The radiating sunburst pattern on the façade of the Chrysler Building instantly calls to mind the Manhattan skyline. Located nearby the luxury midtown condominiums at 305 East 51 Street, the Chrysler Building is one of New York’s most-loved Art Deco skyscrapers, and although it’s not the tallest one in town, it might be the most fascinating. Here are ten things you might not know about this iconic Midtown East landmark.
1. Walter P. Chrysler commissioned Brooklyn-born, Pratt-educated architect William Van Alen to design the building that would serve as the future headquarters of the Chrysler Corporation. Construction began on September 19, 1928, and the building was built at the impressive rate of four floors per week.
2. For all the ostentation of the building, Chrysler was not the top US car manufacturer at the time: the company trailed behind General Motors and Ford.
3. The late 1920s saw a frenzy of New York builders and architects competing for the title of “world’s tallest building.” The Chrysler Building held this distinction for eleven months. The Bank of Manhattan building (40 Wall Street) had, at 927 feet, surpassed the Chrysler’s previously announced height by just 24 inches. Not to be outdone, it turned out that Van Alen had been secretly building a spire inside the Chrysler’s fire shaft, and had the seven ton piece he called the “vertex” hoisted into place just weeks after 40 Wall street was completed, bringing the Chrysler’s final height to 1,046 feet. In 1931, the 103-story, 1,250-foot tall Empire State Building took the lead.
4. The entire building required about 400,000 rivets and nearly four million bricks, all laid by hand.
5. Although the Chrysler building was built and designed specifically for the car manufacturer in Midtown New York (and served as its headquarters from 1930 until the mid-1950s) the corporation did not pay for its construction and never owned it: Walter P. Chrysler opted to finance it himself, so that his sons could inherit it.
6. The building’s design is full of symbolism from the auto industry: The eagle gargoyles on the 61st floor (made famous by the iconic, dizzying image of photographer Margaret Bourke-White setting up her camera) are inspired by the hood ornaments of the 1929 Chrysler Plymouth, and replicas of the 1929 Chrysler radiator caps adorn the 31st floor.
7. The highest occupied floor in the building is the 71st, and the floors above it are there primarily for show. Inside, the top stories are narrow with very low ceilings, and are used primarily to hold broadcasting and electrical equipment.
8. More than 750 miles of electrical conductor wire was used to construct the skyscraper – roughly the distance between New York City and Chicago.
9. The upper portion of the façade is clad with lustrous “Enduro KA-2″ metal, which is said to gleam even when the sky is cloudy. It was developed in Germany by Krupp, and marketed under the trade name “Nirosta,” a German acronym for nichtrostender Stahl, or “non-rusting steel.”
10. In 2005, the Skyscraper Museum polled over one hundred architects, builders, critics, and scholars, to select their ten favorites out of twenty-five New York buildings. The Chrysler Building came in first place: 90% of those polled included it in their top ten.