While I was unfamiliar with the stunning Art Deco designs of the General Electric Company – I had a very close involvement with my next subject as I worked there for over five years at an ad agency. Unfortunately the rent was too high so the shop moved downtown near the west side piers where the buildings are utilitarian towers of glass and steel.
It was quite another experience to travel daily to the Chrysler building, enter its sumptuous lobby and travel skyward in the intricately detailed elevators. The combination of working in the fast paced and somewhat exotic world of advertising along with the eye candy of marble, mosaics, paintings and patterned murals was a very heady experience.
Before we get to the visuals permit me to provide a little background on the construction of this iconic edifice. As mentioned in my previous post there was a can-you-top-this battle of skyscrapers during the mid 1900’s. The competition was so intense that plans continuously changed to add height. Chrysler’s main rival for the title of World’s tallest building was a structure at 40 Wall Street. Adding to this pissing contest was the fact that architects William Von Alen (Chrysler Building) and Craig Severance (940 Wall Street) were former but estranged partners. Von Alen actually conspired to build the spire of the Chrysler Building in secret inside the building to keep Severance in the dark as to final specifications. The final result was a 197 foot, 300 ton spire.
While the this spire gives the Chrysler Building instant recognition, there are other elements of this structure that make it unparalleled. Just take a look at the gargoyles below:
This building was designed to be a monument to the Chrysler automobile. These gargoyles as well as the winged structures below symbolize the ornaments often found on the front of a Chrysler Plymouth while the corners look very much like radiator caps:
Wait – there is another structure that again I hadn’t noticed in all the years working in the CB – an actual automobile!:
The most exquisite ornamentation is just inside and it is almost indescribable. The eyefest hits you as soon as you enter the lobby with the skyward motif present even in the muted beveled lighting on the walls and beams
The lobby walls are made of vertically striated Moroccan marble also continuing the upwardly mobile theme :
The ceiling is awash with a mural of objects including the CB itself (also shown in this post’s first picture above) entitled “Energy, Result, Workmanship and Transportation.” Painted originally on canvas the mural was applied to the ceiling by “marouflage,” a 3,000 year-old art technique:
noun ma·rou·flage \¦märə¦fläzh\
Definition of marouflage
Popularity: Bottom 20% of words
: a process of fastening canvas to a wall with an adhesive such as glue or cement
The mural was considered to be the largest in the world, at 78 by 100 feet and in keeping with the skyscraper theme it depicts the biggest, best, fastest and strongest images. Following the inverted Y shape of the lobby, the mural tells a story beginning with earth’s core elements of fire, water and lightning, harnessed by man to create steam, electricity and heat leading to inventions such as the telegraph, telephone and radio as well as transport vehicles including trains, cruise ships and airplanes. Muscular workers are depicted building the iconic CB which is positioned as the climax to the mural’s journey.
Talk about hammering home a concept. Despite the obvious hubris, the mural is indeed spectacular:
The ceiling mural is indeed a marvel but at the time I worked in the CB it had not yet gone under the renovation that would expose its beauty; instead it was rather murky with most of its beauty masked. Honestly I did not often look up at it – after all I was always hurrying to work or hurrying to catch a train home. In retrospect I am sorry I did not,
What I do remember most vividly are the elevators. There is simply no more beautiful display of Art Deco magnificence than the marble walls and floors – even the entry portals are festooned:
Even the inside of the elevators are richly decorated:
Not a bad way to get to the office.
4 thoughts on “ART DECO – BUILDING FOR BEAUTY AND POWER: PART TWO”
Thanks again for the eye candy that you provide on a continuous basis. Do I hear a book offer in the making?
HA- thanks Malcolm – there are a few book publishing possibilities – but as long as I can continue to travel they will have to wait 🙂
Art deco just says “New York” to me. Some of those intricate ceilings remind me of Klimt paintings.
I agree and there are a few metallic touches but silver rather than Klimt’s gold