This post is a visitor's guide to the Chrysler Building, NYC's signature piece of Art Deco architecture. We cover its history, how to get to it, and what there is to see.
While it's technically not possible to go up the Chrysler Building, as a tourist anyway, there are plans to reopen an observation deck.
- Where is the Chrysler Building?
- Is There An Observation Deck?
- Tour the Lobby
- Exterior Design and Symbolism
- Things to Do in NYC
- Other Observation Decks
The Chrysler Building is located at 405 Lexington Avenue between 42nd Street and 43rd Street in Midtown Manhattan adjacent to Grand Central Terminal.
It is served best by the 4, 5, 6, (yellow circle) and 7 (red circle) trains at the terminal's subway station.
You can also access the Chrysler Building via Times Square on the B, D, F, M, N, Q, R, and S - shuttle trains (Green Circle).
We recommend that you use this Google map to navigate your way to the Chrysler Building.
It's one of our top things to do in Midtown Manhattan.
Just about every tourist bus makes a stop at or around the corner of the Chrysler Building.
In 2020, the Chrysler Building was given the go-ahead to open a public observation deck, though no exact date has been set.
You can read about the plans here.
There were observation decks in the past. When the building opened in 1930, there was an observation deck called Celestial on the 71st floor. You can see the images here.
Celestial was closed to the public in 1945 and is currently occupied by a private firm.
Until the late 1970s, there was also The Cloud Club, a private club occupying the 66th through 68th floors.
The developers of the new observation deck plan to redo the building’s 61st and 62nd floors, just above the famous eagle gargoyles.
The new observation deck will be the fifth skyscraper to offer stunning views of the city.
The other four are the Empire State Building, One World Trade Center, Top of the Rock, and Edge at Hudson Yards. Check out our post comparing these observation decks.
Entries to these observation decks are included for free from many of the New York tourist passes.
Though there are no official tours run by the building, the spectacular Art Deco lobby should not be missed.
It's free to enter the Chrysler Building and there are no tickets.
You may enter the lobby anytime the building is open, which is 8:00 am to 6 pm (18:00) on weekdays.
You can see the beautiful mural on the ceiling, the clock, and the beautiful elevators, each with its own custom-designed doors.
The Chrysler Building is quite centrally located in Midtown Manhattan, so it is close to many other attractions.
Here is a list of some of the nearby attractions:
- Grand Central Terminal
- Bryant Park
- Empire State Building
- Times Square
- Rockefeller Center
- Waldorf Astoria
- United Nations Building
The Chrysler Building is one of the most unique skyscrapers to have ever been built.
The architect who designed this beautiful skyscraper was architect William Van Alen in conjunction with contractor William H. Reynolds.s.
His design was sold to Walter P. Chrysler, who intended the completed building to be the headquarters of the Chrysler Corporation.
With this in mind, Van Alen's design was altered slightly to celebrate the aesthetic of Chrysler automobiles and the machine age.
When the building opened to the public in 1931, the lobby housed a Chrysler dealership (see image).
If you take a look up at the 31st floor, you will notice some interesting artistic elements.
On all four corners of this floor are silver-winged ornaments. These were designed as the cap of the God Mercury, the god of speed, an inspiration for Walter Chrysler.
These caps were used as radiator caps on Chrysler automobiles.
The motifs surrounding the winged caps are images of the 1929 Chrysler Speedster, including chrome hubcaps.
Replicas of eagle hood ornaments (see banner image above) from a 1920s Chrysler Plymouth can be found jutting off of the building like gargoyles, two at each corner.
The signature element though is the beautiful crown of the building, which features seven terraced arches radiating upwards, creating a shiny sunburst pattern, very typical of the Art Deco Movement.
The crown culminates with a 197 ft tall (60 meters) steel spire. The crown is clad in stainless steel (nickel) developed by the German Krupp company.
A Look Inside the Chrysler Building Spire
The Great Skyscraper Race
The year 1928 was an exciting time for architecture in New York City. Buildings were growing taller and taller and it was a race upward to the sky with each new construction.
At the time that ground was broken for the Chrysler Building, it had one chief rival in the race to become the tallest building in the world: 40 Wall Street (the Trump Building).
40 Wall Street was designed by Van Alen’s former partner, H. Craig Severance.
40 Wall Street altered its original design (840 ft) for a new height of 927 ft (measured from the pedestrian entrance to the top of the antenna), thus beating the nearby Woolworth Building and the proposed height of the future Chrysler Building, 925ft.
When it was completed in May of 1930, the building proclaimed its victory as the world's tallest building in the world.
They were unaware of the secret weapon that Van Alen was hiding in the crown of the Chrysler Building: the 125-foot stainless-steel spire that was going to grace the top of the building.
Four days after 40 Wall Street’s victory, the spire was raised.
It was in four pieces. The first was raised onto the roof and lowered into the building. The remaining sections were added in just 90 minutes.
That hour and a half were all that it took for the Chrysler Building to become the tallest man-made structure in the world, beating both 40 Wall Street and the Eiffel Tower.
Much debate ensued over whether or not the spire should count in the height since 40 Wall Street really had more useable floors.
The debates were halted eleven months later when a new contender entered the scene.
The Empire State Building was 1250 feet, far taller than the Chrysler Building, and with many more floors than 40 Wall Street.
The world had a new champion.
And although the Chrysler Building is not the tallest structure in NYC, it's still very tall.
CHRYSLER BUILDING STATS AND FUN FACTS
Year Started: 1928
Year Completed: 1930
Height (Roof): 925 ft (282 m)
Height (Antenna Spire): The building is 1,046 ft tall (319 m)
Floor Count: 77 floors
- Though the interior skeleton of the building is steel, the exterior is brick. The Chrysler Building is still the tallest brick building in the world.
- The Chrysler Building was the first man-made structure to be taller than 1000 feet.
- 391,831 rivets were used in the construction of the building.
- Though the building was built very quickly, with an average of 4 floors per week built, no one was killed during the construction.
- New York’s Skyscraper Museum polled 100 architects, engineers, and historians in 2005, asking them to choose their favorite buildings in New York. The Chrysler Building came in first. 90% of those polled placed it on their top-ten list.
- Television station WCBS transmitted from the top of the Chrysler Building in the 1940s and ’50s. They later moved to the Empire State Building
- The lobby of the Chrysler Building contains the world’s very first digital clock.
- The ceiling of the lobby is painted with a mural by Edward Trumbull entitled “Transport and Human Endeavor.” The mural depicts scenes from Chrysler’s own assembly line, Charles Lindbergh flying The Spirit of St. Louis across the Atlantic, and The Chrysler Building itself.
- There are 32 elevators in the Chrysler Building- four banks of eight elevators. They are beautifully inlaid with intricate designs.
- The Chrysler family sold the building in 1953. Though the building still bears their name, they do not own it.
- The Cooper Union, a private university in New York, owns the land that the building sits on, and their name is on the deed for the building itself. There is a 150-year lease for the land and building currently in place.
- There are 3,862 windows on the façade of the building.
- The crown of the building is seen in the opening credits of Sex and the City. It is while Cynthia Nixon’s name is on screen. Are you a SATC fan? Check out our post about how to find Carrie's stoop.
- The building is referenced in the Broadway musical “Annie,” when Miss Hannigan tells the orphans to clean the floors “until they shine like the top of the Chrysler Building.” The musical is set during the Great Depression, and the Chrysler Building would have been a relatively recent addition to New York.
- Though William Van Alen designed the building, Walter Chrysler was the driving force behind the design alterations that made it the tallest building in the world. (Van Alen’s original design was 807 feet. When Chrysler entered the picture, it was adjusted to 925 feet, and then 1046 feet.)
- There is a restaurant at the Chrysler Building called the Capital Grille.
William Van Alen After The Chrysler Building
Van Alen was much acclaimed after the building was finished. His life quickly took a downward turn, however. He had failed to enter into an official contract with Chrysler when they began working together.
After the building was completed, Van Alen requested a fee. He wanted 6% of the building’s $14 million construction budget ($840,000).
This was the standard fee at the time. Chrysler refused payment, and van Alen ended up suing him to be paid. He won the suit, but his reputation was severely compromised.
That coupled with the onset of the Great Depression effectively ruined his career as an architect.