This post is a visitor’s guide to the Chrysler Building. 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, we have a secret tip on how to get a view of New York City from its top.
The Chrysler Building is located at 405 Lexington Ave 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.
When the building opened in 1930, there was an observation deck called “Celestial” on the 71st floor. It was closed to the public in 1945 and is currently occupied by a private firm. However, you can take a look at a few images of the observatory by clicking the link above. Until the late ‘70’s there was also The Cloud Club, a private club occupying the 66th through 68th floors.
Today, unfortunately, there is no official way for tourists to visit anything beyond the lobby, though, we are keeping our fingers crossed that this will change. In the meantime, be sure to check out our post comparing the different New York City observation decks, including the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock or World Trade Center 1. Entries to these observation decks are included from free from many of the New York tourist passes.
Well, there is a way to get to the top of the Chrysler Building. A dentist’s office is located on the 69th floor of the building. There is no better way to take the discomfort out of a dental visit than to have it accompanied by spectacular city views! Whether you just see the lobby or you decide to get to the top (and get your teeth cleaned as an added bonus!), the Chrysler Building is one that should not be missed! Read the New York Time’s 2005 article on Dr. Weiss.
Click on this video for a view within and without the building’s spire.
Unfortunately, there are no official tours, however, both the lobby and exterior of the building should not be missed. It is a truly spectacular example of Art Deco design, the Jazz Age at its finest. You can see the beautiful mural on the ceiling, the clock and the beautiful elevators, each with their own custom designed doors. The lobby is open Monday through Friday, from 8 am to 6 pm. When the building opened to the public in 1931, the lobby housed a Chrysler dealership (see image). Below is a short video which was taken from a walking tour that included the Chrysler Building lobby. Click here for more images of the lobby.
Construction, Design and The Great Skyscraper Race
The architect who designed this beautiful skyscraper was William Van Alen. His design was sold to Walter P. Chrysler, who intended the completed building to be the home of the Chrysler Corporation. With this in mind, the design was altered slightly to celebrate the aesthetic of Chrysler automobiles.
If you take a look at the 31st floor, you will notice some interesting artistic elements. On all four corners of this floor are silver winged ornaments. These 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 hoods ornaments (see banner image above) from a 1920’s Chrysler Plymouth can be found jutting off of the building like gargoyles, 2 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.
1928 was an exciting time for architecture in New York City. Buildings were growing taller and taller and it was a race upwards 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.
40 Wall Street was designed by Van Alen’s former partner, H. Craig Severance. 40 Wall Street altered their original design (840 ft) for a new height of 927ft, thus beating the nearby Woolworth Building and the proposed height of the future Chrysler Building, 925ft. 40 Wall Street was completed in May of 1930 and they proclaimed their victory as the new 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.
Year Started: 1928 Year Completed: 1930 Height (Roof): 925 ft Height (Antenna Spire): The building is 1,046 ft tall (319 m). Floor Count: 77 floors
Fun Facts About The Chrysler Building
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.
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.)
391,831 rivets were used in the construction of the building.
Though the building was done 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 in on their top-ten list.
Television station WCBS transmitted from the top of the Chrysler Building in the 1940’s and ‘50’s. 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 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.
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.
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.