October 9, 1953 – Chrysler sells the Chrysler Building in NYC

The Chrysler Building in 1932 (center)

Originally to be known as the Reynolds Center, named for Coney Island amusement park developer, real estate mogul and former NYC senator William Reynolds. As early as 1921, he desired to build the tallest building in the world. By the mid 1920s plans for his building called for a 925 foot structure, when at the the time the record belonged to the Woolworth Building at 792 feet. Groundbreaking occurred September 19, 1928, but less than a month into the project Reynolds found he could not afford it. He sold the plans, lease, architectural services and plot to Walter Chrysler on October 15, 1928, the same day the demolition of all work that had been completed began.

Walter Chrysler paid $2 million for the package, using personal funds so that it would not become a company asset. After rehashing the plans to, he financed the construction of the building entirely out of his own pocket. The 77 story Chrysler Building in New York City officially opened on May 27. 1930 with a height of 1,046 feet at the top of its antenna.

Interior of the Chrysler Building

The Chrysler Corporation called the building its headquarters beginning in 1930. Floors 69 and 70 made up Walter Chrysler’s personal apartment, office and gymnasium, however he did not use it often. The multistory unit eventually became a dental clinic which operated from at least 1969 to 2005. Chrysler instead preferred to use his residence on floors 58 through 60 when staying in New York.

Walter Chrysler’s office in the Chrysler Building

Floor 71, the highest usable floor of the building, once contained an observatory that cost 50 cents to visit. It closed in 1945 after more people began visiting the Empire State Building for a similar experience. That space now is home to an architectural firm. The floors above it are used primarily as landing space for the stairway to the spire and for housing elevator mechanisms. Down below, in the lobby of the Chrysler Building, sat a showroom for new Chrysler cars.

Chrysler showroom in the Chrysler Building lobby

Exterior of the Chrysler Building

If you look carefully, you will find clues as to the origins of the building. One legend claims the upper floors of the art deco building are constructed of hubcaps. While this true, there is plenty of automotive inspiration in the building. From the hood ornament-like gargoyles to the obvious wheels and hubcaps in the brickwork, this is a car building if there ever was one.

You can see wheels and fenders in the exterior of the Chrysler Building. By cogito ergo imago from Rumson, NJ – Chrysler Building motifs detail, CC BY-SA 2.0

Sale of the Chrysler Building

Following the death of Walter Chrysler in 1940, his family inherited the building. After building an annex across the street, which opened in 1952, the family decided to sell the structure. Real estate tycoon William Zeckendorf purchased the Chrysler Building, its annex and the nearby Graybar Building for $66 million dollars on this day in 1953. At the time it was the largest real estate deal to ever go down in New York City. By that time Chrysler Corporation had already moved most, if not all, of its executives back to Detroit. Today it is owned by the SIGNA group and Chrysler Building history continues to be made. As of 2022 there are plans to install a new observatory on the 61st floor.

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