The Cloud Club

As we are now engaged in researching, scouting and planning our explorations for the 'season', I am short a blog post. To this end, I wish to write about a far-flung destination and location which has interested me for some time but which I will not likely get around to ever seeing . . . it is the iconic Chrysler Building in New York. Specifically, the forgotten private Cloud Club which occupied the 66th-68th floors.

First off, let us cover off a bit of background information. This Office building was designed by William Van Alen and constructed in just four short years between 1926 and 1930. This structure represents the epitome of sleek Art Deco design, and its tapering sunburst-patterned stainless-steel spire remains a striking feature of the Manhattan skyline. Much of its futuristic automotive ornamentation was specified by its owner, Walter P. Chrysler. It was also briefly the tallest in the world(1,046 ft or 318.8 m) until the Empire State Building opened in 1931.

Images - Randy Juster - www.decopix.com (The Art Deco Architecture site)

In the 1930s, the 66th through the 68th floors of the Chrysler Building were contained a 'speakeasy' (an illegal barroom operating during prohibition) known as the Cloud Club and latter on as the 'Lunch Club'. Not many people got to see these clouds; membership was reserved for the likes of E. F. Hutton and Conde Nast. This space was appointed with lavish pink marble bathrooms and a gleaming bar of Bavarian wood. Members had their own lockers (each marked with a secret code written in hieroglyphics) so they could stash their hooch in the event of a police raid. A Tudor-style lounge occupied a space on the 66th floor, with mortise-and-tenon oak paneling, and a Grill Room in the classic Olde English style, with pegged plank floors, wood beams, wrought-iron chandeliers and leaded glass doors. All this was crammed, along with kitchens, a stock-ticker room, a humidor, a barber shop.

Images: NY Times Photo - Hiroko Masuike (left) and Samantha Storey (right).

The main dining room, which was located one floor up was connected by a bronze and marble Renaissance-style staircase with polished granite columns and etched glass sconces. There was a cloud mural on the vaulted ceiling, and a mural of Manhattan on the north wall. On the same floor Walter Chrysler had a private dining room with an etched-glass frieze of automobile workers. There was also a private Texaco dining room, with a giant mural of a refinery, and what was reputed to be the grandest men's room in all of New York.

As mentioned, not many ordinary people were granted access to the elite Cloud Club but for fifty cents one would be allowed to go up to the observatory, located on the seventy-first floor. The observatory featured futuristic, slanted walls decorated with deco sun-ray graphics. The observatory closed in 1945 (when the Empire State building opened), and is currently rented out as corporate office space. It is reported that the tenant has made some efforts to preserve its original flavor.

At the Beaux-Arts Ball of 1931, at least two dozen architects came dressed as buildings they had designed. They included, (from left to right) A. Stewart Walker as the Fuller Building, Leonard Schultze as the Waldorf-Astoria, Ely Jacques Kahn as the Squibb Building, William Van Alen as the Chrysler Building, Ralph Walker as the Wall Street Building and Joseph Freedlander as the Museum of the City of New York.

The former Cloud Club was closed in the 1970's and since has been restricted to the general populace. There have been reports that the current owners have gutted it and sold its fixtures and furniture to museums and private collectors.

Arts Society Party Images - NYatKNIGHT

The Municipal Art Society of New York was able to rent the space containing the former Cloud Club for a cocktail party back in February of 2004. The party was held to hear Neal Bascomb, the author of Higher: A Historic Race to the Sky and the Making of a City. Mr Bascomb spoke over a slideshow presentation about his book and the construction of the Chrysler building.

Whatever the future holds for this space formerly occupied by the Cloud Club, I hope that it includes some nostalgic remembrances of its past glory.


Joe Mama said...

Thank you for the story on the Chrysler Building. I spent my YOOT in New York and I never realized it had an observation deck or a secret club. It really is an amazing architectural work of art. By the way, the Met Life building in the bottom photograph used to be the Pan Am Building and it was built over Grand Central Station.

Richard Nickel, Jr. said...

Nice writeup! I'd be curious to see the current state of the place. However, having been inside the Chrysler building a number of times and having dealt with their security, I can't imaging it'd be all that feasible...

Anonymous said...

I would be very afraid to go up there by myself. I'm bewildered that such a place (club/observatory) existed all this time.

Anonymous said...

I had the great privilege of seeing the Tudor Rooms of the Cloud Club in the early 1990's when a beloved former boss of mine at the Wall Street Journal managed to sweet-talk a guard into letting us in for a look-see. It was truly spectacular - like a private tour of King Tut's tomb, I wished we never had to leave. I remember intricately carved oak paneling and those curious custom-shaped windows, and so many wonder nooks and crannies where the captains of industry once made the deals of their lives. Of course, being a woman, I would have likely never gotten to set foot there myself in its heyday, but the day of my tour is one of my all-time favorite memories of my decade in Manhattan.

clay@clayspillman.com said...

On a layover I had an opportunity to explore the Chrysler building and take and see the Cloud Club...it was truly amazing. The wood was worn but you could tell it was amazing in the day.
The bathrooms, although not workable, were amazing. There is also a private bathroom (I believe on that floor) which has a bathroom with an outside window. From what I have heard, Chrysler had that bathroom there so he could have a view of the river while doing his "business".
I also went up to the very top of the building and it was very cool to see and look out the windows.

Forget the guards, simply go up to a floor that the elevator doesn't open into the business. I then walked around and found a staircase and was able to go to the upper floors and just look around.

Loved this article because I had no idea what the two story loby on the upper floor was.

phil: allen.phil@yahoo.com said...

I expected to see 'Cloud Club' 'sites on the search page, but what I'd really like to find/join is a Chrysler Building Club, for lovers of the building itself, tip to bowel.. back in '72, I actually caught a freight elevator into the tower, but an alarm rang out, so I beat it. She's featured in the wonderful cult-horror flick 'Q, The Winged Serpent.'