After languishing in receivership more than two years, the Chrysler Building has been sold for an undisclosed amount to Massachesetts Mutual Life Insurance Co., which plans a $23-million restoration job.

All its life, from the April day it opened in 1930, the Chrysler Building has been second.

Even before it was completed, the Empire State Building shot past it to become, at 1,250 feet and 102 stories, the world's tallest skyscraper for many years.

But on a sunny afternoon, when you're far down the bay and Manhattan looks like a great-spiky dark brush on the horizon, its the Chrysler that flashes silver against the blue: a glittering white-flaming torch.

It's the Chrysler, regal and shimmering, that truly scrapes the sky. And its the Crysler whose Siamese dancer's headdress of stainless steel sticks in the memory of children and artists, appears in a hundred murals and landscapes . . . and makes the corner of your mouth turn up.

So what if the Empire State had King Kong; the Chrysler is cuter.

It stands 1,046 feet high and goes down 69 feet below ground. It has 32 elevators and 200 flights of stairs for its 77 stories. Hammered into its 20,961 tons of structural steel are 391,381 rivets, many of them stainless steel, too. It weighs 112,000 tons.

It even has offspring: the 32-story Chrysler Biulding East, erected in 1952 an joined to it for the first six stories.

Designed by the late William Van Alen, the Chrysler Building has been called by critics the classic overstatement of Art Deco. To put it more kindly, it is perhaps the most thorough attempt to make an office building into signable work of art.

From its steel carved doorways on Lexington Avenue and 42nd Street to its inlaid Moroccan wood elevator interiors, from its Italian Terrazzo floors jointed by 15 miles of brass strip to its 52,000 square feet of exterior African marble and 112,000 square feet of marble wainscot, it is all of a piece.

The many-arched dome is topped by the CBS -TV tower, a final 185 feet high, weighing 37 tons and coming at last to literally a needle point.

Inside, all is swooping curve and jagged angle. Even the mailboxes in the lobby, even the elavator pushbuttons have something to say. And the lobby! It is no ordinary lobby but a special world, from its colored marbles, fluted steel, mahoganies and teaks to the Edward Trumbull ceiling mural, presumed the largest in the world, 110 by 97 feet, a wonderful '20s swirl of monoplanes and fliers and oilwells and engines and smoke and steam and fire and sweat all browned by time but still vibrant.

At the top, looking out the curious jack-o'-lantern windows for the tower, you can see for miles across Long Island and New Jersey. The 69th floor is occupied by a dental surgeon, and on the west side he has a spectacular two-storey office with exposed spiral stairs.

Just below this, floors 66 to 68, Walter P. Chrysler planned a penthouse for himself, but the story goes that Mrs. Chrysler refused having a horror of heights. Another story is that they needed the rental.

So those three floors are the Cloud club, and elegantly exclusive luncheon hideout for the most lofty of top executives. Hushed Vanderbilts, Whitleys and Firestone have shuffled across its deep carpets, and Juan Trippe of Pan American airways used to have a dining cove tricked out like an airliner cockpit.

Nearby is a snug bar with plagues over the seats hallowed as this or that Old Member's favorite corner. The walls are lined with built-in initialed cabinets where the rich and powerful kept their private illegal liquor stocks during Prohibition.

Money never shows its green face in the Cloud Club, and women have only recently been admitted. There is a barber shop, a library, a Turkish bath, a 1930 mural by Gardner Hall and a 12-foot cigar humidor which smells as one reporter gushed, like money.

Here and there you can see Chrysler's mark: in the eight huge stainless steel bald eagle heads that jut over the 58th floor corner balconies, the chevrons shaped like Mercury's winged World War 1 helmet, vastly enlarged versions of vintage Chrysler radiator caps and Chrysler hub caps embedded in the walls.

On the second floor was the great show room, 15,000 square feet of it into which new model cars were drawn through the large windows. That floor was Texaco's touring center until a few months ago.

Soon, say the new owners, Texaco's office cubicies will be torn out, carpetting will be removed from the marvellous terrazzo floors of the Cloud Club and, as one Mass Mutual executive put it, the building will become "a first class property once again."

Art Deco lives.