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‘Quite a height, ah?’ A tour of the Chrysler Building by those building it

The Chrysler Tower … stands by itself, something apart and alone. It is simply the realisation, the fulfilment in metal and masonry, of a one-man dream, a dream of such ambition and such magnitude as to defy the comprehension and the criticism of ordinary men or by ordinary standards.
The Architectural Forum, October, 1930

Today, it’s easy to mistake the Chrysler Building for just another skyscraper dotting the New York City skyline. But upon its completion in 1930, and until it was surpassed by the Empire State Building in 1931, it was the world’s tallest manmade structure. At the time, the tower was notable not just for its sheer mass, but for its polarisation of architecture critics, with detractors deriding the building as an unsightly novelty, and a monument to the grand ego of its car magnate namesake, Walter Chrysler. But, as is clear in this footage filmed by Fox Movietone News, while the building might have originated as a ‘one-man dream’, it was built on the backs of fearless ironworkers – self-proclaimed ‘roughnecks’, who constructed it without harnesses or hard hats. This footage from 1929 and 1930 of the building’s construction – including the placement of an iconic 61st-floor Art Deco eagle – showcases how these workers were less comfortable delivering canned lines for the cameras than they were sitting atop beams hundreds of feet high.

This footage was accessed and published by Aeon with the permission of the University of South Carolina’s Moving Image Research Collections, an archive that ‘preserves films and videos produced outside the American feature film industry to make them available to present and future audiences’.

24 April 2020

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