The Hidden History of the Chrysler Building

chrysler building

Rising like a gleaming spire from the cityscape, the iconic Chrysler Building is one of the most recognizable skyscrapers not only in New York City, but the entire world. Often considered the pinnacle of Art Deco architecture and design, the tower became to typify New York City’s ascendancy as an economic powerhouse and iconic global city.

Though overshadowed by the more famous Empire State Building and a slew of taller towers in more recent years, the Chrysler Building remains a favorite of New Yorkers and tourists alike. But just how much do your really know about this celebrated tower? Here’s a quick look at the hidden history of the Chrysler Building.

Designed by architect William Van Alen, the building was originally intended to be just over 800 feet tall and feature a car showroom at its base and a glass-sheathed top. However, the plan was rejected by its contractor as too expensive and unworkable. Later, Chrysler Corporation chairman Walter Chrysler bought the lease and design, working with Van Alen to redesign the tower. The new building, intended to serve as the headquarters of the Chrysler Corporation, featured architectural ornamentation inspired by Chrysler cars.

Construction of the new tower started in September 1928 and proceeded at a rapid pace of about four floors per week. The tower took place during an intense competition to build the tallest skyscraper in the world, with its chief rival being 40 Wall Street downtown. As both towers neared completion in the midst of the battle to claim the “world’s tallest building” title, Van Alen secretly gained permission from Chrysler to construct a 125-foot spire to be assembled within the building. The spire was delivered in four different sections and on October 23, 1929, was assembled and hoisted atop the building in just 90 minutes, surpassing the recently completed 40 Wall Street thereby assuring it would claim the title of the world’s tallest building.

The tower’s reign as the tallest building in the world lasted only briefly, as it was dethroned by the Empire State Building less than a year after it was completed on May 27, 1930. The building’s ownership changed hands several times over the years, though it remained one of the city’s most prestigious addresses to do business.

Though no longer the tallest building in New York City today, the Chrysler Building remains one of the most iconic and celebrated. It’s striking Art Deco architecture and key role during the race to build the world’s tallest building make it revered by skyscraper fans to this very day.