By the late 1920s, the Chrysler Corporation was the nation's second largest auto manufacturer. Started by the dashing, Walter Chrysler a decade before, the company had quickly grown into a multi-million dollar company, largely on the success of its Desoto and Plymouth lines. Unlike his Detroit-based competitors, Chrysler wished to base his company in New York City and began shopping for a site.
Chrysler found his building, plans, and architect in a deal where he acquired the proposed building and site for an 84-year lease from cash-strapped developer William H. Reynolds. Walter Chrysler embraced the project whole-heartedly, and was determined to make his building the tallest in the world. He had architect William Van Alen redraw the plans to achieve this goal. Several buildings, then under construction, were competing for the title, including the nearby Severance Building (now the Trump Building).
Construction on the Chrysler Building began in 1928 at a break-neck speed of four stories per week. At one time, over 2000 workers toiled seven days a week on the project. Van Alen's "tour de force" was a secret 185-foot stainless steel spire he had made in Germany by Krupps. The spire was hidden in the elevator shaft until the last minute, after it was too late for the neighboring buildings to change their plans. The Chrysler building was completed in October of 1929, the largest structure in the world. It was a title the building held for just six months, when it was overtaken by the Empire State Building.
Walter Chrysler never paid William Van Alen for his work on the building, accusing him of taking bribes from subcontractors. Chrysler's accusations ruined Van Alen's career and the creator of one of the century's most important buildings faded into obscurity. No biographies have ever been written about the architect and very little is known of him.
Today, the Chrysler Building is owned by real estate developers, TMW and Tishman Speyer Properties.