History of New York City’s Chrysler Building

Chrysler Building History

Photo: Timsdad at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

There are certain buildings In New York’s skyline that always stand out. One such building is the iconic Chrysler Building. The Art Deco-style skyscraper is located in the Turtle Bay neighborhood on Manhattan’s East Side. At 1,046 feet, The Chrysler Building is the eighth largest building in the city. The building was spurned by the economic boon of the 1920’s. More money was being spent in local real estate, which included several skyscrapers. Most skyscrapers built during that decade were designed in The Art Deco style which was very popular at the time. That particular style of design is best known for its dominant geometric shapes and bold colors.

The Chrysler Building was just one of several buildings In New York created using the Art Deco style. The project was spearheaded by real estate developer William H. Reynolds, who was also a former New York state senator. Reynolds developed The historic Coney Island Dreamland amusement park which opened In 1904. After The amusement park was destroyed by a fire seven years later, Reynolds turned his sights to commercial real estate. His primary goal was to construct The tallest building in the entire world.

Initial planning for the building began In February 1928. The original agreement called for design and construction of a 40 foot building. That height was soon increased to 54 stories, which would make it the tallest building In New York’s Midtown. These proposals underwent constant changes, until the planned height of the building was increased again, this time to a staggering 67 stories. Reynolds signed a 67 year lease for the land In April 1928 and completed his plans for the skyscraper. He enlisted the aid of architect William Van Alen to design his masterpiece. Reynolds approved Van Alen’s architectural designs In June 1928 and construction would break ground in three months.

Unfortunately, Van Alen’s designs became too much for Reynolds to handle. The proposed 12 story glass-encased showrooms and Reynold’s dream of installing a crystal and metal crown were too expensive and surpassed the technical knowledge of the construction crew. Reynolds devised a more practical plan for the building, which included a layout on the skyscraper’s top floors using bricks that would appear to look like windows and opted for a more practical dome that followed the Italianate style of architecture from The 19th century. The revised plans were adapted a month before construction began.

The project would soon be delayed with another problem. The groundbreaking ceremony was held on September 19, 1928. However, Reynolds didn’t have enough physical and financial resources to continue. He ended up selling all of the land, designs, architect services and lease to Chrysler Corporation founder Walter Chrysler In October 1928 for $2 million. The initial construction was soon demolished and a new construction contract was signed later that month.

Chrysler kept his first design very similar to Reynolds’ plans. The only differences were adding a 68th floor, a stone facade underneath the building’s fifth floor, a “pedestrian arcade” on the main floor and an observation deck made of glass and bronze on the building’s top three stories. Chrysler worked with Van Alen to revise his plans from time to time as construction continued.

Excavation of the foundation began In November 1928 and continued for two months. Over 36 million pounds of soil and over 100 million pounds of rock were excavated for the foundation. The Carnegie Construction company was enlisted to install the structure’s steel beams beginning In March 1929. The Chrysler Building officially became The world’s tallest building In October 1929, when it exceeded The height of The Woolworth building.

The Chrysler Corporation announced In January 1930 that it would be opening offices in the new building. Leases for other tenants were announced three months later. The Chrysler Building officially opened on May 27, 1930. 65 percent of all available space had been leased by June 1930; Construction was declared complete In August of that year, even though New York City’s Department of Construction didn’t officially record its completion until February 1932.

Including The 125 foot spire, the Chrysler Building measured at 1,046 feet tall. It was the first man-made structure to top 1,000 feet In height. The skyscraper was taller than the highest point in five other states at that point in time. Unfortunately, its reputation as “World’s Tallest Building” wouldn’t last long. The nearby Empire State Building took over that distinction when it opened In 1931, measuring at 1,250 feet tall. The Chrysler Building was still considered the world’s biggest steel-supported brick building.

The Chrysler Company maintained offices in the new skyscraper, but the company itself didn’t have an ownership stake in the building. Walter Chrysler proceeded with the construction to leave a lasting legacy for his children and grandchildren. His family inherited it the after his death In 1940. Family members announced plans In 1949 to build a 38 story annex next to The Chrysler Building. Construction began In 1950 and was completed In 1952. A sky bridge that connected the seventh floors of both buildings was built In 1959.

The Chrysler Corporation moved their offices offsite during the mid-1950’s, shortly after Walter Chrysler’s family sold the property to William Zeckendorf in 1953. The skyscraper and its annex would be sold a few more years iover the next several years, first to Lawrence Wien and his real estate syndicate In 1957 and then to Alex DiLorenzo and Sol Goodman In 1960

Massachusetts Mutual bought the Chrysler Building In 1975 after DiLorenzo and Goodman defaulted on their loan. The company announced plans to renovate its interior and observation deck. The project was completed In 1979. The task of leasing interior space was assigned to the Edward S. Gordon Company, who leased a quarter of a million square feet of available space In just five years.

The skyscraper was listed as a national historic landmark In 1976, and its lobby and facade were declared as New York City landmarks In 1978. It was sold again In 1979 to businessman (and owner of The NFL’s Washington Redskins) Jack Kent Cooke.

The iconic spire was renovated In 1995. Restoration of some of its ornamental gargoyles along with the observation deck followed over he next two years. Cooke passed away In 1997 and his creditors chose to foreclose on his estate’s unpaid assets. The property was purchased by The Travelers Insurance Group and Tishman Speyer Properties In 1998.

The skyscraper’s ownership would continue to change hands during The next decade. In 2001, Atlanta-based form TMW bought a 75 percent share in the Chrysler Building. Their share and another 15 percent of Tishman Spyer’s ownership share would be acquired by The Abu Dhabi Company In 2008.

The property’s waste management, plumbing and energy systems were overhauled In 2010 and 2011. The skyscraper received a LEED Gold accreditation from the United States’. Green Building Council as a result of those efforts. The property was put up for sale again In 2019. This time, it was purchased by a joint venture from The SIGNA Group from Austria and American real estate entrepreneur Aby Rosen’s RFR Holding LLC.

The Chrysler Building has been around for almost 100 years, and it is still one of the more prominent features of New York City’s skyline. The skyscraper has been featured In dozens of architectural books and magazines. Its simple lines and sleek Art Deco design have served as inspiration for other buildings around The globe. Thousands of people visit the skyscraper every year. It will undoubtedly continue to be an important part of the city’s landscape for many years to come.


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