Like the best of these stories, the two bitter rivals started out as best friends: William Van Alen and Craig Severance. They were business partners. Van Alen was considered the artistic maverick and Severance was the savvy businessman. It’s unclear … Continue reading →
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Welcome to the first episode of the Kickstarter funded season for of ninety nine percent, invisible now weekly from here on out and I'm excited to announce the launch of Radio Tokyo from PR acts. A collect, of the best story, driven audio shows on the planet, will more information about radio Tokyo at the end of the show. So thank you all for your generosity and support. We're gonna make you proud Here we go radio do this is ninety nine percent invisible, I'm roman Mars? The greatness of New York is perhaps most spectacularly seen in its buildings, while other cities have spread outward. New York has been forced to bill upward like the best it
stories. The two bitter rivals started out as best friends William been Alan. Then Allen was a kind of the archetype of architectures artists. He looked at buildings as art. Anyone do revolutionise in that way. In Craig Severance Craigs evidence was very much architect s business man. He looked at buildings as a way to make the land pay. They were business partners and as partners. They were incredible together because you had Van Alan as sea. Architect is artists, and you have several says the business man making everything run on time, making things work efficiently and together they were able to do what. Bed, but they were not just business partners stood up at each other's weddings on was the Godfather disappearances daughter, but years of working together had taken its toll. Sadly, we
dont know exactly what the sort of precipitating factor was other than the fact that there were some records that I discovered just about an hour and wanting to change plan sort of continuously running over budget and to someone like severance that wasn't gonna stand, and so they relate on plans. They weren't delivering and I think the severance at a certain point said you know I could do this better on my own telling your story today is Neil Bascombe enables NEO bascombe. He wrote a great book about this called hire a history grace to the sky and the making of a city on the author of higher and a number of other books. At the time of the Van Alan and severance break up, New York City was undergoing boom, like nothing ever seen before massive wealth concentrated on this tiny island
Manhattan into the most valuable property in human history, and when property gets valuable. We build up the roaring twenties stock market is going crazy, real state prices. Going through the roof. A skyscraper is a machine designed to turn land into money. At least that's how severance beat skyscrapers there were talks of skyscrapers twelve hundred feet. Fifteen hundred feet off the charts. It was a symbol both of the economics and also of the times, and the culture was we want everything faster, higher batter and so it sort of all came together into the skyscrapers. At this point in nineteen twenty eight late, one thousand nine hundred and twenty eight Van Allen's career is basically you know in the basement. I mean he's not getting many commissions. Meanwhile, severance is going crazy on me. He's getting commission after coming
On baby building after big building so late, nineteen, twenty eight Walter Chrysler founder of the Chrysler Car company, came to New York City and bought a plot of land and wanted to build what he referred to as a monument to me Helen had already been working on plans for the previous owner of that part in Chrysler, decide to hire him to develop that plan into what would become the Chrysler building Christ, I think it was in his own way. A revolutionary was very committed to art and design and, I think, saw a very real way: a kindred spirits in vat. Meanwhile downtown it. Forty Wall Street, then Ellen's Ex partner, Craig, several
was building the Manhattan company building an severance, is building was very different. Keyed exactly to his personality, the Manhattan company building was downtown. The crisis building was uptown, severance was an investor in this building. It was being funded primarily by a man in Georgia or some who was considered the boy wonder Wall Street. He was thirty four. He was in
play rich incredibly quickly and their building was in a very real way was to make money, while the Chrysler building was to sort of make a monument to what Chrysler had achieved, but also to sort of break new ground in architecture of the time cast. Gilberts Woolworth billing towered over everything. Seven hundred ninety two feet tall is the tallest building in New York and in true monument to me. Fashion Chrysler said his sites on his building being taller than the Woolworth building. The tallest in the city, and even though the Manhattan company building didn't quaint, have the same motivation to be the tallest to celebrate one man's greatness. The team decided that they wanted to take the crown from all and be the tallest
I think the motivation initially for the Wall Street building for the men and company building is one because of the cost of land downtown in Wall Street. You you have to build high, they got their spreadsheet out and decide exactly how high that would be, and then they decided to go a little bit higher to have the inform otter of the world's tallest building, which, when you're selling office space, is something that is real estate agent. You can put her hand out a car and says: do you want to work in the world's tallest building? So it was a sales tactic as well as an economic and so the race was on two X partners Van Alan with the crest, the building and severance with Manhattan company, building, we're going to battle it out for supremacy On the skyline, initially Chrysler building was the first to announce its height Chrysler and that our little bit further along
and so they announcing early nineteen twenty nine that they're going to roughly eight hundred and twenty feet which store them the war that seven. Ninety two well a couple months after that Craig severance comes out and says wore building two eight hundred and forty feet, and then you have this over the course of that year, particularly that summer, even as the buildings are going up, even as there is setting the foundation even as their ordering steal that Alan and severance are both changing there, lands both not knowing what the other person is doing but sure that their respective bosses wanna go higher, and I think at this point they very much want to meet each other, but it wasn't just a high praise. It was also a speed race.
At the point in this. In the summer of nineteen twenty nine, when both these buildings are going up very fast, it's it's very much who can beat the Woolworth building? First? Who can you not release that first statement saying worlds tallest building in the public was into it? It was a race almost weekly there were newspaper articles about this buildings going higher crises, gonna be nine hundred feet company billions gonna, be nine hundred and fifty feet severance winds ban on winds among all these sort of premature statements- and it was very much covered in the press and in all the New York newspapers at that time, which were many big yet out front page photographs, it was pretty incredible.
But both Chrysler end vanillin were not content just being the fastest and the tallest. Now are members a time going into chryslers office crises on the floor. You now with plan spread out on the carpet you're. Looking at how the lobbies going to be set up, Walter grossly was very interested in order in architecture, and so he wondered beautiful building. Wonder a building like. Another in the world. Meanwhile, the Manhattan company building they see what's happening on the Manhattan company building. Is there just adding floors, they're saying well, a nation will be able to do this. If we had four floors. If we had ten floors, we had this little flag at the top. We can go higher, so it was almost incremental movements on the Manhattan building on the Chrysler building, they were achieving last minute height advantages in two ways: one delay. The dome of the crisis are building that arch dome was was much more compact. As you see,
Oh, it's almost like it stretched out, and that happen because of the high risk they wanted to find more floors that wanted to get some more height and so that elegant elongated, dome that we love on the Chrysler building was the result of this silly highrise. But this sneaky masterstroke that ultimately led the Chrysler building to surpass the Manhattan company building for good.
Was the gleaming spire called the vertex, and that was a hundred and eighty five foot triangular spire that was built inside the stairwell. Basically, the fire stairwell inside the building at the top of the building, so that it may happen company billing had no idea what was going on. They brought up each piece separately up the side of the building by Derek's, constructed it inside the fire tower and one day after the Manhattan company voting finished top down no chance at anymore floors. Suddenly, this concealed vertex is brought up from inside the building and has been on set sort of like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon. They put the sing on top of the building. It was a hundred eighty five foot tall and made the crisis building one thousand forty six feet high and the tall structure in the world.
Now surpassing the Eiffel Tower, and if you thinking this stunt of secretly riveting a giant middle spired, nine hundred feet in the air sounds ridiculously dangerous. You are right is extremely dangerous. I can imagine today it not getting approval. Everyone. Basically thinking from Chrysler event on is the thing going to fall, and if it does, you goin impale, half a street or more, and you can imagine the damage that would have done now. You probably know clearly picture of the now classic art deco style of the questionable. The steel, clad arches son burst triangular windows, not to mention the hood ornament style Eagles and the hubcap freezes it was made for cargo after all, but its doubtful that you even heard of the mat and company built first, because now it's called forty Wall Street or the trunk
building, but also because it is never took hold and the public consciousness, even though they really take its green roof. Curiously, the man coming to building forty Wall Street got all the acknowledged it one wards the design was mostly by the japanese architect. Yes, you re not sui so it did. You know wonderful and in the traits- and it was this basically a fairly bland, looking at the time, and then you have the crisis. Building with this new dome,
This new vertex, something that really New York or the world, has never seen. It was pretty remarkable stuff and it was almost universally pan. It was considered a stunt design tat. Some people called it a monstrosity. No, it was largely reviled by architectural critics. What do they know and it was only over time, but the price of building became the sort of treasured landmark than it is, and if the story stop there, you might think Van Alan artistic Maverick won the day. The Chrysler building was the tallest structure in the world and even though the design was paying originally, we all know that eventually got its do, but this
ray, does not end there. After all, this hubbub partner against partner fighting for who would be the tallest Amir. Eleven months later, the Great Empire state building was completed and it became the tallest building in the world for nearly forty years. Frankly, I don't care about that so much. What happened next was the real tragedy, the lack of business acumen, but probably contributed to Van Alan and Severance Party ways. Really came back to bite William Battle and he never actually had a contract with Walter Chrysler to design the Chrysler Building cry serve at the end of the day said: oh, I'm not gonna pay your feed costs, we didn't have a sign contracts, it was widely a sort of considered normal at the time for the architect be paid. Roughly six percent of the cost of the building that sum of money is is what ban are expected? It's. What Chrysler wasn't willing to pay? Men
ended up soon, Chrysler it had the newspapers and, at the end of the day, a cask Gilbert. You Woolworth came and said you know, yes, that percentages typical rate. That's what manner should be paid, was paid that, but then Ellen was never given a major commission again. I think both because the great depression and head at All-
but because he had now sued his patron, and that was something that I think others shied away from Ben Ellen spent. Most of the rest of his life teaching sculpture at the Boughs Arts Institute of Design, but severance, on the other hand, continued to succeed. The man company building did terribly like every other office building in New York at the time, but severance you know, went into the depression and got a bunch of government work actually built a bunch of hangers fur for balloons and such, and so he did quite well and lived nicely in.
Died and luxury so that at least one happy unimportant. But we do have a happy ending. The fact that the crisis are building is a sort of Howard structure. Now and then Ellen Wiggly did get the commission of a lifetime. There was no expense spared by Chrysler. If you ever go into the Kaiser building, you know from the lobby all the way to the top I mean it's just expense and expense and expand semi, just beautiful art, deco interior work would paneling art deco murals its
just an incredible building top to bottom inside and out and very rarely do you have a commission where money is no object and Savannah ON was given one shot and I think he came through with Greg Severance was standing in front of me. I think I'd say I wish you worked it out with Van Allen. You did well deserved it, but I think you would have been greater together and if I could talk to Van Allen and say I'm sorry, you didn't get the Biltmore great structures but know that you created the building. I can stop the most architecturally blind and generally disinterested person dead in their tracks, and they will marvel at your accomplishment. Know that and to Walter Chrysler, I'd say
You pay your bills, you dead beat. I could we could have had an another Chrysler building or something is good view and ruin Van owns life I mean, probably not because the great depressed an all but will never know willowy bomb I'm going to need a minute. Ninety nine percent invisible same Greenspan, Avery trouble men and women. We are project one point: seven, local public radio, K, L W in San Francisco and produced the offices of arc sign a brilliant architecture, firm and beautiful, downtown Kaliko when we get a little at a hand, made sometimes ask us to use our inside voices.
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Transcript generated on 2020-02-15.