A lot of evidence points to the Empire State Building as the model for Doc’s headquarters. But the Chrysler Building was also influential. The building is named after Walter Chrysler who began his astonishing career as a simple railroad mechanic in the early 1900s. Working a variety of jobs in the railroad industry endowed him with an encyclopedic knowledge of mechanical devices while enabling him to achieve the respected status of master mechanic. His vast knowledge of mechanics prepared him for a career in the new automotive industry. By 1929, when he was named Time Magazine man of the year, he was a tycoon in the automotive business and enormously rich.
Construction on the art deco style Chrysler building began in September 1928. The structure was completed on May 28, 1930, making it the tallest man-made structure in the world at the time. It had seventy-seven floors plus an elaborate spire that pierced the sky 1,046 feet. Chrysler had planned to move his automotive corporate headquarters from Detroit and install them in the new structure. This move never materialized but Walter P. Chrysler did keep a private apartment on the top floor.
In the end, Doc’s skyscraper headquarters is a hybrid of the two different buildings. Doc Savage maintains officers on the 86th floor but that is not the top floor. There are other offices above his. Readers are also told that Doc’s offices are in one of the tallest buildings in the city – not the tallest. The 86th floor of the Empire State Building is an observation deck. Another observation deck is on the 102nd floor but there are no offices above the 86th floor. The 102nd level was originally intended to be the landing platform for mooring dirigibles.
Where was the headquarters building located? Readers never know for sure just which Manhattan skyscraper houses Doc Savage’s headquarters. There are a few clues in the stories that are interesting. In “The Man of Bronze,” Doc and his men take a taxi from headquarters. They enter the taxi, and the story immediately states the men are traveling north on Fifth Avenue. That would seem to indicate the building is located on Fifth Avenue.
In “The Land of Terror,” Doc catches a taxi from Central Park and travels in a southerly direction on 5th avenue to his offices.
Comments in “The Land of Terror“ about the trains on the 6th Avenue Elevated in Chapter 12 imply that it is nearby. Information on Wikipedia indicates elevated lines existed on 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 9th Avenues during the time the story was written. A few paragraphs later, readers find Doc’s men racing downstairs to the street pursuing a gang member. Doc’s men immediately head up Broadway in chase.
There is exactly one prominent building in Manhattan that fits this location. The Empire State Building is located at 350 5th Avenue. The block it is located on is bound by 5th Avenue on the east, 6th Avenue on the northwest, and Broadway on the southwest.
The description in Chapter 12 of “The Land of Terror“ where Doc’s men spot the gang member half a block distance and give chase on Broadway fits perfectly with an exit from the Empire State Building onto 33rd Street followed by an immediate turn onto Broadway.
The stories all place Doc’s offices on the 86th floor. No other building in New York City in 1933 was this high except the Empire State Building. Even then, the 86th floor was an observation deck rather than commercial office space. The location fits in well with that described in the stories. But the building itself is something else entirely. The building in the stories, like Doc Savage, is larger-than-life.
Revisiting “The Man of Bronze” and noticed these remarks about Doc’s headquarters:
At the eighty-sixth floor, the sinister man ceased to count. His glasses moved right and left until they found a lighted window. This was at the west corner of the building.
There are two interesting facts revealed here. It is clear that the room with the inlaid table is on the western side of the building. Thus, the assassin is located on a significant skyscraper currently under construction. The other fact is that the assassin counts up from the bottom level to find the eighty-sixth floor. If Doc was located on the top floor that would not be necessary. The implication is that the floors containing offices continue well past the eighty-sixth floor. This building comes from Dent’s imagination rather than an actual existing structure.
The early description of the building under constructs describes it thusly:
Above the eightieth floor, an ornamental observation tower jutted up a full hundred and fifty feet more. The metal work of this was in place, but no masonry had been laid. Girders lifted a gigantic steel skeleton.
This description matches the details of the Empire State Building. An interesting scenario is available that makes these details work perfectly. If we assume the headquarters building mentioned here is the Chrysler Building, it all makes sense.
Information presented in subsequent stories from 1933 clearly places Doc’s headquarters building at the same location as the Empire State Building. However, this does not appear to be the case in “The Man of Bronze.”