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OUR LOCAL CORRESPONDENTS THE SILVER SPIRE How two men's dreams changedthe skyline ofNew York. BY CLAUDIA RorH PIERPONT O n a mild October day onlythat it must have been inl!Wthe architect erected sometime in Oc- William Van Alen stood tober or November; that at the comer of Fifth Av- is, after Chrysler's long- enue and Forty-second standing rival, the Bank of Street, shaking with fear as the Manhattan Company, he stared at a spot a few down at 40 Wall Street, blocks east and very high had gone as high as it could up. Nearly eighty stories in go. One of the many grip- the air, from out of a dense ping photographs that fol- web of steel, the tip of a low, however, catches ,the needle gleamed and began . drama nearly in the act. to climb; Van Alen later According to the book's wrote that the spire of catalog\le, the negative is ,.Jjle Chrysler Building had dated October 23rd. The ,./'e'merged that day "like a photograph shows a small butterfly from its cocoon." celebratory flag--a sure But the butterfly stood sign that a building has just a hundred and eighty- "topped out"--1lying like five feet tall and weighed an exclamation point a1x:M: twenty-seven tons, and the triumphant obelisk- nothing like the operation shaped spire,which thrusts of securing such an object up from the skeletal ovoid at such an altitude had ever ridges of the dome. Both been attempted before. Van structures are in their raw Alen reported that he went sreeI. state. In &ct, the inef- on shaking whenever he fably metaphorical-Chrys- thought about the possible ler dome had only recently danger to people on the '~;il taken its final fonn. The street, who had received Above, the Chrysler Building's observatory; opposite, the tower was quintessential jazz baby of no warning of the archi- clad in a revolutionary aDoy that made it a beacon to ships at sea. .buildings turns out to have tectural coup taking place been,in several vital aspects, above their heads. The previous week, was· meant to take the city by surprise. an improvisation: a riff on height and the Times had annowu:ed that the Chrys- The highest thing on the Manhattan sky- speed which kept altering shape as dares ler Building's framework was complete, line rose into view in ninety minutes flat. and provocations forced it higher, the after less than a year ofconstruction, and But the exquisite execution· of this perfect symbol of an age of endless pos- that the building had reached its full insane plan was kept so secret that the . sibilities. How eerily apt that the last risky height ofeight hundred and eight feet, or newspapers failed to report it at all, and upward rush seems to have taken place sixty-eight stories, a figure that allowed historians have never known exacdywhat on the eve of Black Thursday-Octo- '" WalterCluysler's competitors to sit back day or even what month the renowned ber 24th, when the stockmarket brought ~ on their foundations and gloat he had, eventtook place.The eminentlypractical the boundless world that the Chrysler
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