The Quick 10: The Chrysler Building

venemama/iStock via Getty Images
venemama/iStock via Getty Images

Apparently it’s Buildings of New York Appreciation Week here in the Quick 10. Joining the New York Public Library in having a birthday this week is the Chrysler Building, which will be celebrating its 81st year dominating the Manhattan skyline. It may not be the tallest building in town these days, but it’s still one of the most impressive. Read on to find out how long it actually held the title of New York’s Tallest Building and nine other fascinating facts about the Art Deco masterpiece.

1. Without the freak show-riddled Coney Island amusement park Dreamland (pictured), the Chrysler Building would never have existed. When Dreamland burned to the ground in 1911, owner William Reynolds decided he needed a new, high-profile project to work on. He decided to enter the “Tallest Building in the World” race and commissioned architect William Van Alen to draft something.

2. It’s called the Chrysler Building not after the business, really, but after the man, Walter Chrysler. Though Chrysler used it as the headquarters for his car company for more than 20 years, the company didn’t foot bill for the building - Walter did. He bought the property and the design for (we think) $2 million after Reynolds defaulted on the lease. Chrysler purchased it himself so his sons could inherit it.

3. Chrysler never actually paid William Van Alen. He believed Van Alen was working with building contractors on some shady financial arrangements and refused to be a part of it.

4. The 27-ton spire on top of the building took just 90 minutes to erect. And it was kind of sneaky affair.

You see, the Empire State Building was going up at the same time, backed by Chrysler rival John Raskob, founder of General Motors. Raskob, in a bit of not-so-friendly competition, wanted to make sure his building was taller than Chrysler’s, but Chrysler was keeping the height of his building a secret, making it hard for Empire State Building architects to plan. “Raskob was worried that Walter Chrysler would pull a trick - like hiding a rod in the spire and then sticking it up at the last minute,” said project manager Hamilton Weber. Well, Raskob sure knew his rival, because that’s exactly what Chrysler did.

5. As a result, the Chrysler Building held the title of New York’s Tallest Building... for less than a year. Once the Chrysler Building was done, Raskob’s architects did some figuring and decided they could make the building 85 stories tall, eight stories taller than the Chrysler Building. They did, of course, and the Chrysler Building was bumped to the second-tallest building in the city.

6. The building hasn’t always been in high demand. Shockingly, during the recession of the early ‘70s, only 17% of the building was occupied and the building was nearly foreclosed on.

7. There are a total of 3,862 windows that gaze out on New York.

8. The entire building required about 400,000 rivets and nearly four million bricks, all laid by hand.

9. There are many elements of the building meant to be a subtle nod to Chrysler’s automobile empire - hubcaps, fenders, and radiator caps. The famous eagle gargoyles are even reminiscent of an actual Chrysler hood ornament.

10. The 66th through 68th floors of the building were once occupied by the Cloud Club, an exclusive gentlemen’s club with members such as Conde Nast and boxer Gene Tunney. It closed in the 1970s when the building fell on hard times.

q10

What People In the '50s and '60s Thought Houses Would Look Like in 1986

The Monsanto House of the Future was an attraction at Disneyland's Tomorrowland 1957 to 1967.
The Monsanto House of the Future was an attraction at Disneyland's Tomorrowland 1957 to 1967.
Photo courtesy Orange County Archives/Wikimedia Commons

In 1957, Monsanto demonstrated its vision for future housing, emphasizing one word: plastics. Its House of the Future was displayed at Disneyland from 1957 through 1967, and it envisioned a future home from the then-distant future of 1986. The house featured lavish conveniences including a microwave oven, ultrasonic dishwasher (for plastic dishes, of course), "cold zones" to replace refrigerators and freezers (with a special zone for irradiated foods), and dimmable ceiling lights—and that's just the kitchen.

While the House of the Future was a little silly around its plastic edges, a lot of its vision was actually correct. We do indeed use microwaves, we have lots of plasticware and even plastic furniture (hello IKEA), and Monsanto's vision of easy cleanup flooring is very realistic (though plastic may not be the most common material, Monsanto's heart was in the right place). Some details like electric toothbrushes and intercom/security systems ring true. The exterior architecture of the house was slightly Jetsons, but frankly, I've seen condos with very similar design cues. The Danish Modern living room looks thoroughly modern-retro to me (although it lacks art on the walls). Check out these videos and see what 1957 thought 1986 would look like. How'd they do?

One big mistake in its vision that stands out to me is the use of height adjustment on virtually everything (right down the children's sink)—everything in the house uses tracks to hide when not in use. While we have a little of that today, it isn't exactly pervasive; it just looks cool in a demo. The other major difference is Monsanto's attempt to sell plastic as a classy material for everything. On the whole, people of the future (meaning us) don't see plastic as classy, and indeed have gone retro on what we think denotes quality—we're looking for steel, wood, and even materials like cork that had no place in the House of the Future. On the flip side, we seem just fine with buying plastic stuff (even pretty stylish plastic) if it's a bargain (again, IKEA and even Target come to mind here).

In a little side-trivia, the House of the Future was very hard to demolish. Apparently a wrecking ball bounced right off the shell (plastics!) so the house had to be ripped to pieces with saws, taking weeks. 

Susan B. Anthony’s Childhood Home in Upstate New York Is Getting a $700,000 Renovation

George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress // No Known Restrictions on Publication
George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress // No Known Restrictions on Publication

In 1833, a 13-year-old Susan B. Anthony moved with her family to a two-story brick house in Battenville, New York, where her father managed a cotton mill. Though Anthony only lived there a few years before financial troubles caused her family to relocate once again, it was in that house that she first became aware of the deplorable state of women’s rights—setting her on a path to change the course of history.

According to The Cultural Landscape Foundation, Anthony’s father started homeschooling her after a local teacher refused to teach Anthony long division on the grounds that women didn’t need the skill. Then, a temporary stint at her father’s mill revealed that the wages of many female employees went directly to their husbands or fathers, and Anthony learned about the gender pay gap firsthand when she was hired as a schoolteacher for a much lower salary than her male predecessor.

Right now, there are only two small indicators of Anthony’s history in the Battenville house—a placard on a nearby stone retaining wall and a sign on a post in the front yard—and the house itself is riddled with black mold and moisture damage.

But that’ll change soon: House Beautiful reports that New York’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, which purchased the foreclosed property for just $1 back in 2006, is now planning a $700,000 renovation that includes general repairs, drainage improvements, and mold abatement. A considerable portion of those funds was collected by Senator Betty Little and Assembly member Carrie Woerner.

Whether the house will eventually become a museum remains to be seen. It’s located on a perilous curve on Route 29, and there’s very limited surrounding land or space for parking. Having said that, locals are committed to finding a worthy purpose for it after the restoration is complete. Debi Craig, former president of the Washington County Historical Society, told the Times Union that she thinks there’s potential for an international research center or library on women’s rights.

Regardless of what the Battenville house’s second life ends up looking like, the focus on this particular historic site is perfectly timed—not only does 2020 mark the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, it’s also Susan B. Anthony’s 200th birthday.

Learn more about the trailblazing suffragette here.

[h/t House Beautiful]

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