An NYC icon on the verge of ownership change

The Chrysler Building, once the tallest building in the world, looks to leave the hands of sovereign wealth fund ADIC and real estate firm Tishman Speyer.

If the Chrysler Building could talk, it might boast of the time it won the title of tallest building in the world or tell you about the time it watched one of its owners die.

The iconic skyscraper, which has appeared on numerous The New Yorker covers and has served as the backdrop to many a superhero movie on the big screen, was originally built to house automobile manufacturer Chrysler Corporation.

It competed spire-to-spire with another New York City building, 40 Wall Street, in a race to be the tallest building in the world – and initially won. The 1,046-foot tower was completed on May 27, 1930, and a secret spire was assembled within the building and installed in 90 minutes to win the title in the world from 1930-31. Unfortunately for architect William Van Alen and Chrysler Corporation founder Walter Chrysler, the Empire State Building would steal the crown 11 months later.

Nevertheless, Van Alen was considered the mastermind behind one of the world’s most talked about towers thanks to its many signature features. The spire housed an observatory and the Cloud Club, a private lounge and restaurant for executives. Because the tower was originally built for the Chrysler Corporation’s headquarters, the interior of the building was inspired by automobile parts, featuring corner ornaments that looked like the 1929 Chrysler radiator cap. The building also held a car showroom in the lobby for some time.

After acting as the Chrysler Corporation’s headquarters for more than 20 years, the Chrysler family sold the tower to real estate developer William Zeckendorf for $18 million in 1953. Zeckendorf then sold the property in 1957 to real estate speculators Alex DiLorenzo and Sol Goldman for $42 million. Unfortunately for DiLorenzo and Goldman, they defaulted on a second mortgage in 1975. A few months later, DiLorenzo died of a heart attack in his Chrysler Building office. The Massachusetts Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Company took possession of the asset three years later and sold it to Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the Washington Redskins football team.

Making room for mixed-use

In April 1997, Cooke died of congenital heart failure, but the Chrysler Building still owed money to lenders. The nine Japanese lenders led by Fuji Bank foreclosed on the office building and put it up for auction. Investment bank Goldman Sachs, New York-based REIT Vornado Realty Trust and real estate developer Gotham Hospitality all expressed interest in purchasing the asset, but in November, Tishman Speyer beat out the competition by negotiating a long-term lease with private college Cooper Union, which owned the land that the Chrysler Building was built on.

For $220 million, Tishman Speyer bought the Chrysler Center, which included the Chrysler Building, Trylons – a two story retail complex – and Chrysler East, out of distress. The real estate investment firm spent approximately $100 million over three years to restore the Chrysler Building and to make Trylons a central focus of the Chrysler Center as a mixed-use project.

In 2001, a German investment group bought a 75 percent stake in the Chrysler Building and Trylons for $400 million. Most recently in 2008, sovereign wealth fund Abu Dhabi Investment Council bought a 90 percent stake in the Chrysler Building and Trylons for $800 million. After the deal closed, Tishman Speyer continued to hold a 10 percent stake in the asset.

Now, a decade later, reports have surfaced that ADIC and Tishman Speyer are ready to exit their investment, hoping for another owner to take on the challenge of maintaining a key part of the New York City skyline.