Twenty-five Reasons To Develop an Edifice Complex


Jerry I. Speyer, an owner of Rockefeller Center, emerged yesterday as the winning bidder for another international landmark—the Chrysler Building, the beautiful Art Deco skyscraper that set off a fierce bidding war this year despite its long and troubled history.

Mr. Speyer, who is expected to pay about $220 million, outmaneuvered seven competitors for the 77 story tower.
—The New York Times, November 25

1. The fact that there are radiating sunbursts on the spire.

2. The fact that the steel eagle gargoyles are fashioned after radiator caps.

3. The fact that a band of abstracted automobiles is stopped in permanent Art Deco gridlock across the facade.

4. The fact that the lobby is ornamented with chrome and African marble.

5. The fact that the masonry walls change pattern with every setback.

6. The fact that stainless steel was used, in one of its first large-scale applications, across the entire facade.

7. The fact that six levels of steel arch and wrap around triangular windows that culminate in the celebrated spire.

8. The fact that the project was originally commissioned by William Reynolds, a former New York state senator­real estate promoter­theater manager who also built the Coney Island fun park called Dreamland, which had two shoot-the-chutes and four times as many lights as Luna Park and employed 300 midgets in a Lilliputian villageand had a 375-foot central tower modeled on a minaret in Spain.

9. The fact that great monuments come into existence on the foundation of maniacal whim.

10. The fact that when automobile pioneer Walter P. Chrysler bought the entire venture from William H. Reynolds in 1927–leases, plans, and all–he insisted on adding the car details, and on enshrining his childhood tool kit in a top-floor visitors room.

11. The fact that the outlandish designs by architect William Van Alen–the “Ziegfeld of his profession”–were once deemed too restrained.

12. The fact that the building embodies that period in expansionist Manhattan’s history when it became clear to everyone that the only way left to go was up.

13. The fact that, as E. B. White once noted, the “physical majesty” of Manhattan owes a lot to skyscrapers, those probing shapes equivalent in cities to the village church steeple, symbols of both “aspiration and faith.”

14. The fact that the designers and builders didn’t neglect to leave a little sky around the building for those of us who find our aspiration and faith in open air.

15. The fact that the Chrysler was the planet’s tallest building for just under three months in 1930.

16. The fact that architect Van Alen snuck extra height into the design to trump a former employer, Craig Severance, whose structure at 40 Wall Street also bid briefly–and unsuccessfully–to set the record.

17. The fact that both Severance’s and Van Alen’s buildings lost out to the tallest gorilla perch in the world.

18. The fact that the lease for the ground under the Chrysler is still possessed by the heirs of Peter Cooper, who bought the land when it held nothing but shanties and then deeded it to underwrite a college to train impoverished go-getters as engineers.

19. The fact that the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science will continue to reap a percentage of the $220 million sale price until the year 2147, at least.

20. The fact that architecture critics consider the building, in the words of one, “not rational, not profound, not subtle, not even, in the final analysis, very beautiful.”

21. The fact that everyone in the world besides architecture critics disagrees.

22. The fact that Mr. Jerry I. Speyer is “thrilled” to own the building, and plans to return it “to the perfect position it was in when it was built originally. We expect to do a complete renovation.”

23. The fact that the 66th floor–ripe for a perfect renovation–still contains a space that once served as an executives’ dining hall and is now called the Cloud Club and has pink sinks in the women’s bathroom and (allegedly) a closet where the original plans for illuminating the building were discovered, and put into effect… in 1981.

24. The fact that the estates of dead and unlamented sleazeball moguls Sol Goldman and Alex DiLorenzo Jr.–who jointly acquired the building for $42 million in 1957 and then ran it as if it were a worthless South Bronx tenement–failed in the end to keep future generations from learning about the city as a place of crazy aspiration from this romantic and stirring building. (It should be noted that subsequent owners Massachusetts Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Company, Jack Kent Cooke, and Fuji Bank also did their best to run the structure into the ground.)

25. The fact that the Chrysler Building was not sold to Donald Trump.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 9, 1997

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