For 40 years, the Empire State Building (Great American Things, May 13, 2009) symbolized New York City until the World Trade Center towers dominated the skyline. But then and now, the building that most says “New York” to me is the Chrysler Building.
The Chrysler Building has to be the most graceful skyscraper ever built. Constructed for the automobile company in 1930, it was the world’s tallest building for all of eleven months, until the ESB eclipsed it. Though it served as Chrysler’s headquarters for about 25 years, the company never owned it. Walter Chrysler paid for it himself.
The building, designed by William Van Alen, is considered a masterpiece of Art Deco architecture. Peter Gossel and Gabriele Leuthauser wrote this in their book Architecture in the Twentieth Century: “In a deliberate strategy of myth generation, Van Alen planned a dramatic moment of revelation: the entire seven-storey pinnacle, complete with special-steel facing, was first assembled inside the building, and then hoisted into position through the roof opening and anchored on top in just one and a half hours. All of a sudden it was there—a sensational fait accompli.”
In 2005, a hundred architects, critics, builders, and others were asked to choose their favorite NYC tower. The Chrysler Building was the clear favorite, appearing on 90% of the ballots. And the American Institute of Architects commissioned a Harris Poll to determine America’s 150 favorite buildings – and the Chrysler Building came in at number nine.