Empire State Building
Audio Tour – Part 5

The listener should be on the observation deck, facing east, toward the East River

HOST : Welcome to stop number 5. That silver structure to the left with the rippled top is the Empire State’s art deco cousin, the Chrysler Building.

SARAH JESSICA PARKER : It looks like a fabulous pair of high heels I knew once. But the Chrysler Building, along with the Empire State Building and the Bank of Manhattan down on Wall Street, were the players in a dramatic three-way race to the skies. Reporter Damon Runyan described New York’s building boom at that time.

Actor as DAMON RUNYAN : The bravest thing in New York is a blade of grass. This is not prize grass, but it has moxie. You need plenty of moxie in this town.

SARAH JESSICA PARKER : These guys had moxie and a mission. Bank of Manhattan architect Craig Severance and Chrysler Building architect William Van Alen were one-time partners turned bitter rivals. Auto tycoon Walter Chrysler, who was rejected once for a loan by the Bank of Manhattan, still held a grudge. And the Empire State Building’s driving force, John Raskob, was a big wheel at General Motors.

Forget the Yankees and Mets. This was serious competition. The Bank of Manhattan, at 927 feet, looked like the winner. But Van Alen had something up his sleeve, actually inside the Chrysler’s stainless-steel tower . . . a five-piece needle-like top. It was assembled and attached in a New York minute, an amazing 90 minutes really…claiming the record by more than 100 feet. Meanwhile, the Empire State Building kept rising with elegant precision. Reporter Harold Butcher of London’s Daily Herald described the workers as . . .

Actor as HAROLD BUTCHER : Incredibly nonchalant, crawling, climbing, swinging, swooping on gigantic steel frames.

SARAH JESSICA PARKER : Four months after the Chrysler was done, the Empire State topped it by about 200 feet. On the observation deck, Al Smith, the former New York Governor and project chief, hosted a grandopening lunch . . . and it was the toughest ticket in town.

Actor as AL SMITH : You are eating higher in the air than any human has ever eaten. There may have been loftier meals on mountains or in airplanes but not in buildings. This is the record.

SARAH JESSICA PARKER : Today, there are six structures that are taller. But in New York, we wouldn’t trade our bold and beautiful Empire statement for any of them.


Sources for the quotes:
Damon Runyan: Higher: A Historic Race to the Ski and the Making of a City by Neal Bascomb Harold Butcher: About.com, 20th Century History -“Building the Empire State Building” by Jennifer Rosenberg

Al Smith: Higher: A Historic Race to the Ski and the Making of a City by Neal Bascomb

© 2010 Patrick J. O’Neill