||Feb 10, 2009 12:12 AM
.....The Cloud Club was created partly at the behest of Texaco, or the Texas Company as it was called then, which before leasing 14 pricey floors in the new building, insisted that there be a suitable restaurant for its executives. The Cloud Club was the solution, and its design reflected a somewhat uneasy compromise between William Van Alen, who gave the rest of the Chrysler its trademark modernist look, and Walter Chrysler, whose own taste ran to the baronial and faux medieval. In keeping with the unspoken philosophy then that businessmen were sort of like squires, there was a Tudor-style lounge 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.
The main dining room, one floor up and connected by a bronze and marble Renaissance-style staircase, had a futuristic, Fritz Lang sort of look, 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.
All this was crammed, along with kitchens, a stock-ticker room, a humidor, a barber shop and a locker room with cabinets for stashing one's booze during Prohibition, into a space that, because of the way the Chrysler Building is set back on its higher floors, seems almost preposterously small by today's standards. Backstage, the Cloud Club must have felt like a submarine - or, rather, like a very cramped airship.
Its smallness, along with the fact that it didn't admit women for decades and wasn't open in the evenings, may have detracted a little from the glamour of the Cloud Club. It never took on the aura of the Rainbow Room (dreamed up by John D. Rockefeller, who was a Cloud Club regular) or of nightspots like "21," the Stork Club or El Morocco, which derived some of their energy precisely from being a little more earthbound.
Roger Angell, the New Yorker writer and editor, who lunched at the Cloud Club once or twice with Raoul Fleischmann, the magazine's co-founder, remembers it as a place populated by businessmen and "old gents." They were mostly executives in the automobile, aviation and oil industries, along with a few well-heeled publishing types, like Fleischmann and Henry Luce, whose Time Inc. briefly had headquarters in the Chrysler Building before moving into a skyscraper of its own. In fact, it was at a meeting in the Cloud Club in 1936, just after a Cuban honeymoon with Clare Boothe, that Luce dreamed up what became Life magazine. Luce's son, Henry Luce III, recalls visiting the Cloud Club once with his father when he was 12 or 13. "I remember the wind whistling through very noisily," he said. "You could hear it inside."
The fortunes of the Cloud Club began to decline a little in the 50's and 60's, with the defection of some members to the nearby Sky and Pinnacle clubs, which were both newer and bigger. The whole Chrysler Building fell on hard times in the mid-70's, and in 1977, Texaco, whose executives were then a mainstay of the Cloud Club membership, moved to Westchester. The Cloud Club closed for good in 1979, and various schemes to rehab and reopen it never came to much.
Tishman Speyer, which took over the Chrysler Building in 1998 and painstakingly refurbished it, has leased the top two floors of the Cloud Club space to tenants, while the first is still awaiting an occupant. The grand staircase has been yanked out, and the rest of the space has been pretty well expunged of ghosts and memories. Except for a marble floor and 54-inch-wide windows - which on a clear day offer a view so expansive it's like looking at New York on HDTV - it offers not a clue to its former incarnation.....