Spire at the top of the Chrysler Building

My travel buddy, Jerry, and I were in New York City for Thanksgiving 1983. We were just wandering around midtown on day. We admired the lobby and the elevator cars, each inlaid with wood from all over the globe. On a whim, we got in one and punched a button for the top floor. How cool would it be to look around the private club that was in the spire.

Doors were unlocked, free reign. Dusty, store room
see remnants of the club in the Art Deco details in the trim, wallpaper, light fixtures, and what we could see of the carpet.

Chrysler Building 1991
This is an Art Deco classic: built in 1929 for the Chrysler Corporation with automotive detailing throughout. The lobby floors are marble from Africa & each elevator cab is inlaid with a different pattern of imported wood. Security is very tight: no visitors are allowed in the building (we were kicked out two years earlier). We huddled on the sidewalk up against the building. Some New Yorkers get a bit perturbed if too many tourists block or impede their movement to wherever they’re going. I shared the plan - that I had once been up into the spire at the top of the building (where the stainless steel arches were punctuated by triangular windows) and we were going to try it in a few minutes. I described the lobby layout, the locations of the guards and the shortest route into an elevator. I cautioned them that we had to look like we belonged in that building. It amazes me how often I get into unauthorized areas by simply appearing that I have been authorized. To hide our Okieness, we needed to put away alll cameras, maps, food, and anything else that screamed ‘tourist’. Once we were ready, I told the students to follow me to an open elevator, act businesslike, not make eye contact, walk briskly, & not to gawk. We made it past the guards. As we approached the bank of elevators, I heard the familiar ding announcing the arrival of an elevator. This gave us a sense of urgency and purpose. Only a couple of people got off and we slid inside the cab while I am hurriedly punching the top floor button. The sooner those doors closed, the sooner I would breathe a sigh of relief.

We tried to get up into the very top spires but could find no access, not even through the Tunisian Consulate on the 65th floor. Dejectedly, I said, well we tried. On our way down we met two ladies who were sympathetic to our efforts to explore the building. "Oh, we work on the 71st floor, go back up and ask Colleen.” Colleen was the receptionist in their office. On the 71st floor there is a balcony at the level of the gargoyles. Down at the lobby level, I motioned to the students to squeeze into the corner that wasn’t visible to the guards. Seeing a group not get off the elevator and go right back up would be a red flag that I didn’t want to risk. No one else got on, I punched Floor 71 and Shut Doors.

We saw Colleen but she was reluctant to let us onto the balcony since the only access was through the corporation's boardroom & she was preparing for a meeting in 3 minutes. We, of course, cared about none of that & continued our plea. She relented & led us through the boardroom to the balcony.

It was spectacular. The sun was setting on the towers of Manhattan. The huge gargoyles were magnificent in their Deco stainless steel. It was a treat. We had promised Colleen we would not stay out there long, so we went on down to the lobby, walked smugly past the guards, & back to the New York City the normal person sees.


© James Robert Watson, PhD, 2016