EPILOGUE

Spirit—Not Steel and Stone

From the ruins, lonely and inexplicable as the sphinx, rose the Empire State Building and, just as it had been a tradition of mine to climb to the Plaza Roof to take leave of the beautiful city, extending as far as eyes could reach, so now I went to the roof of the last and most magnificent of towers. Then I understood—everything was explained: I had discovered the crowning error of the city, its Pandora’s Box. Full of vaunting pride the New Yorker had climbed here and seen with dismay what he had never suspected, that the city was not the endless succession of canyons that he had supposed, but that it had limits . . . And with the awful realization that New York was a city after all and not a universe, the whole shining edifice that he had reared in his imagination came crashing to the ground. That was the rash gift of Alfred E. Smith to the citizens of New York.

—F. Scott Fitzgerald, “My Lost City”

Three months before the Empire State’s opening, the Society of Beaux-Arts Architects threw their annual ball at the Hotel Astor, which Van Alen had worked on nearly three decades before as a draftsman. It was one of the city’s great social events, and three thousand guests crowded the ballroom for a “Fête Moderne,” the first ball in the event’s history not to have a theme from a historical French period. At midnight, trumpets blared, and dancers lined the stage to present “Modernistic Impressions of the Blues.” This was followed by costume contests, including one called the “The Skyline of New York.” One by one, architects dressed in elaborate representations of their buildings walked onto the stage to the cheers and jeers of the guests: William F. Lamb as the Empire State, Raymond Hood as the Daily News Building, Ely Jacques Kahn as the Squibb Building, Leonard Schultze as the new Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, and William Van Alen as the Chrysler Building. Of the forty-four costumes, Van Alen’s impressed the most. It was made of silver cloth, black patent leather and flexible wood. The cape was designed like one of the first floor elevator doors. His shoulders were bedecked with eagle ornaments, and his headpiece was a near exact reproduction of the skyscraper’s dome (arches and vertex included). He stood center stage as photographers took his picture among his colleagues.

It was typical of Van Alen to spend so much time on the costume, but the thin set of his smile that evening barely disguised the troubles he faced. The Chrysler Building had been eclipsed by the Empire State. His plan for a twenty-six-story hotel at Fifty-sixth Street and Lexington Avenue was hopeless, due to the economy. His lawsuit against Chrysler continued and looked like it might drag out for months, maybe years. And Van Alen’s name was synonymous with how not to conduct business with a client.

On top of all that, his Chrysler building design received one bad review after another. Critics thought the addition of the vertex, which Van Alen considered a masterstroke, to be architecturally irrelevant, and it cast a pall on their perception of the skyscraper. The New Yorker began the attack weeks after the building’s opening, saying, “it is distinctly a stunt design, evolved to make the man in the street look up. To our mind, however, it has no significance as serious design; and even if it is merely advertising architecture, we regret that Mr. Van Alen didn’t arrange a more subtle and gracious combination for his Pelion-on-Ossa parabolic curves . . . We cannot help feeling, too, that all this exposed sheet metal is a part of temporary construction to be covered up later with masonry.” The Architectural Forum offered some kinder comments, but largely dismissed the building’s more innovative designs as nothing more than advertising for the automobile magnate. In the first of a series of architectural reviews in the Nation, the soon-to-be-renowned critic Douglas Haskell accused Van Alen of not living up to his potential with the Chrysler Building, saying, “it embodies no compelling, organic idea.” Haskell blamed the lack of solid architectural criticism for Van Alen’s failure to build upon his ambitious designs of the Bainbridge Building and Childs Restaurant. Curiously, it was Severance’s suit against the New Yorker in 1926 that had stunted much of the decade’s criticism. Meanwhile, Van Alen’s former partner’s Manhattan Company Building received the Downtown League’s gold medal for design, despite its conservative French Gothic style. At least to his colleagues and the industry, Van Alen had failed to express a new vision in skyscraper design. Like so many others, he headed into the new decade with an uncertain future. The costume balls lost their exuberance, and clients with extravagant dreams were no longer knocking at his door.

The gaudy spree of the Roaring Twenties had come to an end, and its finest chronicler, F. Scott Fitzgerald, suffered its consequences with all the rest. His wife, Zelda, was cloistered away in a mental hospital, and the writer drank heavily so as not to face his departed golden youth. The Great Crash of 1929 precipitated the economy’s collapse, and by 1931 the economy was dealing with a host of troubles: industrial overexpansion, a dearth of business confidence and consumer demand, a foreign trade imbalance, and neglect in a banking structure that one historian said had “provided everything for their customers but a roulette wheel.” A depression held the country in its terrible fist.

Over a million men in New York paced through the streets, wearing the leather off their shoes trying to find work. Where they found it, wages had been slashed. This scene played itself out in cities across the country. Automobile plants ran at one-fifth of capacity, steel plants at one-tenth. Banks closed by the hundreds, then thousands. Corporate earnings stalled. By July 1932, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell from its September 1929 high of 452 to a lowly 58. Crippled by drought and low crop prices, the American farmer, who hadn’t exactly enjoyed the twenties boom, now witnessed his darkest days yet. Breadlines and soup kitchens filled with the middle class. Riots ensued in Newark, New York City, Washington, D.C., Detroit, and Cleveland. Heroes of the previous decade—Jimmy Walker, Charlie Mitchell, Henry Ford, Babe Ruth, Al Capone, and H. L. Mencken—found themselves cast aside. Herbert Hoover, the “Great Engineer,” was tarred and feathered in the press for not pulling the country back from disaster’s brink. Even technology, once championed far and wide, fell into disrepute; labor-saving machines were replaced by hoes, shovels, and picks. Joseph Stalin rejoiced at capitalism’s demise, and membership lists in the Communist Party of America grew longer.

In these tough times, there was no place for a culture of excess. Shoppers cancelled orders for jewels and sable coats, while travelers called off European voyages. Men tried to hawk cars at ten percent of the price they had paid during the market heyday and found no buyers. Only pawnshops hummed with business. Fashion designers lengthened hemlines, seemingly with every drop in the market, and endurance contests, prizefights, and aerial adventures drew little of the fascination they once had. People now had mouths to feed, not their curiosity or overtaxed libido. The grim faces on the street revealed the loss of hope that happier days were around the corner. Business Week prophetically remarked: “It is becoming clear that it will take longer than expected for all the king’s horses and all the king’s men to put Humpty-Dumpty together again.”

Not surprisingly, the construction and real-estate market followed suit, despite optimistic statements that the industry wouldn’t be stalled. Within a year of the crash, construction fell fifty percent. Builders began searching for projects, mostly government supported, to keep their businesses afloat. Thanks to the millions of square feet of office space added to the market during the boom time, vacancy rates skyrocketed. The Chrysler Building opened in the best shape, having rented space to several large industrial companies before the rental glut. The Manhattan Company Building was hit early and hard, particularly because many of its tenants were securities firms. Several tenants went bankrupt, others reduced the amount of square feet needed, and some demanded cheaper rents. Friends joked to Ohrstrom that he owned his skyscraper “only for one day.” Forty Wall Street barely covered its operating costs, let alone the $1 million a year in interest payments on bonds sold to finance what one critic called “a promise, a hope, a gambler’s optimism, an opium-eater’s dream.”

Although the builders of the Empire State managed to reduce its construction cost from an estimated $43 million to an actual $24.7 million due to cheap labor and a ready supply of materials in the downturn, it suffered the weak real-estate market most famously, earning the moniker “Empty State Building.” It was nearly three-quarters empty and earning a square foot rate five dollars less than some downtown skyscrapers. While traveling around the world after the building’s completion, Richmond Shreve ruefully wrote in his diary, “From the stories [I read], the owners might as well lay the building end-for-end, for all the good that rentable area is doing them.” The eighty-sixth and one-hundred-and-second observation floors may have taken away all the visitors from the Woolworth and Chrysler buildings, as Al Smith boasted to du Pont and Raskob, but they had rented no offices from the forty-fifth to the seventy-ninth floors and shut down the elevators servicing them. At night they kept the lights lit on these floors so the mooring mast didn’t look like it was supported on air.

In 1932 the New Republic’s Elmer Davis wrote a indictment of New York’s skyscrapers in an article entitled “Too Stately Mansions,” reflecting what many perceived as the wasteful exercise of ego that had driven these buildings so tall: “So there they stand, those magnificent monuments to the faith of the nineteen twenties—a perpetual inspiration to the beholder, provided he never invested any money in them. What is to become of them? The setback skyscrapers of Babylon have crumbled into hills of mud, but steel and concrete do not melt so easily. Of the faith that built the cathedrals of Ile-de-France, enough has survived to keep those buildings in repair; but the faith that built the Empire State and Chrysler buildings may presently be as dead as Bel and Marduk.” With couples hosting rent parties to pay the landlord and street corners crowded with men selling apples, these skyscrapers were evidence of what had brought them to such a state of affairs.

Those behind the world’s-tallest race never had to push around apple carts, but few passed through the Great Depression unscathed, including the winners. For publicity purposes, Al Smith was forced to escort countless politicians, dignitaries, and the rich and famous to the top of the Empire State, a task that became irksome over the years. His efforts to shore up the building’s finances by recruiting tenants and reducing the tax assessments proved inadequate, and the skyscraper slipped further into debt. Meanwhile, thousands of constituents wrote him every year, sometimes addressing the envelopes only “Al, New York,” but there was little he could do to help them find a job, let alone turn around the state of the country. That was a job for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had first succeeded Smith in the governor’s mansion and then won the presidency that Smith had wanted for himself. Worse still, many of the social reforms that Smith first promoted as governor became part of the New Deal, yet he now rejected these policies, thinking that Roosevelt had gone too far with government intervention. Fed up by 1936, Smith jumped parties to support the Republican presidential candidate. He felt powerless and ineffective at his job as the president of the Empire State. Slowly he withdrew from the public eye and died in the fall of 1944, a far cry from the political warrior he once had been.

The Starrett brothers had labored for decades shaping city skylines across the country, and their greatest success was the Empire State, but the pressure and deadlines involved in the construction of two of the world’s three tallest skyscrapers, not to mention the management of millions of dollars in other projects, wore them both to exhaustion. At fifty-five years old, William Starrett passed away in 1932, “a victim of overwork and long nervous strain,” his brother wrote. Paul Starrett lived to see his company weather the Depression, finding work building large-scale housing projects in several New York boroughs, but his partner Andrew Eken eventually ran the business. Paul admitted: “After forty years of intense activity, the strain of erecting the Empire State Building in eleven months was too much for me, and I suffered a rather severe nervous breakdown.” The two brothers had poured every energy into the skyscraper race, and once completed, they had nothing left to give.

The harmonious relationship between Shreve, Lamb & Harmon and Starrett Brothers & Eken continued after 1931, and the architectural firm worked with the builders on housing projects in the Bronx and Brooklyn. Richmond Shreve considered his work in clearing slums and providing low-cost housing as his finest achievement, but he knew it was the Empire State for which he and his partners would be remembered. In 1931 their design won gold medals from the Architectural League, American Institute of Architects, and the Fifth Avenue Association—a clean sweep. The New Yorker said its design was endowed “with such clean beauty, such purity of line, such subtle uses of material, that we believe it will be studied by many generations of architects.” Editorial pages praised the skyscraper as “a union of beauty and strength” and the New Republic called the building “New York’s handsomest skyscraper.” Short of some negative remarks about the mooring mast, Lamb’s design was considered genius and won him a place in Vanity Fair’s ten “Poets in Steel,” an honor not granted to either Severance or Van Alen. The firm Shreve, Lamb & Harmon expanded in 1943 to include several partners, but the three founders remained active. Before his death, Richmond Shreve suffered a stroke that left him partly paralyzed and bound to a wheelchair. His son wrote that “it was the first time in his life that he had encountered a problem he couldn’t lick. He never stopped trying; he never accepted failure; he just wore himself out.” This description might have applied to his two partners as well, both who persisted in taking on commissions and involving themselves in architectural associations until their final days.

After the completion of the Empire State, there was nobody more supportive of Shreve, Lamb & Harmon than John Raskob, who several times wrote recommendation letters for the architects. It was not the architects’ fault, nor the builders’, that his financial commitment to the skyscraper had only just begun. The economy was in far worse shape than he could have imagined. Fortunately for him, he had divested a good percentage of his stock market holdings before the crash. He would need the money. For nearly two decades, the Empire State operated in the red. It was a struggle to keep the bankers from foreclosing. Raskob managed to convince Metropolitan Life to reduce the interest rate on their loans by half, then further still, yet the skyscraper was not earning enough to meet their diminished mortgage payments. Several times Raskob had to pump millions of his own money to keep the building afloat. When the skyscraper finally began turning a profit in 1948, du Pont wrote to congratulate the Empire State’s new president, General Hugh Drum, and concluded his note: “John [Raskob] should be set up on a pedestal for his patience in working out this splendid investment against serious odds. The pedestal of his monument is the Empire State Building itself.”

By 1950 with tenants “jammed to the rafters,” as Time magazine described, it was netting close to $5 million a year. Raskob’s gamble at Thirty-fourth Street and Fifth Avenue had taken a long time to pay out, but his monument was now one of the world’s most profitable buildings. He died in October of that year and donated much of his estate to the Raskob Foundation for Catholic Activities, which promotes through its charitable works the same philosophy that made the Empire State possible in the first place: “Go ahead and do things, the bigger the better, if your fundamentals are sound. Avoid procrastination. Do not quibble for an hour over things which might be decided in minutes. However, if the issue at stake is large, stay as long as the next man, but go ahead and do things.” Raskob lived his words to the end.

Like him, George Ohrstrom and Walter Chrysler went into the Depression facing a tough road ahead, but both managed to sustain themselves through the desperate times, although one had to give up ownership of his skyscraper.

In the crash, the boy wonder of Wall Street forfeited most of the water companies he had assembled during the market bubble, leaving him in a precarious financial position, but his voyage to Europe in the wake of Black Tuesday was a success, helping him to maintain the support of his investors. Once again he began acquiring small industrial businesses within a larger holding company. The market implosion taught him not to leverage his companies against one another. They had to stand on their own, or he was not interested in a relationship. Slowly he began putting together another fortune. Fortunately he had more success in these dealings than he did racing horses or financing skyscrapers. By 1939, there was no saving his investment in the Manhattan Company Building, given the lack of tenants, and though he maintained offices on its top floors for many years, he and the Starretts lost the building. The mortgage bonds sold for eleven cents on the dollar and the sale offer was “less than we paid for the 43 high-speed elevators,” Ohrstrom said. The young banker, however, was on his way to amassing another empire of companies. At his death in 1955, he was one of the richest men in America and the tower at 40 Wall Street was only one of his many achievements—not bad for a kid whose mother had to take in sewing to help pay his way through school.

Chrysler maintained control of his skyscraper, but the last decade of his life was not without challenges, particularly since the automobile industry was so hard hit by the Depression. The market value of his company stock was decimated and for six quarters straight he operated at a loss of $1 million per month. To his credit, Chrysler didn’t retreat from his plans to battle Ford and General Motors. Instead of cutting back on research and development, he pumped more money into both, introducing a new Plymouth model at the end of 1932. Despite the economic downturn, he managed to boost his car sales significantly. In the following years, he came out with one new design after another, branched out into businesses like marine engines and air-conditioning (from research done for the Chrysler Building), and built several new plants across the country. While others retrenched, he used the hard times to surge ahead, leading the company from his office on the fifty-sixth floor of his skyscraper. At street level, a two-story showcase of his cars lured pedestrians to stop at the windows and gaze at his newest models. It was a far cry from the days when he had to negotiate for a spot to display his first Chrysler car at the Hotel Commodore during an automobile show.

In 1935 he resigned as president of the Chrysler Corporation and passed away five years later at his Long Island mansion, ostensibly of a stroke, but more from heartbreak over his wife’s death. More than fifteen hundred people attended his funeral in New York, and newspapers and magazines throughout the world praised his great works. Many published editorials about the significance of his death, the best from a small trade report called Automobile Topics: “He truly left the world a better place than he found it.”

Neither of these two owners could have known what they started in hiring former partners Craig Severance and William Van Alen to design their “world’s tallest” skyscrapers. Even after the race, the two architects didn’t speak, and Severance argued to the last that the Manhattan Company Building was taller than his rival’s because of its higher rentable offices.

Like Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, Severance designed a few projects for the Starrett Brothers after the crash and won commissions from the government, including a series of dirigible hangars and administration buildings for the U.S. Naval Air Station in Lakehurst, New Jersey—but the days of big commissions were over. Fortunately, the house he owned outright in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, was a large one, as his brothers, sisters, and daughter’s young family all moved in with him there. He supported them through the Depression, frequently making trips down to Washington, D.C., to pitch for more work. Then in August 1941, he grew suddenly ill. His daughter, Faith, remembered him coming down from his bedroom for the last time, putting his hat on in front of the small mirror in the hallway and then heading outside to his car. He told her that “this is only hard on you, dear” and drove off to check himself into the hospital. Three days later he was dead. A condolence letter from a former suitor of hers captured what his death meant to those closest to him: “Dear Faith, [your father] stood somehow for the grand manner of life, for that way of things that the crash of 1929 knocked into a cocked hat and that Hitler finished off ten years later. So it is much more than the passing of an individual; it is an end of an epic.”

William Van Alen didn’t send a letter to Severance’s family after his death. Simply too much had passed between them. Of the many people involved in the skyscraper race, nobody suffered more after its end than Van Alen. According to Chesley Bonestell, once a close friend, the architect died “unloved and unmourned.” He ended up settling his lawsuit against Chrysler in April 1931, winning most of the fees he had demanded after Cass Gilbert testified that six percent was indeed the industry standard. Nonetheless, he had to bear the distinction of a widely publicized lawsuit, worsened by the rumor that Van Alen had taken kickbacks from several subcontractors. The accusations were never proven, nor even raised in any of the lawsuit’s depositions, but as with most such rumors, the mention of them was enough to ruin his reputation. The rumors, coupled with an industry-wide lack of commissions and a spate of bad reviews, ended his career. Nobody hired him again for a major building, and a great talent was never given another chance to shine.

In the mid-1930s, he attempted to advance a new type of prefabricated house: constructed of steel panels, the small home cost a mere four thousand dollars and could be erected by six men in two days. His design didn’t find any takers and only a couple exhibition displays were ever built. Desperate for someone to accept his work, he offered to design homes for relatives or friends. In the end, he taught sculpture at the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design and spent more and more time handling his real-estate investments.

It would be many decades before his design found favor in the architectural establishment, and this acknowledgment was likely pushed by popular sentiment. One could hear the critics saying to themselves: how could so many people love this meritless skyscraper? At the time the skyscraper race ended, there was a new trend in design quickly gaining force in the United States, a trend that originated in Europe with the likes of Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, and Mies van der Rohe. They celebrated function over form and were devoted to designing a “machine for living.” Ornamentation and extravagance had no place in the clean, precise world they imagined. The lean Depression years helped foster this “International Style,” and for many, the Chrysler Building was a lightning rod for what had gone wrong in American architecture. Lewis Mumford wrote in a 1931 article entitled “Notes on Modern Architecture”: “The ornamental treatment of the [Chrysler Building] facade is a series of restless mistakes [which] could easily have been corrected by a plain, factual statement of the materials . . . Such buildings show one the real dangers of a plutocracy; it gives the masters of our civilization an unusual opportunity to exhibit their barbarous egos, with no sense of restraint or shame. Among the many blessings of depression, one must count the diminution of such opportunities.”

Sadly for Van Alen, this kind of thinking guaranteed that he would be held in little regard throughout his remaining years. He died in 1954, leaving half of his estate to the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design, which later took his name and continues to educate the architects of tomorrow.

Since their openings, the three skyscrapers that competed in the race have endured many worse crimes than a critic’s sharp pen. On May 20, 1946, an army transport plane flying through a thick fog crashed into the fifty-eighth floor of the Manhattan Company Building, killing five people and tearing a 20-by-10-foot hole in the masonry. The building fell into disrepair, was foreclosed on twice, bought by the husband-and-wife dictators Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, and eventually taken over by a developer whose renovations included a great deal of burnished bronze and marble surfaces and who emblazoned the letters “T-R-U-M-P” across the front of the building.

Decades after the raising of the Chrysler Building’s vertex, a renovation crew inspected the vertex and discovered a considerable number of perforations in the nickel sheath; lightning had punctured the vertex’s skin dozens of times. By the 1950s, the Chrysler family lost management control, and as writer David Michaelis chronicled, “a procession of Murdstones, grim as a cortege, marched in and took control. The building suffered flogging after flogging, for each stepfather was more selfish and cruel and pitiless than the last, and each turned a cold shoulder as the building slid further and further into tatters, misery, wrack and ruin.” The tower leaked. Holes were drilled into the lobby ceiling for lighting, and wheelbarrows of junk were pushed into the spire. At its most depressed in the early 1970s, the building’s occupancy rate was a mere seventeen percent, providing no money for upkeep. Eventually the economy improved, workers patched up some of the damage, and in 1981 Van Alen’s original lighting design for the tower’s triangular windows was discovered and installed, giving the building the distinctive appearance it now enjoys in the city’s skyline at night.

On Saturday morning, July 28, 1945 (ten months before the Manhattan Company Building crash), a B-25 bomber pilot lost his bearings while flying near the city and suddenly found himself dodging several midtown skyscrapers. Tragically, he couldn’t outmaneuver the massive Empire State, and his ten-ton plane slammed into the seventy-eighth and seventy-ninth floors. Its fuel tanks exploded. Smoke billowed from the shattered windows, and pedestrians scrambled away from the skyscraper, fearing its collapse. A cascade of glass, brick, and debris fell from the top stories. Rushing to the scene, firemen attempted to save those injured and prevent the fire from consuming the building. Fourteen died, but the skyscraper survived.

The Empire State has had its share of owners, some more neglectful than others. Much to William Lamb’s regret, a 222-foot television antenna was affixed atop the mooring mast and his eighty-sixth-story observation floor became infamous for its suicide jumpers.

Today many of the wounds inflicted on these structures have been healed, and each building is now protected by landmark status. But nothing could save them from losing their rank as the tallest in the world. Although the Manhattan Company Building was pushed out of third place as early as 1932 by another downtown skyscraper, the 952-foot Cities Services Building, it would be some forty years before the Empire State and Chrysler buildings had to give up their positions as number one and two. When the height of the World Trade Towers was announced at 1,350 feet, the Empire State’s owners sued to stop their erection, and after the suit was thrown out, they hired Shreve, Lamb, & Harmon (which continued, despite the deaths of the three founders) to design an addition so as to retain the height crown. Several plans were published, including one that had the mooring mast removed and thirty-three stories added to its crown, carrying the skyscraper to 1,494 feet. Ultimately, the owners scuttled these plans, and the World Trade Center claimed the height crown in December 1970 (with the north tower’s topping-out ceremony), only to be surpassed four years later by Chicago’s Sears Tower, which rose to a height of 1,454 feet. Two decades after its completion, the crown was passed once again, this time to Malaysia’s Petronas Towers at 1,483 feet tall.

Plans for higher skyscrapers continue to make headlines, and perhaps one day Frank Lloyd Wright’s idea of a mile-high tower may be built. As Daniel Burnham, one of the first architects to design a skyscraper, said, “Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us.”

Stolen height titles, ruined careers, vicious reviews, miserly neglect, lost fortunes, and terrible accidents—these may seem to be the legacy of the skyscraper race, but they aren’t. Fitzgerald was too soaked in regret to understand that the Empire State was far from the “crowning error” of the city. Lewis Mumford was too enthralled by functionalism to see that the Chrysler Building reflected not plutocracy, but democracy. George Ohrstrom was too sullen after investing so much in the Manhattan Company Building to understand its value far outweighed that of its forty-three high-speed elevators.

If they had taken a step back, had looked at who designed and drove these buildings to such great height, perhaps they would have come to a different conclusion. Yes, the builders were fat-cat industrialists and financiers who hired the top names in architecture. But these men, all of them, came from humble backgrounds. The journeyman mechanic raised in a house where snow accumulated on the floor at night; the sons of a Presbyterian minister and Quaker taskmaster; a former fishmonger and subpoena server with a gift for gab; a $7.50 per week stenographer supporting his family; an immigrant’s son who put himself through college; a kid born into a family that squandered its wealth before he turned eighteen; a Nova Scotian who came to the United States as a child and ran his own paper route; and an office boy–draftsman who dropped out of school yet labored long into the night to master his craft. In the decade when America finally came into its own, thanks to the efforts of thousands of others who also lifted themselves up from nothing, these men, and the skyscrapers they constructed, reflected the spirit of a country in the making.

All the exuberance, daring, romance, moxie, innovation, and pride that infused the decade is seen in these pinnacles. No misfortune or turn of events could take that away. Even if these skyscrapers were “torn down, as others have been before them,” Chrysler said at the time of the race, “the spirit of men working together that they represent will build new ones.” It was this spirit—not steel and stone—that carried these skyscrapers higher.

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