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On the 28th May 1930, one of the most stunning buildings in Manhattan – the Chrysler Building – officially opened.

The art deco building currently ties the New York Times building for the 3rd tallest in the city (they’re both 1,047 feet), but when it first opened it enjoyed an 11 month run as the tallest, until the Empire State Building took that title. Some more fun facts:

  • The building’s groundbreaking was on September 19 th, 1928, and opening ceremonies were on May 28th, 1930.
  • The spire was delivered in four sections, and on October 23rd, 1929 the bottom section was hoisted onto the top of the building’s dome and lowered into the 66th floor. The remaining sections were then brought up and riveted to the first one in sequential order. This took just 90 minutes!
  • The corners of the 61st floor are adorned with eagles, replicas of the 1929 Chrysler hood ornaments; and on the 31st floor, the corner ornamentation are replicas of the 1929 Chrysler radiator caps.
  • Ownership of the building changed hands a few times, starting when the Chrysler family sold it in 1947.
  • The building was declared a landmark in 1976.
  • No one died during the construction of the building!


A Modern building of great height, constructed on a steel skeleton. The form originated in the United States.

Art Deco

(Courtesy of http://www.infoplease.com)

A term that designates a style of design that originated in French luxury goods shortly before World War I and became ubiquitously and internationally popular during the 1920s and 30s. Coined in the 1960s, the name derives from the 1925 Paris Exposition of Decorative Arts, where the style reached its apex. Art deco is characterized by long, thin forms, curving surfaces, and geometric patterning. The practitioners of the style attempted to describe the sleekness they thought expressive of the machine age. The style influenced all aspects of the era’s art and architecture, as well as the decorative, graphic, and industrial arts.

The ultimate art deco-style skyscraper is the Chrysler Building in midtown Manhattan, at Lexington Ave. between 42nd and 43rd St, commissioned by Walter P. Chrysler, designed by William Van Alen, and built in 1926–30. For about a year, until the completion of the Empire State Building in 1931, the Chrysler was the world’s tallest building. Comprised of 77 stories and 1,048 ft (319 m) tall, this steel-framed office building is a stepped tower with two primary ‘setbacks.’ (A landmark 1916 zoning law reshaped the skyscraper – to preserve light and air at street level, the law required buildings to have these between 9 and 18 stories up and stipulated that towers above that height could occupy no more than a quarter of their site).It’s topped by a series of gleaming, gradually diminishing arches clad in stainless chromium-nickel steel, pierced by narrow triangular windows and surmounted by a slim 185-ft (56-m) stainless spire. The building also features ornaments of the same steel, including enormous stylized eagle heads, pineapples, and automobile-related designs. Its lobby is an art deco extravaganza of marble, chrome, and fresco.

William Van Alen

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1883. He attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn while working for the architect Clarence True. He also studied for three years at the Atelier Masqueray, the first independent architectural atelier in the United States, founded by Franco-American architect Emmanuel Louis Masqueray.

Thereafter, Van Alen worked for several firms in New York before he was awarded the Paris Prize scholarship in 1908. The scholarship led to his studying in Paris, in the atelier of Victor Laloux at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.

When Van Alen returned to New York in 1911, he formed a partnership with H. Craig Severance. The partnership became known for its distinctive multistory commercial structures. Their friendship grew strained over time, and eventually the partnership dissolved. Thereafter, both Severance and Van Alen continued to practice on their own in New York.

In the late 1920s, both architects found themselves engaged in designing buildings that were heralded in the press to become the tallest buildings in the world: Severance, the Manhattan Trust Building 40 Wall Street (now known as the Trump Building) and Van Alen, the Chrysler Building. At 1046 feet, Van Alen’s building won. However, both buildings were surpassed in height by the Empire State Building in 1931.

The completion of Chrysler building was received by critics with mixed reactions. Van Alen was hailed as a “Doctor of Altitude” and as “the Ziegfeld of his profession.”However, the building itself was described by some critics as just flash which “embodies no compelling, organic idea” and which was “distinctly a stunt design, evolved to make the man in the street look up” but having “no significance as serious design.” Nevertheless, the Chrysler Building remains a beloved New York City landmark structure.

Unfortunately, Van Alen had failed to enter into a contract with Walter Chrysler when he received the Chrysler Building commission. After the building was completed, Van Alen requested payment of 6 percent of the building’s construction budget ($14 million), a figure that was the standard fee of the time. After Chrysler refused payment, Van Alen sued him and won, eventually receiving the fee. However, the lawsuit significantly depreciated his reputation as an employable architect. His career effectively ruined by this and further depressed by the Great Depression, Van Alen focused his attention on teaching sculpture.

Van Alen lent his name to the Van Alen Institute, a New York City-based nonprofit organization that is dedicated to improving design in the public realm through a program of exhibitions, competitions, publications, workshops, and forums and is an advocate for active and accessible waterfronts. Founded in 1894 as the Society of Beaux-Arts Architects, the Institute was renamed in 1996 in honor of Van Alen, its largest benefactor; at this time the organization was reorganized to focus on the public realm. The Institute’s projects initiate interdisciplinary and international collaborations between practitioners, policymakers, students, educators, and community leaders.