An ode to the Automobile

By Michael Remas |

O utside of car museums, perhaps no other building is associated with automobiles as the Chrysler Building, now celebrating its 77th anniversary.

Not only was this imposing building the tallest skyscraper in New York for a short time, its art deco design incorporates many aspects of Walter P. Chrysler’s automobiles.

For example, the 1926 Chrysler Imperial radiator cap is among the unique automotive designs found high along the New York City skyscraper. The modified steel-winged ornament juts out from the four corners of the 31st floor of the 77-story building in Manhattan.

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This 1929 architectural print of the Chrysler Building by Hugh Ferriss recently fetched $14,950 at auction. Near the start of Walter P. Chrysler’s signature, a profile view of a Chrysler automobile in tile and one of the Chrysler Imperial hood ornament-like structures can be seen. This print was sold to the Chrysler Museum of Art by Estate Auctioneers.

Other touches depicting the edifice’s roots are hubcap patterns on various surfaces. There are also huge horizontal wings such as those found on today’s Chrysler models decorating the main-level entrance.

Halfway up the 1,046-foot, 4-inch building is a band of automobiles depicted in gray-and-white brick;  each sports a bright hubcap in the center of each wheel.

These and the entire design of the structure are the work of architect William Van Alen at the request of Walter P. Chrysler, who asked Van Alen to design the world’s tallest building. Other buildings were competing for this triumph, but the Chrysler Building attained it.

Chrysler claimed that feat in November 1929, and the building opened on May 27, 1930, but its record didn’t last very long. In 1931, just blocks away, the Empire State Building opened, topping the Chrysler Building by 202 feet, thanks to a mooring mast intended for tying up Zeppelins at the top of its 102 stories. At that elevation, strong winds prevailed, and it is said that these winds prevented the mast atop the Empire State Building from ever being used.

Still enduring, the Chrysler Building stands as a product of the 1920s, a time in which technological and social growth helped bring about an increase in car ownership.

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