposed that measure, and because the Chrysler Building retains the tax exemption, it has paid Cooper Union for the use of their land since opening.
Van Alen's satisfaction in these accomplishments was likely muted by Walter Chrysler's later refusal to pay the balance of his architectural fee. 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. 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. 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. 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."
The completed Chrysler Building garnered mixed critical reception. 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.. 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." 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." 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." Others compared the Chrysler Building to "an upended swordfish", or claimed it had a "Little Nemo"-like design. 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".
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, 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." Another revision brought the Empire State Building's roof 1,250 feet (380 m), making it the tallest building in the world by far when it opened on May 1, 1931. However, the Chrysler Building is still the world's tallest steel-supported brick building. The Chrysler Building fared better commercially than the Empire State Building did: by 1935, the Chrysler had already rented 70% of its floor area, while the Empire State had only leased 23% of its area and was popularly derided as the "Empty State Building".
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. In his autobiography, Chrysler wrote that he wanted to erect the building "so that his sons would have something to be responsible for".
The Chrysler family inherited the property after the death of Walter Chrysler in 1940, with the property under the ownership of W.P. Chrysler Building Corporation. In 1944, the corporation filed plans to build a 38-story annex to the east of the building at 666 Third Avenue. In 1949, this was revised to a 32-story annex costing $9 million. The annex building, designed by Reinhard, Hofmeister & Walquist, had a similar facade design to the original Chrysler Building, but as the stone for the original building was no longer manufactured, the facade was instead replicated. Construction started on the annex in June 1950, and the first tenants started leasing in June 1951. The building itself was completed by 1952, and a sky bridge connecting the two buildings' seventh floors was built in 1959.
The family sold the building in 1953 to William Zeckendorf for its assessed price of $18 million. The 1953 deal included the annex and the nearby Graybar Building, which along with the Chrysler Building sold for a combined $52 million. 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. In 1960, it was purchased by Sol Goldman and Alex DiLorenzo, who received a mortgage from the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company. In 1961, the building's stainless steel elements, including the needle, crown, gargoyles, and entrance doors, were polished for the first time. 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.
Massachusetts Mutual obtained outright ownership in 1975 after Goldman and DiLorenzo defaulted on the mortgage. The company purchased the building for $35 million. 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. This renovation was completed in 1979. 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. 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, and as a New York City Landmark in 1978, although the city only landmarked the lobby and facade. Massachusetts Mutual had opposed the city landmark designation because it "would cause 'inevitable delay' in moving new tenants into the skyscraper". At the time, the building had 500,000 square feet (46,000 m2) of vacant floor space, representing 40% of the total floor area. In September 1979, the building was sold again, this time to entrepreneur and Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke.
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. The cleaning received the New York Landmarks Conservancy's Lucy G. Moses Preservation Award for 1997. Cooke died in 1997, and debtors moved to foreclose on the estate's unpaid fees soon after. Tishman Speyer Properties and the Travelers Insurance Group bought the Chrysler Center in 1997–1998 for about $220 million (equal to $330 million in 2016) 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. Cooper Union's name is on the deed.
In 2001, a 75% stake in the building was sold, for US$300 million (equal to $410 million in 2016), to TMW, the German arm of an Atlanta-based investment fund. In June 2008, it was reported that the Abu Dhabi Investment Council was in negotiations to buy TMW's 75% economic interest, and a 15% interest from Tishman Speyer Properties in the building, and a share of the Trylons retail structure next door for US$800 million. In July 2008 it was announced that the transaction had been completed, and that the Abu Dhabi Investment Council was now the 90% owner of the building, with Tishman Speyer retaining 10%.
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 a 81% rate of waste being recycled. In 2012, the building received a LEED Gold accreditation from the U.S. Green Building Council, which recognizes the building's environmental sustainability and energy efficiency.
The Chrysler Building is considered a leading example of Art Deco architecture. The exterior of the building has about fifty total ornaments protruding from the building's corners at five different floors in a way similar to the gargoyles of Gothic cathedrals. The corners of the 61st floor are graced with eagles, (a nod to the bald eagle, the national bird of the United States), while the 31st-floor contains gargoyles and replicas of the 1929 Chrysler radiator caps at its corners. The building is constructed of masonry with a steel frame, as well as metal cladding, and currently contains a total of 3,862 windows on its facades.
The Chrysler Building uses silvery "Enduro KA-2" metal extensively in its design. The metal is an austenitic stainless steel developed in Germany by Krupp and marketed under the trade name "Nirosta" (a German acronym for nichtrostender Stahl, meaning "non-rusting steel"). The Nirosta steel, whose first use in an American project was in the Chrysler Building, was also referred to as "18-8 stainless steel" because it was composed of 18% chromium and 8% nickel. Nirosta was used in the exterior ornaments, the window frames, the crown, and the needle. 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...." Stainless steel producers used the Chrysler Building to experiment with the durability of stainless steel in architecture. In 1929, the American Society for Testing Materials created a stainless steel inspection committee. Its members saw the Chrysler Building as the best location to study the effect of the environment on stainless steel, so they created a smaller subcommittee to examine the building's panels every five years. The inspections were canceled after 1960 because the panels had shown minimal deterioration.
The Chrysler Building did not have the standard 1920s-skyscraper design of columns with a decorative base, plain shaft and decorative capitals; instead, the entire skyscraper contains ornate ornamental features. The building's height and the legally mandated setbacks influenced Van Alen toward this design. The walls of the lowermost sixteen floors rise directly from the sidewalk property lines, except for a hole 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. Above the 31st floor, there are no more setbacks until the 60th floor, upon which the structure funnels into a Maltese cross shape that "blends the square shaft to the finial", according to author and photographer Cervin Robinson. The façade of the building is mostly covered in white brick, while dark gray brick is used mostly as a horizontal decoration to highlight the rows of windows.
Although the shape of the Chrysler Building aims to comply with the Zoning Law, there was also a utilitarian purpose to the five setbacks. The first sixteen floors were made as large as possible to optimize the area of rental space near ground level, which was seen as valuable. The U-shaped cut above the fourth floor served as a shaft for air flow and illumination. Whereas the lowermost three shafts were strictly adherent to the regulation, the area between floors 28 and 31 was a multipurpose architectural inclusion. According to Robinson, "they add 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."
The ground (first) floor is made of polished black granite from Shastone, while the three floors above it comprise white marble from Georgia. There are two "main" entrances at Lexington Avenue and at 42nd Street, which are each three floors high with Shastone granite surrounding each proscenium-shaped entryway. Some distance into each main entryway, there are revolving doors located "beneath intricately patterned metal and glass screens", designed so as to reinforce the Art Deco tenet of amplifying the entrance's visual impact. A smaller side entrance on 43rd Street is only one story high. There are also storefronts consisting of large Nirosta-steel-framed windows on ground level, and office windows on the second through fourth floors.
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. Up until the 16th floor, the facade is clad with white brick interrupted by white-marble bands in a manner similar to a basket weaving. The windows, arranged in grids, do not have window sills since the frames are flush with the facade. Between the 16th and 24th floors, the exteriors contain 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.
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. 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 alleviate a common optical illusion seen in tall buildings with horizontal bands, whose taller floors would normally look larger. The 31st floor also contains a gray and white frieze of hubcaps and fenders, which both symbolizes the Chrysler Corporation and serves as a visual effect for the building's Art Deco design. The bonnet embellishments take the shape of Mercury's winged helmet, which was modeled after the hood ornament installed on Chrysler vehicles at the time.
The shaft of the tower was designed to highlight both the horizontal and vertical directions: 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.
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. The pipes under the floors carry both telephone and electricity cables.
The triangular-shaped lobby is regarded as a paragon of the Art Deco style, with clear influences of German Expressionism. Chrysler wanted the design to impress other architects and automobile magnates, so he imported various materials without giving consideration to the extra costs incurred. He covered the walls with huge slabs of African red granite. On the floor, he marked a path from the entrances to the elevators using travertine from Siena. 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".
The lobby has dim lighting that gives it a somewhat subdued quality, although the appliques of the lamps are striking and iconic. Both factors create an intimate atmosphere and highlight the place. Vertical bars of fluorescent light are covered with Belgian blue marble and Mexican amber onyx, which extinguishes and diffuses the light with a soft shine that both illuminates and fuses with the red marble walls.  The lobby also contains four elevator banks, all with a different design.
The entire 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 is themed around "energy and man's application of it to the solution of his problems", and pays homage to the Golden Age of Aviation and the Machine Age. The mural is painted in the shape of a "Y" with ocher and golden tones. In its center is 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 theme manifests itself in the characteristic triangles, sharp angles, slightly curved lines, chrome ornaments, and numerous patterns. The mural depicts several silver planes, including the Spirit of St. Louis, as well as furnaces of incandescent steel and the building itself. There is a wall panel dedicated to the work of clinchers, surveyors, masons, carpenters, plasterers and builders. Fifty different figures were modeled based on workers who participated in its construction. 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.
The lobby is the only publicly accessible part of the Chrysler Building.:129 When the building opened, the first and second floors housed an exhibition of Chrysler vehicles. This exhibition was closed before World War II.
There are a total of 32 elevators in the skyscraper, clustered into groups of six or eight. At the time of opening, 28 of these elevators were for passenger use. 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 connected the landings with the floors above these intermediate landings. 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."
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. The cabs were manufactured by the Otis Elevator Company, while the doors were made by the Tyler Company. Each elevator was built with dimensions of 5.5 by 8 feet (1.7 by 2.4 m). The doors are made of metal and covered with eight types of exotic woods. 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". These elements were influenced by Egyptian designs, which significantly impacted the Art Deco style.
Even though the woods in each cab were arranged in four basic patterns, all the elevator cabs used 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." 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. Curcio writes 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". Curcio also compares 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. 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. Both the doors and cab interiors were considered to be works of extraordinary marquetry.
As per Walter Chrysler's orders, the elevators were designed to run at a rate of 900 feet per minute (270 m/min), despite the 700-foot-per-minute (210 m/min) speed restriction enforced in all city elevators at the time. This restriction was loosened soon after the Empire State Building opened in 1931, as that building had also been equipped with high-speed elevators. The Chrysler Building also had three of the longest elevator shafts in the world at the time of completion.
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. It is part of the structure's original design. 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, but the New York City Board of Transportation pushed to allow the corridor anyway. Chrysler eventually built and paid for the building's subway entrance. Work on the new entrance started in March 1930 and it opened along with the Chrysler Building two months later.
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.
The private Cloud Club formerly occupied the 66th through 68th floors. It opened in July 1930 with some three hundred members, all wealthy males who formed the city's elite. 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. A member had to be elected, and if accepted, paid an initial fee of $200, plus a $150 to $300 annual fee.
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. 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 appliques in Art Deco style. There was a mural of a cloud on the roof, and a mural of Manhattan on the dining room's north side. It is believed that the dining room was a reference for the Rainbow Room and the Rockefeller Center Luncheon Club, both located at 30 Rockefeller Center. On the same floor, Walter Chrysler and Texaco both had private dining rooms. The 68th floor mainly contained service spaces.
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, and the club closed two years later. 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, as Cooke reportedly did not want a "conventional" restaurant operating within the old club. Tishman Speyer rented the top two floors of the old Cloud Club. The old staircase has been removed, as have many of the original decorations, which prompted objections from the Art Deco Society of New York.
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 tallest bathrooms in the world. Chrysler also had a triplex unit on the 58th through 60th floors, which served as his residence. However, Chrysler did not use his gym much, instead choosing to stay at the Chrysler Corporation's headquarters in Detroit. Later, the 69th and 70th floors were converted into a dental clinic. 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. The office still had the suite's original bathroom and gymnasium.
From the building's opening until 1945, it contained an observation deck on the 71st floor, which was called "Celestial". For fifty cents per person, visitors could go around its entire circumference through a corridor with vaulted ceilings painted with celestial motifs and small overhanging glass planets. An image of the building hung above the toolbox, with the building's position looking "like a rocket". This observatory had an area of 3,900 square feet (360 m2), and according to a contemporary brochure, offered views of up to 100 miles (160 km) on a clear day. The center of the observatory contained the toolbox that Walter P. Chrysler used at the beginning of his career as a mechanic; it was later preserved at the Chrysler Technology Center in Auburn Hills, Michigan. It was unpopular because of the small triangular windows that were part of the design of the crown, which created strange angles that made it difficult to see the city. The 1931 opening of the Empire State Building, which had two observatories at a higher elevation, caused the Chrysler Building observatory to lose its clientele.
After the observatory closed, it was used for radio and television broadcasting equipment. Since 1986, the old observatory has housed the office of architects Harvey Morse and Cooperwood Interests.
The Chrysler Building is renowned and recognized for its terraced crown, which is an extension of the main tower. Composed of seven radiating terraced arches, Van Alen's design of the crown is a cruciform groin vault constructed into seven concentric members with transitioning setbacks, mounted up one behind another. The stainless-steel cladding is ribbed and riveted in a radiating sunburst pattern with many triangular vaulted windows, transitioning into smaller segments of the seven narrow setbacks of the facade of the terraced crown. The entire crown is clad with Nirosta steel. 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."
The stainless steel cladding is ribbed and riveted in the shape of sunbeams, with many triangular windows. 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.
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. They are not habitable and were built mainly according to the exterior design, and also work as landings of the staircase leading to the needle. These uppermost floors are very narrow, have low and sloping roofs and are only used to house radio transmitters and other mechanical and electrical equipment. 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.
These top stories are very narrow with low, sloped ceilings, and are useful only for holding radio-broadcasting and other mechanical and electrical equipment. Television station WCBS-TV (Channel 2) originally transmitted from the top of the Chrysler starting in 1938. The installation continued through the early 1950s, when it moved to the Empire State Building due to competition from RCA's transmitter at the latter tower. For many years, WPAT-FM and WTFM (now WKTU) also used the Chrysler Building as a transmission site, but they also moved to the Empire State Building by the 1970s. Since then, there have not been any commercial broadcast stations located at the Chrysler Building.
There are two sets of lighting in the top spires and decoration. The first are the V-shaped lighting inserts in the steel of the building itself. Added later were groups of floodlights that are on mast arms directed back at the building. This allows the top of the building to be lit in many colors for special occasions. The tube lighting atop the building was added in 1981, although it had been part of the original design. 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. Since 2015, the Chrysler Building and other city skyscrapers have been part of the Audubon Society's Lights Out program, wherein the building turns off its lights during bird migration seasons.
Chrysler Center is the name of the building complex consisting of the Chrysler Building, Chrysler Building East, and the commercial pavilion called Chrysler Trylons, located between the two. In 1998, Tishman Speyer acquired the entire complex and proceeded to renovate it completely over the next two years.
The Chrysler Building annex at 666 Third Avenue, alternatively known as Kent Building at the time, was renovated and renamed Chrysler Building East. This International Style building, built in 1952, is 432 feet (132 m) high and has 32 floors. Renowned architect Philip Johnson replaced the glass facade with a darker glass and added an extension of 135,000 square feet (12,500 m2). The mechanical systems were modernized and the interior was modified. After these works, the total area of this building was 770,000 square feet (72,000 m2).
Finally, a new building was built between the original skyscraper and the annex, which was also designed by Philip Johnson. 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."
After these modifications, the total leasable area of the complex was raised to 2,062,772 square feet (191,637.8 m2). The total cost of this project was about one hundred million dollars. This renovation has won several awards and commendations, including an Energy Star rating from the Environmental Protection Agency; a LEED Gold designation; and the Skyscraper Museum Outstanding Renovation Award of 2001.
George H. Douglas writes that the building "remains one of the most appealing and awe-inspiring of skyscrapers". Architect Le Corbusier called the building "hot jazz in stone and steel". Ada Louise Huxtable, an architectural critic, noted that the building had "a wonderful, decorative, evocative aesthetic", while another architectural critic, Paul Goldberger, notes the "compressed, intense energy" of the lobby, the "magnificent" elevators, and the "magical" view from the crown. The city's Landmarks Preservation Commission says that the tower "embodies the romantic essence of the New York City skyscraper". 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."
The Chrysler Building appears in several films set in New York and is often considered one of the best buildings in the city. In a 2001 survey, architectural critics ranked the Chrysler as the third best building in the country. 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, as 90% of respondents placed the building among their top 10 favorite buildings. In 2007, the building ranked ninth among 150 buildings in the AIA's List of America's Favorite Architecture.
The Chrysler Building is also well-reputed as an Art Deco icon. Fodor's New York City 2010 described the building as being among "one of the great art deco masterpieces":123 which "wins many a New Yorker's vote for the city's most iconic and beloved skyscraper".:129 Frommer's states that the Chrysler was "one of the most impressive Art Deco buildings ever constructed". Meanwhile, Insight Guides' 2016 edition states that the Chrysler Building is thought to be among the city's "most beautiful" buildings. Its distinctive profile has inspired similar skyscrapers worldwide including One Liberty Place in Philadelphia and the Al Kazim Towers in Dubai.
The Chrysler Building can be seen in numerous films, but almost never appears as a main setting in these films. James Sanders, an architect and author, jokingly says that "the Award for Best Supporting Skyscraper" should go to the Chrysler Building. The building was supposed to be featured in the 1933 film King Kong, but only makes a cameo appearance in the end of the movie since the producers decided to depict the Empire State Building instead for most of the movie. The Chrysler 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 Armageddon (1998), Deep Impact (1998), and A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001). The building also appears in other films such as Spider-Man (2002), Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), Two Weeks Notice (2002), and Men in Black 3 (2012).
The Chrysler Building also appears in many photo shoots. In December 1929, Walter Chrysler hired the photographer Margaret Bourke-White to take pictures of the building for publicity purposes. She took the images from a scaffold 400 feet (120 m) meters high and worked at a studio at ground level until she was evicted in 1934. According to one account, Bourke-White wanted to live in the building for the duration of the photo shoot, but the only person who could actually live in the building was the janitor, so she was relegated to co-leasing a studio instead with Time Inc. In 1930, several of her photographs were used in a special report on skyscrapers in the then-new Fortune magazine. 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 the 61st-floor eagle ornaments. On October 5, 1998, Christie's auctioned the photograph for $96,000. 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.
In the early days of the building, several large tenants leased space in the Chrysler Building. The Chrysler Corporation moved into the building in 1930 and used the tower as its division headquarters until the 1950s. The mapmaking company Texaco and the magazine magnate Henry Luce were also two of the original tenants. Texaco moved out in 1977 because it wanted a more suburban workplace in Purchase, New York, for its employees. Luce's company Time Inc. was headquartered in the building until 1937, when it moved to the Rockefeller Center due to the latter containing more office space.
Notable modern tenants include:
The tower resembles nothing so much as the Chrysler Building...
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