A truly unmissable landmark in Manhattan is the Chrysler Building, rising to a height of 320 meters. As the first skyscraper in the world, it exceeded the height of the famous Eiffel Tower and became a reflection of the glory of the American automobile industry.
The skyscraper building on 42nd Street at Lexington Avenue began construction on September 19, 1928 at the instigation of automobile magnate Walter P. Chrysler, who wanted to house his company’s headquarters there. The art deco building was designed by William van Alen. The work progressed relatively quickly, four floors were completed every week. Fortunately, there was no fatal accident during the construction – as was unfortunately the case with other constructions. A total of around 3,000 workers worked on site. The grand opening finally took place in 1930.
William van Alen came to New York in 1911 as a recent graduate of the Beaux-Arts school in Paris. He opened an architectural office in the then-tallest building, the Metropolitan Life Tower, and began to collaborate with the already slightly better-known architect H. Craig Severance. The offers kept pouring in and more interesting and attractive offers kept coming. However, after eleven years of mutual cooperation, their until then successful office broke up under stormy circumstances, and from 1925 the two architects set out on their own paths.
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In the late 1920s, it was enough for an architect to announce a plan to build a new skyscraper and immediately get on the front page of a newspaper. At the time of the construction of Allen’s Chrysler Building, the Bank of Manhattan skyscraper was being built nearby, coincidentally under the direction of architect H. Craig Severance. Their rivalry over the height of buildings became a frequent topic of newspaper headlines at the time. Not even Black Friday on Wall Street could stop this race.
Van Alen started the project at 56 stories, but to outdo Severance, he increased the number to 65. Undeterred, however, Severance responded by adding a tower, ending up at 71 stories. He slowly began to celebrate his victory, but he did not know that van Alen still had an ace up his sleeve – he was secretly completing a 56-meter high steel spike in a fire pit inside the building. It was installed on the building on October 23, 1929 in just 90 minutes, and the Chrysler Building with its height of 320 meters won in the end. It also became the tallest building in the world, but it did not enjoy its primacy for long, less than a year later it was overshadowed by the even taller Empire State Building. Still, the Chrysler Building is the first structure to break the magical 1,000 feet = 305 meters mark.
Alen decorated the facade with elements symbolizing wheels and radiator caps. He also added stainless steel spigots that resemble the emblem on Chrysler cars. The icing on the cake was the already mentioned steel tower of the building, which is a kind of variation of the protective grille of a car in the art deco style. Both the eagle heads and the metal tip that adorns it were made from a material called Nirosta, which is an alloy of chrome, nickel and steel. The alloy was developed by the German company Krupp. Granite and marble were widely used in the decoration of the vestibule. The ceiling is decorated with a painting by Edward Trumbull titled “Transportation and Human Endeavour” depicting buildings, aircraft and scenes from the assembly line of the Chrysler factory. In the past, the hall was used as a Chrysler showroom. At the very top of the building there was a private club “Cloud Club” and a viewing gallery.
Right from its inception, the Chrysler Building has won the admiration of many artists. For example, Georgia O’Keefe transferred it to the canvas, in Margaret Bourke-White’s photo you can see the author herself sitting on a gargoyle high above the city. Although Allen managed to fulfill Chrysler’s wish and created a unique building that became a landmark of the whole of New York, he refused to pay him for his work. He accused him of taking bribes from supplier companies. But Alen didn’t just let it go and sued Chrysler for his salary in return. A constitutional right was thus automatically imposed on the construction. Although Chrysler has had no influence over the building since the 1950s, the skyscraper continues to bear its name.
Although the original plan was to create a simple structure to respond to the demand for office space, the end result was a colossus with 3,862 windows, which used 20,961 tons of steel, 391,881 rivets and 3,826,000 bricks to construct. Around 10,000 light bulbs take care of its lighting at night, but the original lighting project from the 1930s was discovered and installed only in the 1980s. The lowest office occupancy was 17% during the economic crisis of the early 1970s. Since 1971, this remarkable building has been a protected cultural monument.