Completed in 1930, the Chrysler Building is a distinctive symbol of New York City, standing 1,046 feet (319 m) high on the east side of Manhattan at the intersection of 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue. Originally built for the Chrysler Corporation, the building is presently co-owned by TMW Real Estate (75%) and Tishman Speyer Properties (25%). The Chrysler building was designed by William van Alen for a contractor, William H. Reynolds. The design was subsequently sold to Walter P. Chrysler as a home for his company's headquarters.
At the time the building was erected, the builders of New York were in the throes of a stiff competition to build the world's tallest skyscraper. The Chrysler building was constructed at an average rate of 4 floors per week, and no workers were killed during construction. Just prior to completion, the building stood even with H. Craig Severance's 40 Wall Street. Mr. Severance subsequently added two feet to his building, and claimed the title of the world's tallest building (this distinction excluded "structures," such as the Eiffel Tower.)
Not one to be outdone, Mr. van Alen had already secretly obtained permission to build a 125 foot (38.1 m) spire, which was being constructed inside of the building. The spire, composed of 'Nirosta' stainless steel, was hoisted to the top of the building one afternoon in November, 1929, making the Chrysler Building not only the world's tallest building, but also the world's tallest structure. Van Alen and Chrysler enjoyed this distinction for less than a year, before it was surrendered to the Empire State Building. Unfortunately, Mr. van Alen's satisfaction was muted by Walter Chrysler's refusal to pay his fee. The Chrysler Building opened to the public on May 27, 1930.
The Chrysler Building is an example of Art Deco architecture, and the distinctive ornamentation of the tower is based on the hubcaps that were then being used on Chrysler automobiles. The building is also arguably the best example of the Art Deco period of New York architecture, which was noted as perhaps the most beautiful period of development of buildings in the city.
The lobby is similarly elegant. When the building first opened it contained a public viewing gallery near the top, which a few years later was changed into a restaurant, but neither of these enterprises was able to be financially self sustaining during the Great Depression and the former observation floor became a private club. The very top stories of the building are narrow with low sloped ceilings, designed mostly for exterior appearance with interiors useful only to hold radio broadcasting and other mechanical and electrical equipment.
The Chrysler Building was largely panned by critics at the time for its supposedly "frivolous" decoration, straying from strict functionalist modernism. For example it has vast silver-colored gargoyles near its summit shaped in the form of eagles. The general public, however, quickly regarded it with admiration and affection. With time it came to be regarded by many as the finest architectural expression of the boom times of the 1920s coming to an end with the crash of 1929.