Chrysler Building Spire by James Maher

Chrysler Building History and Photography


Chrysler Building Spire, 2010 by James Maher.

(*Photos with links below them are for sale.  Architectural detail shots and lobby shots below.)

A Jewel in the Sky: The Chrysler Building

The Chrysler Building is an example of a building caught up in the quest to become the tallest in the world, which it obtained briefly for 11 months before it was surpassed by the Empire State Building.  But because of its iconic and beautiful design, the height of the building never really mattered.

Chrysler Building historical photography, 1930s

A classic example of Art Deco architecture, the Chrysler Building is considered by many contemporary architects to be one of the finest buildings in the world.  In 2005, New York’s Skyscraper Museum asked one hundred architects, builders, critics, engineers and historians to choose their 10 favorite New York towers.  The Chrysler Building came in first place with 90% of people ranking it #1.

History of the Chrysler Building

The project for the Chrysler Building began as a collaboration between architect William Van Alen and contractor William H. Reynolds.  Van Alen’s original design was very ambitious, containing a decorative ‘diamond’ crown, showroom windows that were tripled in height and topped with a 12 story section of glass corners, lightening the look of the building.  But his designs proved to be too expensive and advanced for Reynolds’ tastes, who sold the design and lease to industrialist Walter P. Chrysler.

Chrysler saw an opportunity in the project.  The east 42nd street area, once glamorous in the time that Grand Central Station was completed, had become commercially cheap with lots of available space.  Chrysler believed that he could breath life back into the area with a brand new iconic building.  So much so that Van Alen’s design turned out to be not ambitious enough, and he had Van Alen redesign his plans to add additional stories.

They were to go for the title of tallest building in the world.

Chrysler Building Gargoyle by Margaret Bourke-WhiteThe building also shifted its aesthetic to represent the Chrysler automobile and the machine age of the 1920s.  Gargoyles and eagles ornamented the building like the hood ornaments of the Plymouth automobile.  The corner ornaments were made to look like the 1929 Chrysler radiator caps.

The idea to become the tallest building in the world came out of Walter P. Chrysler’s hubris.  It was, in his mind, a huge monument to himself.  The project was financed out of his own pocket, ensuring that his sons would get ownership.  He was to have an office suite and apartment with an exquisite dining room at the top and asked his builders to make sure his toilet was the highest in Manhattan, so that he could look down and as an observer put it, “shit on Henry Ford and the rest of the world.”

The quest for height supremacy continued in secret.  Being built simultaneously, 40 Wall Street was also boasting of becoming the tallest building in the world.  Financed by a 34-year-old banker nicknamed “the kid”, and designed by Craig Severance, Van Alen’s estranged former partner, 40 Wall Street’s spire was lengthened by 60 feet to push it to 925 feet, or 85 feet taller than the Chrysler building’s plan.

Chrysler Building Showroom, Historical Photography

So Chrysler and Van Alen decided to add a surprise 186-foot spire.  They hoisted 4 parts of the spire secretly to the top and riveted them together in 90 minutes.  40 Wall Street even held a celebration for being the tallest building in the world, without realizing that they had been passed.

But Chrysler’s victory would only last for 11 months when the Empire State Building passed it as the tallest building in the world.  But here we see that the quest for the world’s tallest building didn’t really matter, as buildings will always be built taller.  In the end, it was Van Alen’s design that is most iconic.  It may not be the tallest building in New York, but it is the best looking.


Grand Central Terminal and Chrysler Building Spire by James Maher

Grand Central Station and Chrysler Building, 2012 by James Maher 

Chrysler Building from 42nd Street

Chrysler Building from 42nd Street, 2012 by James Maher  

The Chrysler Building Lobby

Chrysler Building Lobby Entrance

The Chrysler Building Lobby is possibly the most ornate and expensive lobby in the entire city. When walking in, the first thing that hits you is the amazing mural that covers the entire ceiling. A tribute to the age in which it was created, it is filled with Deco triangles, sharp angles, slightly curved lines, chrome detailing, and a multitude of patterns.

The lobby shows scenes primarily of the workers that created the building, as well as tributes to the airplane and the age of flight.


Chrysler Building Lobby Murals


Chrysler Building Lobby Murals


Chrysler Building Lobby Murals


Chrysler Building Lobby Murals


Chrysler Building Lobby Murals


Chrysler Building Lobby Murals


Chrysler Building Lobby Murals


Chrysler Building Lobby Murals




The gorgeous walls of the lobby are made with a very expensive African marble.  It is clear that no expense was spared when creating the building.  The random yet repeated patterns play off the style of the rest of the lobby extremely well.


Chrysler Building Lobby Elevator


Chrysler Building Lobby


The lighting in the lobby was fairly sparse and somewhat dim, even though the fixtures were powerful and iconic.  Both factors created wonderful mood lighting and enhanced the scene.

Chrysler Building Lobby Clock


Chrysler Building Lobby Ceiling



– Floors: 77

– Elevators: 34

– Tallest building in the world from 1930 to 1931

– Cost: $15 million

– The Chrysler Corporation sold the building in the mid 1950s

– 391,831 rivets used

Chrysler Building Gargoyle

Chrysler Building Facade Details

Chrysler Building Facade Details

Chrysler Building Entrance

Frequently Asked Questions:


1. When was the Chrysler Building built?

The Chrysler Building was completed on May 28th, 1930.

2. How Tall is the Chrysler Building?

The Chrysler Building was the first man-made structure to stand taller than 1,000 feet.  It stands at 1,048 feet (319.5 meters) high.

3. How many floors is the Chrysler Building?

The Chrysler Building has 77 floors.

4. Why was the Chrysler Building built?

The Chrysler Building was designed by architect William Van Alen, but it really was industrialist Walter P. Chrysler that pushed the building to what it became.  Chrysler saw an opportunity for the area to grow substantially, but mainly he wanted the building to be a personal monument to himself.

5. Who designed the Chrysler Building?

The Chrysler Building was designed by architect William Van Alen but pushed to become the tallest building in the world by financier and industrialist Walter P. Chrysler.  Many of the design elements of the building are directly related to Chrysler automobiles.

6. What is the Chrysler Building address?

The Chrysler Building is located at the intersection of 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue.

7. What are the worst ways to spell Chrysler Building?

Crysler Building, Chrystler Building, Crisler building, Chrisler Building.


30 thoughts on “Chrysler Building History and Photography”

      1. I was lucky enough to see the interior of Chrysler Bldg in early 80’s. It epitomizes the Art Deco style so popular in the 1930s. What an architectural treasure!

  1. It’s a city ahead of its time and if you’re coming in from abroad then take the Queen Mary II and sail under the Verrazano Bridge into NY Harbour and catch sight of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty on your way in.
    James I love the dialogue on Roebling’s masterpiece and the Chrysler Building, these and Grand Central invoke memories of how far NYC was – and is – (the place to be)
    Roger Hodge

  2. Survindar Chahal

    I’ve been an admirer of this incredible building since my university days, and I was lucky enough to see it when i went to NYC last year. It’s an amazing sight, and you’ve done brilliantly to capture the sense of awe and respect that it can give you.
    Well done, it is really talented work and keep it up.

  3. You refer to Grand Central Station. That is a post office. The railroad facility across from the Chrysler Building is a terminal, not a station, and the official name is Grand Central Terminal. Penn Station is indeed a station.

  4. An extremely beautiful piece of architecture. My son, who is now 20, was in love with this building since he was a kid. I have a framed black and white photo. His birthday just passed but I would love to have a new photo and or signature. He would really love that. Not as much as I love him.

  5. My Great Great Uncle Edward Collins was a foreman during construction. He was offered the choice of a new Chrysler car or to be included in the mural in the lobby. He chose the mural. He was asked to wear a suit but said he wanted to wear overalls to represent his men. He is the person in the mural wearing a white cap, blue tie, brown vest and white overalls looking at and holding a white blue print. He is standing next to a man with a brimmed hat.

  6. I really enjoyed your photo essay of the Chrysler Building. The ceiling murals were a real feast for the eyes! Your anecdotal touches are especially interesting as I hunger for every piece of info and photo that I can find. I’m always looking for interior details such as door hardware and any other ornamentation. Do you know of any photos? There must be little design gems above the lobby level.

  7. Thank you very much for all the informations and the beautiful photographs of the Chrysler Building. i am a french student preparing a file about the skyscraper, and I was wondering if I could use your photographs which are really beautiful in my file… Thanks again!

  8. Thanks for zeroing in on the window detail.

    This sort of intricacy is lost in modern architecture. It’s not cost effective. Easier to slap up concrete and glass. But it echoes the cathedrals of the past that were highly detailed; details that can only be seen up close.

    Again, thanks for zooming in on the Chrysler Building.

  9. The window detail is fantastic. I would love to have a copy of those pictures. Is it possible to get copies of the window detail?

  10. Ira Finkelstein

    I had my law office in the Chrysler Building from 1981 until 2006. Jack Kent Cook was the first owner responsible for restoring the sad wreck to much of its former glory, and it was a pleasure to watch the process, especially the restoration of the almost invisible, damaged ceiling mural in the lobby. It’s a shame that visitors are no longer able to see the elevators. Each cab is lined with gorgeous wood inlays, and every one is unique.

  11. Pingback: THE CHRYSLER BUILDING - USA Iconic building - TravelRC

  12. Joe and Patricia Pirog

    We are interested when an B-2 bomber was on display within the Chrysler Building lobby in the 1940’s. My husband is 88 years old and recalls going there with his brothers.

  13. Karen Renee ' Hester -Thornton

    Thank you James Maher for your beautifully written article and the wonderful pictures. The Chrysler Building has been my favorite building in the world since I first saw pictures of it in the early 70’s. It has always been my dream to see it in person one day. I just turned 63, and it breaks my heart to hear that it’s no longer open to the public. Thank goodness we have articles and pictures like yours so that future generations can see them and learn to appreciate it as much as I do. Being a writer myself, I I appreciate the work that went into your piece. . If I were rating it on a scale of one to ten, I would rate it as a 10 +. Thank you so much for taking me there!

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