How the Chrysler Building Got So Tall at the Last Minute


When the Chrysler Building was completed in 1930, it was the tallest building in the world -- for 11 months. (The Chrysler Building did retain the slightly dubious distinction of being the tallest brick building in the world, although the brick is not structural.) Although the Chrysler Building was beaten by the Empire State Building, Chrysler's signature 185-foot steel spire remains its key architectural feature -- and it was a surprise to rivals trying to outbuild it at the time.

This short video explains how Chrysler Building architect William Van Alen competed with partner-turned-rival H. Craig Severance (who was building 40 Wall Street, now known as The Trump Building) in the race to erect the world's tallest building, finally deploying the secret spire at the end of construction. Way to build tall stuff in 1929, boys!

This is a snippet from the terrific Ric Burns New York documentary. In the questionable-legality department, you can apparently watch the 15-hour film on YouTube if you're so inclined.

See also: "Is Chicago, Is Not Chicago" by Soul Coughing, featuring the opening lyrics, "A man drives a plane into the Chrysler Building," apparently referring to an incident that actually occurred at 40 Wall Street. Or it might refer simply to a drug trip; singer Mike Doughty was quoted as explaining the song without mentioning airplanes at all:

"Once, tripping in the metropolitan capital of Illinois, I came up with this theory that everything outside my body was Chicago and all within was not. A nice simple way to look at the world. I would point at, like, a chair and say 'Is Chicago,' and then at my chest, and say, 'Is not Chicago.' This entertained me for a good twelve hours or so."

(Via The Kid Should See This.)