Monday, June 6, 2011

My Secret View of the Chrysler Building

Since as far back as I can remember, the Chrysler Building has been my favorite building. At all times of year, in all kinds of weather, it stands out like a beacon among all other buildings, making them look shoddy and second rate. I have a secret spot from which I gaze at this beautiful edifice, just a half block from my apartment. * The best time to view it is at twilight, when the lights come on and it glows softly in the dusk.

Despite my admiration for this icon, I realized one day how little I knew about it. For example, I didn’t know the architect. A quick check online and I found his name — William Van Alen. I also learned his sad story. Van Alen was a talented architect who studied in Paris under some of the most brilliant architects of that time (the 1920s). He returned to the United States and began his career, designing a number of buildings.

He was still young when Mr. Chrysler hired him to design his building. When the Chrysler building was finished, it was greeted by some acclaim, but also by some scoffing. There are always those who balk at anything new and daring, no matter how beautiful it may be. Even Louis Sullivan, the great Chicago architect, panned it. But worst of all, Mr. Chrysler neglected to pay Van Alen. Van Alen sued Chrysler and won, but afterward no one would hire the architect. The Chrysler building was his last design. In desperation, he turned to his second love —sculpture.

I wish I hadn’t learned the history of William Van Alen. Now, whenever I look at his masterpiece, I wonder what other magical creations he might have produced if only he’d had the opportunity.

Robin Hathaway

* Secret View: SE corner of 33rd and 2nd Ave. (But don't tell anyone. I don't want hordes of people pushing me off the sidewalk!)

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